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essential nutrition advice for your pet.

Can Dogs Stay Healthy On A Vegetarian Diet?

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Can Dogs Stay Healthy On A Vegetarian Diet?

January 03, 2014 / (6) comments

A number of my vegetarian clients have asked me whether or not their dogs can be vegetarians too. Their main concern is whether or not a meat-free diet is appropriate for their dogs. If it isn’t, they’ll continue, albeit squeamishly, to feed their dogs foods that contain meat.


I’m a vegetarian myself, and I like being the bearer of good news, so this is a fun conversation for me. The answer is yes — dogs can eat a vegetarian diet and thrive.


While this topic is certainly interesting to vegetarians, owners who don’t have issues feeding their dogs meat should also pay attention. Here’s why:


It is true that dogs belong to the order Carnivora, but they are actually omnivores. The canine body has the ability to transform certain amino acids, the building blocks or protein, into others, meaning that dogs can get all the amino acids they need while avoiding meat.


Being a lacto-ovo vegetarian does not present many nutritional challenges for people or for dogs. In fact, eggs have the highest biological value of all the protein sources commonly used in pet foods. The biological value of a protein measures its ability to supply the individual amino acids that an animal needs. Eggs are an excellent source of protein for dogs. Even veganism — consuming a diet that does not include any animal products — though a little trickier, is possible for dogs. The right balance of different plant-based sources of protein (e.g., beans, corn, soy and whole grains) can still provide the needed amino acids.


So why should non-vegetarians care about this? Because it helps make sense of the confusing information about canine nutrition that exists. Think of it this way, if dogs can live long and healthy lives eating a diet that is made from only plant-based sources of protein, why wouldn’t these ingredients also be appropriate for use in foods that contain meat? Using both animal and plant-based sources of protein in a non-vegetarian dog food makes perfect sense.


The only issue I’ve seen with dogs being switched to a vegetarian food is one of acceptance. It seems to me that dogs who are used to eating diets that contain meat go through a "where’s the beef, chicken … etc.?" stage. Overcoming this is easy if you simply mix increasing amounts of the new food in with decreasing amounts of the old and make the change slowly.


So, if feeding meat to your dog presents an ethical quandary for you, options are available. And even if you’re happy that your dog’s food contains meat, know that the inclusion of plant-based sources of protein helps to balance the diet’s nutritional profile.



Dr. Jennifer Coates


Today's post was originally published in April 2012.


Image: Thinkstock


Comments  6

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  • Vegan/Vegaetarian Dogs
    01/03/2014 10:55pm

    I'm guessing from the tone of this (old) post that you have clients who do, in fact, feed Fido a vegetarian/vegan diet. Are there commercial foods that can be successfully used or do all these clients cook for their dogs?

  • 01/03/2014 10:57pm

    Ack! My apologies for the spelling that didn't get corrected prior to posting comment.

  • 01/05/2014 08:50pm

    A few of both.

  • 05/25/2016 07:46pm

    Commercial foods are definitely the way to go with vegan/vegetarian dog. They provide all the nutrients your dogs need that you might miss while cooking meals for them.

    You can find a list of top rated vegan dog foods and more information on transitioning your dog to a vegan diet here: http://modestvegan.com/vegan-dog-food/

  • Dogs on Vegetarian Diets
    03/30/2014 12:05am

    Dogs are survivors. They can survive on very little if necessary and do reasonably well. That being said meat should be a more digestible protein source than a vegetarian source. Most dog owners i know that have their dogs on vegetarian diets do it because their dogs have severe allergies. Some however do it for ethical reasons. I think the main problem with most vegetarian diets is because they are designed to minimize allergic reactions the ingredient list is quite limited. I would prefer a wider range of fruits and veggies with their life extending antioxidants. But i have found a new product called Cranimals Vibe that can help a lot. Our family dogs really like eating this berry powder. It's a mixture of berries (antioxidants) and spirulina/kelp that adds a potent protein/omega 3 combo. And it's vegan because spirulina is non animal. This article talks a lot of eggs but with all the abuses in the chicken farming industry vegetarians should be very leery of buying them. I would sooner buy grass fed beef than battery caged eggs.

  • oh?
    09/06/2015 06:11am