Can dogs be healthy on a vegetarian diet?
Updated: Jul 19
Anusha’s parents are strict vegetarians. When Anusha brought up the idea of getting a dog, one of their first questions was, “can you feed the dog a vegetarian diet?” Anusha had never thought of this aspect and wasn’t sure. Her parents feel very squeamish at the idea of even bringing meat into the house. Anusha feels it’s not really a good idea to think of a plant-based diet for dogs and that they must have meat for them to remain healthy.
That’s a myth.
Dogs can not just survive but also live a full and healthy life on an entirely vegetarian diet when balanced with nutritional supplements
About three in ten Indians are vegetarian, says a 2016 survey from the National Census Bureau, and more people are opting for pets. For vegetarian pet owners, even the thought of having to prepare meat-based meals would put them off. Right now, if you Google “vegetarian diet for dogs,” you’ll find mixed answers. Although the debate is still on, there is scientific evidence that supports the dog-is-an-omnivore theory.
The science behind it
Dogs are actually classified under the Canidae family, which includes foxes, wolves, and jackals. Having evolved from timberwolves, dogs fall under the category of carnivores, but they are an exception. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are omnivorous creatures and are happy with vegetarian or meat diets. How is that possible?
Dogs have special physical and biological qualities that separate them from true carnivores.
Herbivores have long intestinal tracts for digesting plant fibers, which are relatively more difficult to break down compared to meat. Cats, who are carnivores, have short intestinal passages, while dogs who fall in between herbivores and carnivores have longer ones compared to cats.
Dogs have the proven ability to digest carbohydrates like starch and glucose found in cereals, rice, vegetables, etc.
Unlike cats, dogs can make vitamins, beta-carotene, and other essential fatty acids from plant sources.
How can you ensure you and your dog are both happy with a vegetarian diet? Follow these steps.
Talk to your vet
Each breed has different nutritional requirements, and your vet will be able to guide you on the best foods for your dog. For instance, some dogs might need more protein, and hence you’ll need to include more eggs, soy, etc., in their diet. Vets can guide you on how to replace meat with eggs or dairy while ensuring your dog gets all the important nutrition they need.
Chart a diet plan
Most dogs do well when there’s a thoughtfully worked-out plan in place. It needs to tick all the boxes regarding vitamins, minerals, protein, and other important requirements that keep your dog healthy and not just in survival mode.
Preparing at home vs. buying dog food
All dog food brands enthusiastically reinforce the benefits of their product. We urge you to read the ingredients carefully and see if it matches up to the requirements of your dog. When preparing at home, it’s essential to include only the vegetables that are suitable for dogs. For example, while dogs can eat beans, it’s best given in limited quantities to avoid flatulence and discomfort.
That brings us to the next question – what can your dog eat? A good quality, healthy meal would comprise lentils, cereals like oats, and protein-based food like soybeans. Dogs can also have leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like spinach and broccoli. They can also benefit from supergrains like quinoa.
The biggest dangers of a vegetarian or vegan diet for dogs are the risk of vitamin deficiency and imbalance of certain fatty acids and proteins. We repeat that the first step is a detailed consultation with a qualified and experienced vet to make sure your dog will be able to handle a veggie lifestyle. After you get the green signal, following the recommended diet plan with adequate supplement intake is imperative.
Eventually, it comes down to a simple question – is your dog healthy? Vegan, vegetarian, or carnivore, if your dog is gamboling about with no signs of sickness or malnourishment, your job is done. Do the research, be thorough in the execution, and you’ll surely have a happy dog.