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Can Dogs be Vegan or Vegetarian?

Written by Ella White

Updated

Two corgis enjoying a pumpkin and apple picnic

As a devoted vegan and dog owner, the question of whether my pet can thrive on a plant-based diet has played in my mind. Living a lifestyle that avoids animal products, I couldn't help but wonder if my pup could also share in my commitment to plant-based eating. 

Selfishly, the allure of this idea came down to the idea of eliminating the need to purchase meat products entirely. This led me into extensive research around whether or not it’s really healthy for dogs to join me in my vegan diet. Spoiler alert: the answer is no. 

Can Dogs Survive On Plant-Based Diets?

Dogs are natural omnivores that have evolved to survive on a diet that includes both plant and animal-based ingredients. Their digestive systems are designed to extract nutrients from various sources, including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. And while it's true that some dogs may tolerate and survive on a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is not a guarantee that they will thrive in terms of optimal health

Both of these facts are also true of humans. The difference is that my body and my health are my own responsibility, and something that I have strong understanding of and control over. When it comes to my furry pal, I have to put their own needs and not my preferences first. Which is why I ultimately came to the conclusion that subjecting my dog to a vegan or vegetarian diet would be neither fair nor ethical.

Why Do Dogs Need Meat?

One of the main concerns around a plant-based diet for dogs is that it will almost definitely lack the essential nutrients that they can get from meat. Dogs require specific nutrients, such as complete proteins, certain amino acids, and vitamins like B12, which are primarily found in animal products. Attempting to substitute these nutrients with plant-based alternatives would likely lead to nutritional deficiencies that may ultimately lead to health issues over time.

Taurine, for instance, is an amino acid that is crucial for dogs. Its deficiency can result in serious health problems, including heart disease and blindness. While there are some plant-based sources that contain taurine, they may not provide a sufficient amount for dogs. There are other, similar nutrients that are abundant in meat and hard to offer in the quantities that dogs need through plant-based foods, and these nutrient imbalances pose a significant long-term risk to the overall well-being of your dog if they live on a vegan or vegetarian diet.

The Ethics Of Dog Ownership

Another ethical dilemma arose when I began to consider my dog’s natural instinct as a descendant of wolves (as hard as that is to believe!) and her intrinsic hunting nature. If my own vegan diet is a matter of ethics, then the ethics of dog ownership should be something I take just as seriously.

My dog relies on me to make choices that will always prioritize her health and wellbeing. And it became clear that the only ethical diet for her would be one that aligns with her biological needs. Anything else would not be considered responsible pet ownership – which is something that I feel as strongly about as plant-based eating.

How To Incorporate Vegan And Vegetarian Elements Into A Healthy Dog’s Diet

For those who, like me, strive to align their values with their dogs' well-being, there are ways to make ethical choices without compromising on their nutritional needs. 

  • Choosing ethically sourced and sustainably produced meat can be a conscientious compromise. 
  • Supplementing a dog's diet with plant-based options, such as fruits and vegetables, can provide additional nutrients and fiber.
  • Use whole grains like brown rice or oats to boost their carbohydrates.
  • Add plant-based oils like flaxseed or coconut oil to their food for essential fatty acids.
  • Let your dog snack on pet-friendly human veggies, like broccoli and carrot, either raw or  cooked or boiled plain with no oil or seasonings.

Before taking any of these steps, speak with your vet or an accredited animal nutritionist to understand the foods that dogs can and cannot eat, and what will work best alongside your pet’s existing diet.

A professional can provide guidance on how to balance their diet appropriately, ensuring that your dog receives all the necessary nutrients they need to stay happy and healthy. You should never make sudden changes to your dog’s diet – especially if that change is removing meat. Regular check-ups and monitoring are important to detect and address any potential deficiencies or health issues.

If the conclusion hadn’t been obvious all along: it’s neither healthy nor ethical to feed your dog a vegan or vegetarian diet. But there are plenty of ways to feed your dog healthy plant-based foods that will boost their diet rather than compromise it. Just be sure to check with a professional before you make any changes, and always introduce new ingredients slowly. 

And remember: your dog deserves a healthy and fulfilling diet, just like you do. But in their case, that means using high-quality, well-balanced animal-based ingredients. The market for plant based diets for humans has exploded in recent years. It seems like a new brand has launched every month which is fantastic for those of us who opt to avoid animal products. As more and more products are being launched that focus on animal health, there’s hope for those keen to introduce a more animal free diet to their dogs. Who knows, maybe one day, we’ll all be more plant than animal based. For now, it’s about responsible pet ownership that involves making choices that prioritize your dog's health and happiness, even if that means continuing to purchase meat products for their diet.