Can my dog or cat be vegan?
In short, technically yes they can! Dogs can do well on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Cats, however, cats cannot survive on a vegan diet. There are some important things to understand about feeding your dog to ensure that they get the right nutrition for their age, size and general health. Our vet shares the latest advice here.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced, UK registered vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
✓ Included free as part of many pet insurance policies
✓ Help, treatment and if you need it, a referral to your local vet
✓ Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
Should dogs be fed like wolves?
Interestingly, dogs are not evolved from wolves but they do share a common ancestor. Dogs differ genetically from wolves and therefore they do not require the same diet. Since domestication, around 10-15,000 years ago, dogs have eaten foods more similar to humans. Wolves have a metabolism that is three times faster than dogs. However, dogs and cats are very capable of digesting carbohydrates, compared to wolves.
Why feed a meat-free diet?
Some dogs may be put on a meat-free diet to help manage allergies and other types of health problems. However, a diet without animal fats and proteins is potentially dangerous and should only be fed under the supervision of a professional. Without specialist supervision, a vegan diet could lead to malnutrition and severe health complications. Signs of inappropriate nutrition include coat quality, and litter size in whelping bitches.
Scientists at Tufts University report that designing a meat-free diet for dogs that contains all of the necessary nutrients for them to thrive is extremely difficult, even for specialist veterinary nutritionists.
Does a vegan diet provide all the necessary nutrients?
Whilst dogs can get their nutrition from plant-based sources, their digestive system is much more effective at utilising animal products. It is not possible to derive many important proteins, such as collagen, keratin and elastin, from animal products. These are essential for healthy skin, muscles and joints.
All commercial dog foods described on the packaging as ‘complete’ are bound under EU law to provide all of a pet’s dietary requirements. It is interesting to note that adding food to an already complete commercial diet can actually cause nutritional deficiencies; for example adding cooked chicken changes the calcium to phosphorus ratio, which is especially important for growing dogs. So there is no need to supplement your dog’s diet with any extras, if you are feeding a complete commercial pet food. If you do want to add something else, adding a small amount of a good quality balanced wet dog food is much better than adding cooked chicken.
Yora and Green Petfood sell alternative insect protein-based complete pet foods; Entec nutrition will shortly be providing an insect-based protein source for pets too. Vetruus Solo Vegetal is a complete vegetable based food that can be given in conjunction with meat based diets, or given on its own as part of a vegetarian/vegan diet.
Your dog’s age and breed must also be carefully considered to provide the correct diet. Puppies should be fed to a lean Body Condition Score (BCS); as a general rule, you should be able to feel their ribs with gentle pressure, and they should not be fat. They should also not be over-exercised. A steady growth rate is safer than growing too fast, as they will reach the same genetic potential!
What are the next steps?
If you have a vegan diet as a personal lifestyle choice or for health reasons, remember that these benefits will not extend to your dog.
As an ethical choice, here are the next steps to take in order to ensure that your canine friend has a safe and healthy diet:
- Talk to your vet about your concerns about your dog's health and diet
- Consider sourcing ethically-produced animal products to feed your dog
- Ask your vet to recommend a specialist veterinary nutritionist, who can formulate a specific diet for your dog and supervise their health and wellbeing
- Free webinar: Navigating the pet food maze: What's true and what's fake news? Dr Marge Chandler DVM, consultant veterinary nutritionist, hosted by Royal Canin (October 2019)
- Tufts University: Vegan Dogs – A healthy lifestyle or going against nature?
- Kennel Club: Feeding your growing puppy
- European Pet Food Federation
- Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association
When to contact a vet?
- Please seek veterinary advice for any questions or concerns about your dog’s health
Here you can book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our FirstVet vets for advice, treatment, and if necessary, referral to your local vet.