Can my dog eat a vegan or vegetarian diet?
Technically yes, dogs can survive on both a vegan or vegetarian diet. However, there are some important things to understand to ensure that your dog gets the right nutrition for their age, size and general health. In this article our vet discusses what to consider when feeding a vegan or vegetarian diet to your dog and examples of nutritionally balanced brands available. Our vet shares the latest advice here.
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This article will cover:
- Why feed your dog a vegan or vegetarian diet?
- Can I feed my dog a home cooked vegan or vegetarian diet?
- Does a vegan diet provide enough nutrition?
- What commercially available vegetarian or vegan diets are available?
- What else should I consider when choosing a vegan or vegetarian diet for my dog?
- How do I get started feeding my dog a vegan or vegetarian diet?
- Can my cat be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet?
Why feed your dog a vegetarian or vegan diet?
Many of us are trying to eat less meat for concerns over welfare, to reduce our environmental impact or for the overall health benefits associated with meat free diets. If you lead a vegan lifestyle you may understandably want to explore the options for extending your beliefs to include your dog. In certain circumstances a vegan or vegetarian diet may have health benefits for your dog. For example, dogs with food allergies or sensitivities tend to be reacting to the animal protein source (very rarely gluten or dairy). By using plant sources of protein this reaction could be avoided, which makes vegetarian or vegan diets are suitable for diet trials. However, it is important to feed your dog a ‘complete’ commercial diet to ensure your dog gets a balanced diet.
Can I feed my dog a home cooked vegan or vegetarian diet?
No, don’t be tempted to home cook for your dog unless you are under the guidance and supervision of a qualified veterinary nutritionist. It is extremely challenging to create a nutritionally balanced home cooked diet, let alone a vegan or vegetarian diet, which is part of the reason the commercial versions are relatively new on the market. In the short term, your dog may seem ok, but there are serious health consequences to feeding an unbalanced diet for a longer period of time and this is never recommended. Signs of inappropriate nutrition include poor coat quality, poor growth, weight loss, lack of energy and low litter size in whelping bitches.
Does a vegan diet provide enough nutrition?
Yes, if you use a commercially prepared ‘complete’ dog food. All commercial dog foods described as ‘complete’ are bound under 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 or dry dog food is much better than adding cooked chicken.
What vegetarian or vegan diets are commercially available?
There are more and more options when looking for a vegan or vegetarian dog food. Be sure that the product is labeled ‘complete’ if this is going to make up the majority of your dog’s diet to meet its nutritional needs. Vegan or vegetarian options include: Vetruus Solo Vegetal, Yarrah, Benevo, Ami and Lily’s Kitchen. These can be fed on their own or mixed into a meat based diet.
If you’re looking to reduce the environmental impact of your pets' food, Yora and Green Petfood sell insect protein-based complete pet foods. Entec nutrition also has an insect based pet food in the pipeline, launching in 2021.
What else should I consider when choosing a vegan/vegetarian diet for my dog?
Your dog’s age, weight and health conditions must be carefully considered when choosing a diet. Elderly dogs and puppies have different nutritional needs. It is vital that puppies are on a puppy specific food as this contains the right balance of nutrients for growing. Feeding your puppy an adult food can lead to lifelong skeletal issues. Some health conditions require a specific prescription diet and there may not be a suitable vegetarian or vegan alternative on the market just yet.
How do I get started feeding my dog a vegetarian or vegan diet?
Choose a complete dog food which is appropriate for your dog’s age and lifestyle. Slowly transition from your current food over a week or more, starting with 75% of the original food and 25% of the new food. Increase the percentage of new food and reduce the percentage of old food by 25% every 2-3 days. A sudden change of diet can lead to vomiting or diarrhoea. Home cooking for your dog can lead to health problems and malnutrition and should not be attempted long term unless you are under the supervision of a veterinary nutritionist (nutritionist is not a protected term which means that anyone can give themselves this title so please ensure that they are a veterinary nutritionist).
Can my cat be vegan?
Unfortunately, cats cannot survive on a vegan or vegetarian diet and should always be fed a meat based diet. To find out more read our article ‘Can my cat be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet?’
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)
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