Can dogs live a healthy life on a purely vegetarian or vegan diet?
Unlike cats who are obligate carnivores, dogs are omnivores. And veterinary science opinion points to there being no problem with a dog thriving on plant-based diets: provided it’s done right.
Yes – dogs can live long healthy lives on a vegetarian or vegan (no animal products) but it takes careful planning to ensure they’re getting the right balance and types of protein, carbohydrates and all the nutrients they need.
Making your own veg dog food at home therefore takes quite a lot of planning. Many people do this with great success – once you’ve got a good formula down that’s ticking all the boxes then you’re set.
For others, buying commercial vegan or vegetarian dog food is now a very viable option as there’s a good number of brands either exclusively making plant-based food for dogs, or including a vegetarian option amongst their range.
The benefit of buying the food ready to go – either wet or canned or both – is of course that you don’t have to worry about balancing all the nutrients yourself. These commercial veg diets can either be used in addition to home made food, or fed exclusively.
Studies on dog DNA, especially when compared with their wolf ancestors, have discovered that our domestic dogs have evolved a much higher tolerance for starch in their diet. Starch foods include pasta, rice, potatoes and various grains – things you’ll often find in commercial dog food formulas.
Why would you want to feed your dog a plant based diet?
Many argue that it’s not up to us to impose our moral views on our pets. I wont’ be getting into that debate here, but I do want to briefly cover the varied reasons that some people go down this path – and it’s not all about vegan humans not wanting to feed meat to their pets.
Some people might consider switching to a vegetarian diet after a particular health diagnosis. Needless to say, this should only be done in consultation with your vet, and ongoing health monitored regularly.
Many dogs have allergies to certain ingredients in commercial dog food.
Some of the most common allergic symptoms are skin inflammation and gastrointestinal problems.
Often, this is an allergic reaction to something in the protein source – the meat. This is a reason that a lot of people look at moving their dog to alternative meat protein sources, like venison instead of beef for example. In some cases, this can resolve the allergy. Some commercial pet food companies make what they label allergen-free dog food: but with the individual requirements and sensitivities of so many dogs, it’s not always possible to eliminate all possible allergens.
This is where some people then turn to vegetarian dog food options. This eliminates all meat sources from the diet, and elimination is a tried and tested method of both identifying and avoiding allergens of any type (in both animals and people)
We know there’s an alarming amount of low quality meat-based dog food out there. Because pet food isn’t as regulated as human grade food, the source and types of meat and other potentially hazardous ingredients (see section 6.2 here)used in these commercial foods can range from decent to downright scary.
We’ve all heard stories, whether accurate or not, about the meat of companion animals themselves being found in commercial foods. Then there’s the potential of horse meat, fish scraps, by-products, and pieces of slaughtered animals scraped from the floor – not to mention the plethora of potential contaminants that make their way into pet food from the food agricultural industry.
Although premium dog foods are the way to go to help avoid all this, it’s hard to blame anyone who doesn’t want to take the chance of feeding their dog low quality meat by-products and the like.
This can lead many to then consider a vegetarian solution, unless they’re willing to commit to a homemade diet that includes quality meats and all the essential nutrients – something that not everyone feels comfortable or confident doing.
Yes, this is certainly a motivation for some people. People who don’t want to contribute to the environmental and animal welfare concerns of animal agriculture will often quickly search for a way to have their dog consume only plant-based food.
There is nothing wrong with this way of thinking: provided the first and foremost consideration is of the dog’s health and supplying a quality vegetarian or vegan diet with all the essential nutritional components, then the ethical motivations behind this choice is not going to negatively effect your dog.
Avoiding Deficiencies in a Vegan or Vegetarian Dog Diet
This is the area people tend to worry about most when considering a plant based dog diet: what about deficiencies? Will my dog get all he needs without meat? What are the critical must-have nutrients that need to be included in the diet?
Vegetarian and Vegan Dog Food Reviews
Natural Balance Vegetarian/Vegan Dog Food Reviews
Natural Balance is one of the most popular and respected commercial brands that makes a fully vegetarian formula for dogs. Both canned and dry food is available and this review will cover both products. There’s a ton of information and comments out there which I’ve spent many hours scouring through. Below you’ll find my summary of findings, with a particular focus on what people love and don’t love about Natural Balance vegetarian dog food.
It’s important to note: even though Natural Balance calls it vegetarian on the packaging, these are indeed vegan dog foods! For what reason they chose to describe it as vegetarian rather than vegan in the most prominent spot on the packaging is unknown, but vegan is mentioned in smaller text so if you’re looking for vegan food – don’t be mislead by the big Vegetarian text.
Natural Balance is indeed vegan dog food. That means no animal products whatsoever are used in these foods.
These are USA made and owned dog foods.
Taurine is included in the formulas, and like most taurine additive it comes from a synthetic source.