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Is It Healthy to Feed My Dog Vegetarian Dog Food?

Vegetarian dog food is available at larger pet stores.
Vegetarian meat crumbles are made of textured vegetable protein.
Commercially processed vegetarian dog food is often lacking in nutritional value.
Dogs need protein to remain healthy.
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While it can and is argued by many that, for people, a vegetarian diet is more healthful, and probably more like the diets of people hundreds of years ago, the same cannot be said of dogs. Dogs are omnivores, and opportunistic eaters. Wild dogs may snack on rodents, small birds and reptiles. As a result, dog food of any kind is not exactly “natural” in terms of what a dog would eat in the wild. Many vegetarian dog foods do not supply all of the nutrition that the animal needs, but it may be possible to supplement the food to make sure that the diet is healthy.

When dogs eat dog food, the most important component is making sure that the food meets safety standards. The primary agency that addresses this in the US is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), and any pet food that you give your dog should be AAFCO certified in order to meet its health needs. Further, studies on dogs that have been fed a vegetarian diet show that they often do not get all of the nutrients that they need.

It may be possible to supplement vegetarian dog food with the appropriate vitamin and minerals so that the animal’s diet is balanced. This should be done under supervision of a veterinarian. After switching a dog to vegetarian food, you should have the dog examined one to two months later to have general health evaluated.

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Signs that a dog may not be tolerating vegetarian food well include vomiting or diarrhea, hair loss, loss of energy, or merely appearing “off-color.” One of the most common replacements for the protein provided by meat in most dog foods is soy. Some dogs, like some people, do not tolerate soy well.

Further problems with vegetarian dog food may be encountered if the dog food contains no animal products — like eggs, for example — and is completely vegan. While some dogs can do very well with vegetarian food, many dogs do not respond well to a completely vegan diet. It is very challenging, even with supplements, to completely meet a dog’s nutritional requirements with vegan food.

Some dogs will not respond well to vegetarian dog food, even when it does contain animal products, so you should accept that you might ultimately have to feed the dog a meat-based food. If this is unacceptable for personal reasons, you may be better off not adopting a dog unless the animal has had proven success with a vegetarian diet.

If you would like to switch a dog to vegetarian food, only purchase food that has been tested and meets all nutritional standards for dogs. There are many brands that offer this certification, and you can find the most variety at feed stores or at large pet stores. There are also books devoted to making vegetarian foods for your dog, and some of these recipes may also meet AAFCO standards.

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anon337494
Post 25

At present, there have been no studies that systematically and longitudinally compare a representative sample of dogs that eat a meat based diet with ones that eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. So, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that one diet is better than the other. There is the example of Bramble, the oldest living dog who died at 27, who ate an exclusively vegan diet since his birth. But this, just as the lifelong smoker who died in his late nineties, is an anecdote. There is a reason anecdotes are not published in scholarly journals: the conclusions drawn do not necessarily hold true when you average them across several individuals.

And to address the issue of what is considered "natural," there are many examples of things humans do that would be unnatural if they were left to their own devices in the wild (as dogs who eat only meat they can find in the wild are). We brush our teeth and undergo dental procedures, which science unequivocally shows extends our lifespan and prevents disease. Pregnant women are encouraged to take folic acid as a supplement when pregnant, which has been shown to be better for the baby. Antibiotics and vaccines cure and prevent diseases. The list goes on. There are countless times when science has shown that we can improve upon what is "natural."

"But dogs have pointy teeth and short digestive tracts." Yes, because evolution works at a slower pace than human invention. Your dog's teeth and digestive tract were favored when dogs exclusively ate dead animals they caught or found. But now they have been bred to smaller sizes and eat mostly dry kibble. They may eventually adapt to these changes. Humans have wisdom teeth we don't need because they are a vestige from when we chewed on leaves most of the time. We also have less hair than we used to because we've been wearing clothes for a while (turns out clothes keep bugs out of naughty places better than hair alone would). Human invention will eventually shape both our own evolution and that of our companions (read "Before the Dawn" for an excellent chapter on how humans and dogs co-evolved in the last 10,000 years or so, if you're interested).

That said, because there is no evidence to suggest one diet is better than another for dogs, I will likely try to feed a combination of both. It seems this is a way to hedge my bets until there is more conclusive scientific evidence.

anon323538
Post 24

If I knew somebody in person, who was feeding their dog a vegetarian diet, well... It is completely and utterly irresponsible to do that. Their digestive track is completely different from a horse, and from a human. It is made to digest meat (they can digest some plant based foods but not many and not very well, more specifically vegetables seem to be O.K). They have a very short digestive tract compared to a human. That in itself is proof enough. Seriously, grow up. You're just wrong if you think feeding your dog a vegetarian diet could be healthy for them.

anon296356
Post 23

Don't feed your dog vegan if you're not sure. He will suffer.

anon240618
Post 21

I don't dislike the idea of people being vegetarian or vegan, and I agree that pet food companies put bad stuff in their food, and I think we should be feeding our dogs and cats a natural, healthy diet.

I'm concerned though that they won't get the proper nutrition with an all vegetarian diet, though. My room mate feeds her dogs a vegetarian diet and they are always hungry, looking for extra food in the garbage and wherever they can find it, they're always coming to me for handouts or treats but she tells me not to so I don't give them anything.

One of them, (a German Shepard) is so skinny I can just about feel all the way around her abdomen with my hands spread out and touching in a circle. Is this normal for vegetarian dogs or not?

anon176278
Post 20

Forcing your pet to adopt your "religion" is the same human story that has been told for centuries. The vegan Gihad -It's just another form of tyranny.

anon149952
Post 19

A domestic animal is no longer living the way it was born to live. Some view this as cruel. A domesticated animal does not have to work hard to find food. A domestic animal has an abundance of food given to them. That's why we often see domesticated rabbits, cats and dogs living together and do not want to eat each other! They are too full to think about more food!

Vegetarians and vegans are generally people trying to do right by all living beings. With the environment deteriorating, natural disasters increasing and animals and plants becoming extinct, we all need to change our lifestyles. Animal agriculture emits more than 40 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, so any cut backs on meat and animal products is a good thing.

Nutrients in a vegetarian and vegan diet are fine for a domesticated animal as long as all their nutrient requirements are met. There are vegetable options that replace the nutrient of meat, so as long it is tasty and the animals are healthy and happy, that is all that matters. Be kind to all life.

anon149202
Post 18

Calling a dog a wolf is like calling humans chimps. It disregards the evolution that has brought them to their current state of being. Can you really call a Chihuahua a wolf and feel like a competent and thoughtful adult?

Dogs have been brought up almost entirely on unhealthy grains over the last 100 years. So evolutionarily, dogs diets now consist of rice/barley (or the like) and animal byproduct. A switch from crappy dried dog food to a vegetarian diet might actually be welcome by most dogs.

I do, however, agree that eggs should be included. I can't stand people that ignorantly rail against the horrors of vegetarian/veganism with no practical life experience or research to back their claims. Get it together!

anon148912
Post 17

Love it! To the point, articulate, and interesting.

Veggies are great! Thanks.

anon142058
Post 15

Seeing how a healthy and well-fed dog will eat a rotting deer carcass, I find it funny that all these people think they need whole foods and organic vegetables, and are somehow being force fed "unhealthy" animal scraps in the form of dog food.

Seriously people, dogs come from wolves, which thrive exclusively on uncooked flesh. Stop humanizing them.

anon139258
Post 14

Our dog is vegan and as healthy as the rest of us in the family. Veganism is clearly the unselfish way to run your life.

anon137421
Post 13

What's wrong with all of the people on here? Vegetarians looking at this page are obviously concerned about whether a vegetarian diet is safe for their pets. Do you really think people are going to intentionally hurt their pets? Most vegetarians realize that the diet does take work, and the whole point of doing this research is to see if it's possible or safe to feed their pets this way.

All of you omnivores who're ticked off about people "imposing their beliefs on others" should look at your own posts.

anon118153
Post 12

Dogs and humans digestive systems are most definitely not similar, like somebody stated. Even humans have a very hard time meeting their nutritional needs on a solely vegetarian diet (actually near impossible. vitamin supplements can help fill the gaps but it is more to do with the absorption process than anything) and dogs are almost exclusively meat eaters in a natural setting.

We feed our dog carrots, beans etc. but we give him a large amount of canned meat and the traditional dry dog food. He actually loves peanuts (but can't digest them at all). We bought him from the RSPCA fully grown at least 10 years ago and besides arthritis and a grey face, frequently gets mistaken for a puppy.

The last three years he has definitely lost a lot of his vitality, but will play throw the ball in the water for half an hour before we have to stop him (we are talking running and jumping off the jetty and swimming 20 meters back and forth continuously). He is de-sexed, and I am guessing he would be twice as active if he wasn't.

Also if you buy a well-known pet food supplier, I would say the chances of it harming your dog are next to nil (even if it has animals of the same species in it). I actually eat the dry stuff sometimes and it tastes reasonably good and has never hurt me (if it doesn't hurt a human it is will not hurt a dog). Seriously, think about it, your dog licks its butt, feet and practically anything.

Also taking in and feeding a homeless and starving dog a vegetarian diet and then seeing good results means just about nothing. It in no way means you are meeting his requirements. Even a plant kept in complete darkness will improve with a tiny crack of light.

anon118125
Post 11

If vegans are so incredibly concerned with what their pets are eating why don't they do some research on their own and pop open some books to find out what dogs and cats should be eating to be healthy instead of reading someone else's article, opinion, "case study," etc. Then make the food yourself so you know exactly what's in it.

I make my dogs' own food based on her breed, energy level and age from farm raised chicken, fish, veggies and other wholesome goodness. Stop blaming the awful things in commercial dog food (crap is more like it) to justify forcing animals to consume a diet for the length of their lifetimes that may not be suitable and even detrimental to their health. Do what is right by your pet, not by you.

anon113084
Post 9

To say that when a person decides to switch to a vegetarian diet for their dog is ignoring its welfare is an unjust generalization and completely insulting and rude. The efforts taken to fulfill a complete nutritional diet consumes more time for research than it is to go to supermarket and purchasing Purina.

I feed my dogs Orijen dog food because they are the only dog food manufacturer that uses free-range and pasture raised beef and chicken. Most manufacturers, like EVO for instance, a quality dog food, cannot make this claim.

People who truly care for their pets and their environment will challenge themselves in finding the best for their pets and will, in no way, jeopardize their pet's welfare.

It is beyond nutrition that some people decide to have a vegetarian lifestyle. Sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and environmental damages that animal feedlots cause, are some of the issues. One can switch the table on asking those who think it is nonsense to switch their dog's food to a vegetarian diet is why not do it?

If you love your dog, and you love animals, why would you subjugate one animal to a miserable life while pampering another? If humans, who are omnivores, can have a well balanced, healthy and fulfilling life as a vegetarian, why can't a dog? We live in the 21st century and have immense knowledge and accessibility to obtain a complete nutritional diet, than why remain ignorant and archaic in our views about alternative diets for canines?

Just because the dog industry has been in business for awhile doesn't mean that they do not have room for improvement. Remember, these companies were using meat by-products before a public revolution to move them into the direction of using more quality meats with no by-products. Pet food companies are in the business of making money, and if it takes too much money to research, test and market a vegetarian dog food, they will abstain from doing it.

Some vegetarian dog foods that are currently on the market are still using wheat, corn and soy - grains that are allergy causing ingredients to some dogs. Meaning that, even the ones who are marketing to the vegetarian humans to buy their products, have yet to reach the high standard of nutrition and eco-conscious thinking that most vegetarians want to obtain.

I applaud those pioneers who are following Galileo’s footsteps: to prove that the world is round, when everyone thinks that the world is flat. It will take time, but hopefully one day, no one would be so rude and insulting when people are ingenious enough to challenge the status quo!

anon112006
Post 8

It's certainly not surprising that people who resent vegetarian people would also resent people feeding their dogs a vegetarian diet. That doesn't make it any more "crazy" than it is for people to be vegetarians. Both dogs and people are inherently omnivores - and neither requires ingesting animals in order to live a long, happy and healthy life.

As far as manufactured foods go, I don't think there's any fundamental reason to believe that vegetarian dog foods are any less likely to contain unhealthy ingredients than non-vegetarian dog foods. For that matter, there's no reason to think that any manufactured dog food is less likely to be unhealthy than many manufactured human foods. The food industry is what it is, and the best advice is caveat emptor, for both yourself and your dog.

anon110431
Post 7

My cat died three years ago and I came to find out an ingredient imported from China that was in cat food caused thousands of deaths in the U.S. I don't trust the pet food industry anymore.

I see several chew toys (made from animal by-products) that are made in China. I have no idea what animals have been turned into "rawhide" - cows, pigs, dogs, cats? I make my own dog food and it's mainly vegetarian/vegan and I do it for his health. He has a clean bill of health, he's energetic, his coat is shiny and he has boundless energy.

anon102473
Post 6

Ok. The dog is raised with me so it should follow my beliefs - at least to a certain extent. Therefore, the dog will be vegetarian but properly maintained. Just because dog food works doesn't mean it's the only thing that should be used. That is a display of blissful ignorance.

anon97993
Post 5

Actually, not all dog food has rendered euthanized pets, actually very few do. If you simply read the label and do your research you will find that there are more good foods than bad. People that believe dogs or cats should be vegetarian as the scum on my shoes. They require meat to function.

As for vegans and vegetarians, it's your choice, but seriously, we have been consuming meat and dairy for thousands of years. If we hadn't, we would not have made it through the winters! Don't forget that most "fatty" vegetables we have now are a result of cultivation. Thousands of years ago many veggies and fruits we eat today didn't exist!

anon88518
Post 4

we live in Brazil with four cats and four dogs (orphans from the streets) and using only natural products to "heal" them, such as honey, propolis, pollen, vinegar and herbs. The results are wonderful and don't take my word for it, try it yourself!

if the industrialized dog food is bad in north america, imagine what it is like in south america! we have to switch to vegan dog food fast. I don't want my pet (I'm more theirs than they are mine) to have cancer for being what they eat!

The organic food is also kin, pesticides and all *cides are proven to be cancerous and others side effects as well!! see for yourself online! remember the cure is inside of us.

anon61357
Post 3

You should consider common sense, and the welfare of your dog. There's a lot of people imposing their beliefs on their pets. It's crazy. Dog food has worked fine for millions of animals for a very long time. Your critique of AAFCO and dog food in general sounds strange to me.

I don't know why people can't just follow their common sense, and not impose their personal agenda on everyone (including pets) that crosses their path. Dog food is good for dogs. It's been tested over so long a time that saying it's unhealthy is just plain irresponsible.

anon53189
Post 2

There is no such thing as "AAFCO Certified". AAFCO is an organization that provides a mechanism for developing and implementing uniform laws and regulations to its members (mostly state feed regulatory offices).

It does set pet food feeding protocols for nutritional adequacy for dogs and cats and approve ingredients for use in all animal feeds. This is to protect the consumer form fraudulent claims and unapproved, poisonous, and harmful ingredients in all feed including pet food.

Your state makes sure that your dog food is "healthy" by making sure the food is what the label states. You decide how to use that information.

anon10187
Post 1

The AAFCO is a joke, and so-called "dog food" is the least healthy thing you can give your dog. It even contains rendered, euthanized PETS. A vegetarian (or meat) diet should consist of fresh whole foods, just like you eat. See the other wisegeek article on this:

"What should I consider when buying healthy dog food?"

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