Because dogs are omnivores, meaning they get their nutrition from both plant and animal sources, they can eat a vegetarian diet. That doesn’t mean they should, though, unless special circumstances, like food allergies, make it necessary.
If you’re thinking of switching your dog’s food to a vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s important to understand the differences between the two and the potential risks involved.
We also recommend talking through dietary options with your veterinarian and/or a veterinary nutritionist to make the best choice for your dog’s specific needs.
What Do Dogs Need in Their Diet?
The basics of dog nutrition dictate a dog needs the correct amount of nutrients from these six groups:
Nutrients from these groups together provide the calories to fuel their activities and the functions of every cell in their bodies. Meat is a good source for some of these nutrients, but it’s not the only way for dogs to get the calories and nutrients they need. Various plants, grains and other foods are also needed to supply your dog with all essential nutrients to thrive.
Vegetarian Diets for Dogs
Dogs are the descendants of wolves—true carnivores who only eat non-meat sources like berries, grass or eggs on rare occasions. As domesticated animals, dogs have evolved to eat and digest most grains, fruits and vegetables regularly. To put it simply, your dog is not a wolf.
A dog’s pancreas makes enzymes to digest starches—a component found in plant sources—whereas wolves have a much harder time doing so. Further, dogs can absorb the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, from corn. So, does this mean you can put your dog on a vegetarian diet?
The answer is yes, it’s possible, but keeping them on a complete and balanced diet without incorporating any meat or animal products takes expertise and shouldn’t be done without consulting your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist.
While it’s natural for people who choose to follow a vegetarian diet to consider the same for their dogs, it can be harmful to your dog’s health if not formulated properly.
If your dog’s vegetarian dog food isn’t properly formulated by a qualified veterinary nutritionist, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which can negatively impact your dog’s health. For example, dogs need vitamin D3, which they can only obtain via animal sources like fish oils, eggs or some form of supplement.
Homemade vegetarian or vegan diets may lack several essential nutrients, such as arginine, lysine, methionine, taurine, tryptophan, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin A and certain B vitamins.
Nonetheless, some dogs have such severe food allergies that their veterinarian may recommend a specialized vegetarian dog food, usually under the supervision of a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist. These vegetarian dog foods are made with alternative protein sources like soy and are formulated to give your dog the complete and balanced nutrition they need to thrive.
Vegan Diets for Dogs
With over 50 nutrients needed to help dogs thrive, putting a dog on a vegan diet makes it exceptionally difficult to provide them with all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Although there are vegan commercial pet foods on the market today, it may not be what’s best for your dog. Putting your dog on a vegan diet requires both the close attention of a veterinary nutritionist and constant monitoring on your part.
If feeding your dog a vegetarian or vegan diet is important to you, we recommend discussing it with your veterinarian first. They can help you select a food that aligns with your values, while also ensuring your dog gets the nutrients they need.
If sustainability is a concern surrounding feeding your dog a meat-based diet, learn more about where our ingredients come from and how we reduce waste.