Can Dogs Live on a Vegetarian Diet?

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Introduction

Vegetarian diets have become extremely popular among humans, and some people think that transitioning their pets to vegetarian diets can have some benefits as well. Dogs are omnivores, which means that they rely on both animal- and plant-based foods to survive. In the wild, dogs would have mainly lived off of meat, relying only on other food sources when meat was unavailable.

What does this mean for dogs whose owners decide on a vegetarian diet for them? Can dogs still be healthy without meat in their diet? We are going to find out if it is possible for dogs to stay healthy with a vegetarian diet and what you should look out for when considering this option.

Signs Dogs Can Live on a Vegetarian Diet

Do dogs need meat to survive? Not necessarily. However, that doesn’t mean that dogs can survive without protein. Dogs are omnivores, but that means that they do need to have protein in their diet and in the wild, that protein would come from meat. Based on science, dogs should be given at least some meat in their diet, however, if you find a way to supplement the meat with other protein sources, dogs can live healthy lives.

Meat proteins contain fatty acids that dogs need to survive. These fatty acids can only be found in meat proteins, which means that you will need to find a way to get your dog these nutrients if you remove meat from their diet. Fatty acids are good for your dog’s skin and coat. Without them, your dog may have itchy, flaky skin. Eye health may also suffer without these nutrients.

Supplements will be necessary for any dog placed on a vegetarian diet. Supplements are never as good as the real nutrients, but they will prevent your dog from becoming malnourished. If you see any signs of malnourishment—lethargy, weakness, shaking, disinterest in food and water—you need to bring your dog to the veterinarian right away.

Body Language

Without the proper amount of protein, dogs will become malnourished, which can lead to other health problems. A few signs of malnourishment include:
  • Shaking
  • Weakness
  • Lack of focus
  • Head bobbing

Other Signs

Other signs to watch for include:
  • Weight Loss
  • Poor Coat Quality
  • Low Energy

History of Dogs Living on Vegetarian Diets

Dogs being vegetarian, and even vegan, is a new concept, so not much history or research is behind whether or not this can be done safely. However, before commercial dog food became widely available, dogs often ate table scraps. These table scraps may have contained meat and other scraps from the family’s dinner, but they also could’ve lacked meat completely some days. With only small amounts of meat, these dogs still lived fairly healthy lives. Since dogs often lived outside during these days, many dogs may have also hunted small animals for food as well.

Not much research has been done on the safety of vegetarian diets for dogs. For this reason, it is a good idea to talk to your veterinarian before changing your dog’s diet over. For some dogs, a vegetarian diet may be possible, while it isn’t for other dogs.

Since history tells us very little about dogs living on a vegetarian diet, we can only hope that research will be conducted to search for answers on whether or not these diets can be healthy for dogs. Until more research is done, dog owners need to be aware of the consequences of their dogs not getting enough protein in their diets.

Science Behind Dogs Being Able to Live on a Vegetarian Diet

Dogs require protein to live healthy lives. Since dogs normally get protein from the meat sources in their foods, you need to be careful if you decide to remove meat from your dog’s diet. You’ll need to find other ways to provide your dog with the protein that it desperately needs to survive. Consider eggs, quinoa, and chickpeas as possible protein sources.

While it is healthy for some humans and dogs to be vegetarian, that doesn’t mean that it is healthy for all humans and dogs. If your veterinarian doesn’t believe your dog is a good fit for vegetarianism, you should keep your pup on its regular, meat-filled diet.

Also remember, cats should never be placed on meat-free diets.

Dealing With Dogs Eating a Vegetarian Diet

If you are considering placing your dog on a vegetarian diet, the first thing that you should do is talk to a veterinarian. If your veterinarian thinks it is a good idea, you’ll want to work with a veterinary nutritionist to come up with a diet that is balanced and healthy. A lot of the information online about meat-free diets for dogs is incorrect, and you want to make sure that your dog is healthy no matter what they eat. A nutritionist can help you come up with meat supplements for your dog’s protein.

There are now vegan and vegetarian dog foods on the market. While these are safe for consumption, you should still check with a veterinarian to make sure that your dog’s needs are going to be met with one of these foods. If they aren’t suitable for your dog, you may need to make homemade dog food.

Since your dog needs some nutrients that are only found in meat-based proteins, you will need to supply supplements to make up for any vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your dog won’t receive in a vegetarian diet. Chemically synthesized nutrients are never as good as the real deal, however.

For some dogs, a vegetarian diet will help treat medical conditions. For dogs with liver disease, meat allergies, or frequent bladder stones, a vegetarian diet can be beneficial to their health. However, just because this type of diet is healthy for one dog doesn’t mean it will be for all dogs.

Some dogs won’t be able to go on vegetarian diets. If your dog is one of them, then you need to respect that and continue with a meat-filled diet.

Safety Tips for Dogs Living on a Vegetarian Diet

  • Always speak to your veterinarian before changing your dog's diet.
  • To prevent any malnutrition or other health problems, make sure your dog is getting enough protein in their diet.