Do dogs really need meat? Many vegans and vegetarians, who have opted for a diet that does not contain animal products, would like for their dogs to also have a meat-free diet. But is protein from meat a biological requirement for your dog? Can they go without eating meat and thrive on a vegetarian diet?
The answer is maybe. The jury is still out and comprehensive research and studies on the long-term effects of feeding a dog a plant-based diet are not available, so feeding a purely plant based diet to your dog is still somewhat controversial. There is some anecdotal evidence that a healthy balance is possible, and that dogs whose plant-based diets are carefully prepared for them to provide all the nutrients and amino acids they need, do just fine. Other evidence suggests that a well rounded diet, which includes a variety of foods including fats and proteins from animal-based sources, is more appropriate for your dog's health.
Dogs are not strict carnivores by nature, they have several omnivore type characteristics, but this, in turn, does not mean they are true omnivores. An omnivore is an animal, like humans, that can obtain their nutrients and protein from a variety of foods, including plant-based diets. Dogs have molars that can grind plant materials, but they are pointed like a carnivores, not flat like most omnivores, including bears and humans, which means they are not as effective at masticating plant materials. Dogs can digest carbohydrates and get nutrients from plants, and they do have a large enough small intestine to absorb nutrients from plants. Animals with limited small intestines, like cats, are obligate carnivores, and are unable to extract all the required nutrients from plant materials.
There are concerns that need to be addressed if you are thinking of feeding your dog a meat-free diet, and the ability of dogs to thrive and live healthy lives without meat in their diet is unclear. Dietary requirements that are unique to dogs, such as high protein content, need to be addressed before considering a plant-based diet for your dog. Read on for a better understanding of some of the issues and concerns regarding dogs and meatless diets.
There are two main reasons pet owners might opt for a meat-free diet for their dog: the pet owner’s own personal beliefs regarding the use of animal products in their pet’s diet, and allergies to food that their dog may be experiencing, including allergies to certain meat or animal-based protein sources.
Dogs do have a high need in their diet for protein. Addressing your dog's nutritional requirements means ensuring they get enough protein from whatever source, animal or plant their diet consists of.
Commercial plant-based diets that provide adequate amounts of proteins are available. These commercially prepared foods are convenient, and contain the required dietary nutrients for dogs. However, they can be expensive, which may be prohibitive to some pet owners. In addition, if your dog decides that the commercially preferred food is not palatable to them, they may refuse to eat it.
An alternative is to personally prepare a plant-based diet for your dog, complete with all the nutrients and proteins they require. This is resource and time-consuming, and may not be practical for many dog owners. Although dogs are typically more interested in consuming a freshly prepared diet, the issue of a dog refusing the offered diet is still possible. Dogs prefer meat to plant material, and your dog may not accept a plant-based meal. The following plant based foods are safe for dogs, and contain many of the nutrients and proteins they require including beta carotene to synthesize vitamin A and high protein content.
It is important to remember that dogs are not true omnivores. Although they can derive nutrients from plants, their livers are more limited than ours with respect to metabolizing plant compounds. Many plants that are healthy for humans can be toxic to dogs in large amounts. If you are providing a homemade plant-based diet for your dog, you will need to take the time to ensure that food you are providing for your dog does not contain compounds that your dog’s liver cannot process, which can result in toxicity and illness. Also, remember that your dog’s body requires amino acids, vitamins, and minerals in different amounts then your body does. Making the effort to provide these from a plant based diet is time-consuming. Dog owners who are attempting this are advised to consult a veterinarian and/or a pet nutritionist to ensure they have an adequate understanding of their dog's nutritional requirements and how to provide them with plant based foods and avoid deficiencies in protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that will result in disease and malnutrition in their dog. If you are using a home-prepared diet, providing dietary supplements to ensure all requirements are met will probably be necessary.
Consider All the Angles
Many veterinarians and pet nutritionists recommend a diet based on both plant and animal sources to practically meet your dog's nutritional requirements. Fatty acids that your dog requires cannot practically be provided from plant sources, and will require synthetic sources, if not provided from animal products. It is possible to meet these requirements with plant based commercial dog foods, or homemade plant diets with supplements, however much care and consideration to ensure your dog's dietary needs are met will be required.