So, you’re a vegetarian, and are considering a vegetarian diet for your dog? This is quite common in India where most vegetarian families really do not want to get any meat inside their houses, not even in the form of dog food.
The obvious conclusion is to feed our dogs vegetarian food as well. Why not let them enjoy the same, high-quality fruits and veggies you do? However, dogs are not humans (even if you love them more than your family ;-)) Before you go ahead and offer your pup the same delicious vegetarian meals you enjoy on a daily basis, there are a few very important things you need to know!
A Debate Years in the Making – Can dogs thrive off of a vegetarian diet, or should this be avoided?
Thousands of pet owners have their own opinions to offer either way. Some doctors of veterinary medicine, highly educated in the exact nutritional needs of our dogs, will claim vegan diets should be avoided and can lead to malnutrition, and then there are some that tell us we can feed our dogs vegetarian diets as long as we are careful.
The purpose of this article isn’t to take one stance or the other, but to tell you exactly how to offer your dog a nutritious vegetarian diet safely!
Important Nutritional Info You Need to Know
Humans are true omnivores, able to adjust to either a vegetarian or carnivorous diet as long as they receive the right nutrients. Dogs are descended from creatures that lived almost entirely on nutrition from prey animals, most eating very few plant-based foods. Thankfully, through hundreds of years of human coexistence, today’s domesticated dogs are much better able to thrive off of diets closer to ours!
This doesn’t mean our dogs can’t thrive off of a vegetarian diet! It does mean, however, an owner offering a vegetarian diet needs to be very careful to offer the right mixture of nutrients, or the dog can easily become deficient.
Amino Acids: the Differences Between Plant and Animal Protein
In the end, it isn’t the proteins, whether they be plant or animal, that matter. It’s the amino acids those proteins are built from. One simple truth stands above all others; our dogs need to get a certain amount of ‘Essential Amino Acids’ (their bodies can’t produce these, and they must be found in their diets) every day. It is hard for them to find all of the amino acids they need from plant proteins.
The canine digestive system is an amazing thing! Their bodies actually have the ability to transform certain amino acids into others, meaning they can get enough of the right kind of protein from plants- but they must be the right kind of plants.
- Dogs get 10 different ‘essential amino acids’ from their diets.
Take a look at the table below. These are the different essential amino acids dogs need to get from the foods they eat. Though their bodies have the ability to transform certain amino acids, owners should still strive to offer all of these.
|Dogs: Essential Amino Acids|
|arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine|
This probably seems complicated and makes little sense at first. Why should you care about this list of seemingly random, complicated words? The answer is simple: These essential amino acids can be hard to find in the right amounts in vegan diets. It is up to the owner to make sure their dog is getting enough of each.
What are some vegetarian sources of these amino acids for dogs?
- Arginine: Vegetarian Sources are soybeans, pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas, carrots, potatoes, and yogurt.
- Histidine: Carrots and apples (make sure you remove the seeds first as they contain cyanide) are some of the vegetarian sources for dogs.
- Isoleucine: Papayas (remove the seeds) can be a source for dogs.
- Leucine: Same as above, papayas can be a vegetarian source.
- Lysine: Apples & Papayas (with seeds removed), carrots are a vegetarian source for dogs.
- Methionine: Apples (without seeds) and pineapples (in moderate quantities) can be a healthy snack that has this amino acid.
- Phenylalanine: Apples (without seeds), pineapples (in moderate quantities), carrots, chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans have this.
- Threonine: Papayas, carrots, and lentils can serve as a source.
- Tryptophan: Carrots and lentils are a vegetarian source for dogs.
- Valine: Apples (remove seeds), carrots, and soybeans are a good source.
First, some important things to avoid. Vegetarian is not equal to your leftovers from yesterday’s meals! There are certain things that dogs simply shouldn’t be given.
- Dogs can’t process excess salt; be careful to limit this ingredient with home cooked meals.
- WARNING: Onions, garlic, raisins, chocolate (cocoa powder) and grapes are known toxins, and should be avoided at all costs! No dog diet should include these items, vegetarian or otherwise.
Popular Vegetarian Foods for Dogs
Soybeans, lentils (Dhuli Moong, Dhuli Masoor), rice, oats, sweet potatoes (potatoes), pinto beans (beans), chickpeas, split peas, seitan, carrots, pumpkin, squash, spinach, yams, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cooked cabbage. While dairy products should always be given in moderation (these can cause diarrhea), yogurt can be a part of this diet. All these items can be part of the vegetarian diet for your dog.
Oils & Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Dogs need a certain amount of fish oils and omega 3 fatty acids in their diets, best found in various fish ingredients. Since you won’t be feeding your dog any fish, these absolutely must be offered somewhere else. Tahini, flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, mustard seed oil, or ground flax seeds will help reach these needs, but an owner should consider offering additional supplements.
- A vegetarian diet may help dogs experiencing food allergies!
Vitamins are very important for a dog’s health, no less important than a human’s. Below is a list of vitamins dogs need, and a few vegetable sources that contain them!
Vitamin A: Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Kale, Spinach, Broccoli
Vitamin B: Avocado, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Asparagus
Vitamin C: Beans, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage
Vitamin D: Sunlight, Supplements
Vitamin E: Spinach, Sweet potatoes, Avocados, Wheat Germ
Vitamin K: Green leafy vegetables, Kale, Spinach, Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts
Choline: Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Asparagus
[Eggs: If you are willing to offer eggs, they are one of the absolute best protein sources among your vegetarian arsenal! Eggs contain other important nutrients as well.]
So now you have a basic idea on how to structure a vegetarian diet for your dog.
But how do you know if the diet is going well and your dog is healthy?
Well firstly, there are some tell-tale signs of a healthy dog.
A shiny and clean coat, active and energetic behavior, a lean weight (not obese & not malnourished looking) are all indicators of a healthy dog. 🙂
Not having the above, and/or exhibiting irregular bowel/bladder movements and/or bad breath or odor coming from mouth & ears respectively – all indicate something is not right with our pup. 🙁
We should always be aware of the above signs – but if we are feeding a vegetarian diet, it becomes absolutely more crucial to decipher our dog’s indications.
Eating Feces: What???
This may sound absolutely disgusting to humans, but 1 in 4 domestic pet dogs have been estimated by the American Kennel Club to have eaten their own droppings at least once. That amounts to several million dogs in America alone! Dogs do this for several reasons, but most often it’s due to malnutrition; the dogs are trying to find nutrients not provided by their diets. If your dog does this, it’s probably time to revise his meal plan.
Conclusion: The Final Answer
Yes, dogs can thrive happily and healthily off of a vegetarian diet completely free of all meat sources, but the diet has to be carefully set up and monitored by an educated provider. An owner feeding their pet any old vegetarian or vegan diet they feel like without any kind of research or education can easily wind up with a nutritionally deficient pet.
Your best approach here is to consult a certified veterinary nutritionist (a DVM who specializes in animal nutrition) or at the very least your own veterinarian, for help formulating a high-quality vegetarian diet for your dogs!
The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants.