Vegetarian dog food is becoming quite popular. Mainstream companies offer food and vegetarian dog treats for vegetarian dogs. Do you know the benefits and dangers of a vegetarian dog diet?
Most people think that a vegetarian dog food diet is a diet that doesn't contain meat. This is partly true. But there are actually different levels of vegetarianism.
For example, at its simplest level, a vegetarian diet would just exclude meats like beef, chicken, pork, and poultry. Fish and dairy products could still be consumed.
At the other extreme, is the vegan diet. Vegans are far more strict in their approach. They do not eat any animal products, including eggs, milk or cheese.
In fact, vegans embrace a philosophy that includes:
Vegans believe that animals have a soul or spirit and this belief is the basis for the above. They are concerned with meat eating for ethical, health and spiritual reasons.
There a few commercial companies that specialize in making vegan dog food so you don’t have to make vegan dog food for your dog.
So, in summary, feeding your dog vegetarian dog food is a bit more complicated than just the elimination of meat.
If you are considering placing your dog on a vegetarian dog food diet, then you need to decide just how strict you will be.
As you consider these questions, make sure that you understand what you will need to do to make your dog's diet healthy and balanced. More about this later...
I grew up thinking that dogs were carnivores and that carnivores ate a diet that included only meat in the wild. Maybe you did too. But the truth is that dogs cannot survive on meat alone. They must have other foods to supplement and enrich their diet. How can this be so?
A carnivore is an animal that eats meat. Dogs are actually part of a biological order, carnivore, which is composed of animals that are primarily carnivorous,--but they are not exclusively carnivorous! That means that they need meat, but they must have other foods also. Dogs are technically omnivores.
To be included in the biological order, carnivora, an animal must have a single stomach, a short intestine and teeth that are adapted to tearing flesh. Interestingly, no member of this order is entirely meat-eating. In fact, some are complete vegetarians.
For example, bears, raccoons and skunks all eat about 50% meat and 50% vegetation in their natural diets. The only animals that come close to eating 100% meat are wildcats, mink and weasels--cats.
However, animals like wolves, in the wild don't just eat the flesh—they eat all parts of their prey, so they end up balancing their diets with the teeth and bones (calcium and phosphorus) and the intestines and stomach (vegetation eaten by the animal they eat), and organs, etc.
Dogs, on the other hand, do best on a diet that includes both meat and vegetables or grains. An omnivore eats both plants and animals. Humans are a good example of omnivores.
Even though dogs and humans are both omnivores, there are some pretty big differences in their dietary needs. Our diets are not interchangeable.
Vegetarian dog food can be very deficient in some of the essential vitamins and minerals needed by your dog. And vegetarian dog food needs to include a lot more protein and calcium than your own diet requires.
Dogs in the wild are able to get most of these nutrients from meat—and some of them from vegetable sources. If your dog is eating vegetarian dog food, you may need to supplement his diet with dog vitamins, especially vitamin B12.
So, are there benefits to a vegetarian diet for dogs? Let's look at the reasons that people use vegetarian dog food for their vegetarian dogs:
Most of us already know that the typical American diet, rich in meats and fats, is unhealthy for humans. It contributes to increased levels of cholesterol, and, in turn, increased risk for coronary artery disease.
Your dog is not nearly as sensitive to this risk as you are; however dogs do occasionally get heart disease and high cholesterol.
Dogs need the benefit of their natural diet, including meats. The fat in meat contains essential fatty acids which are important for your dog's healthy skin and coat. If your dog is not eating meat, consider supplementing his diet.
Eliminating raw meat and eggs from your dog's diet will definitely greatly decrease the chances of illness, because of bacterial contamination.
Remember though, that, if you feed your pet raw vegetables, you still run the risk of his getting sick because of e-coli or salmonella contamination. If your pet is eating the same food that you do, he is subject to the same fresh food recalls that humans risk.
To be safe, make sure that you wash all vegetables and food that you give to your dog.
While many people believe that a meatless diet can prevent dog food allergies, it's probably not going to make that much difference in your pet's allergies.
Dogs develop food allergies over time, after being exposed to certain foods. If you eliminate meat, your food sensitive dog can still become allergic to grains such as soy, corn or wheat.
Dogs require a large amount of fiber. Dogs have relatively short digestive tracts (Ever notice how fast food goes through?) and their systems are designed to move things along quickly.
Some fiber is helpful for this—but they would need more extensive systems to handle totally fiber diets. Think of a cow “chewing its cud”--it seems to digest its food forever!
In essence, your dog's body is designed to digest everything quickly, and it is designed to make the best use of a variety of foods—both animals and plants.
Here's the bottom line. It doesn't really matter where the protein that your dog eats comes from—meat or vegetable sources! The most important consideration is that the diet must be balanced and nutritious.
If you decide to feed your pet vegan or vegetarian dog food, you will have to supplement her food to make sure that she is getting all the nutrients that she needs.
Occasionally, a dog will balk at the vegetarian food, which may not seem nearly as interesting as the meat flavored food that he is used to. You may have to add a little flavoring to his food to make it more attractive. Some dogs like a few banana slices or a little peanut butter mixed into their food.
In order to transition your dog to his new diet, mix a little of the new vegetarian dog food into his regular food. Little by little, increase the amount of vegetarian dog food (and decrease the original food) that you add to his food. Eventually you will be giving her 100% vegetarian dog food.