A Vegetarian Diet for Dogs?

Vegetarian Diets for Dogs

Preposterous, I say! A dog eating a vegetarian diet!? Dogs are supposed to be carnivores! Putting them on a vegetarian diet goes against all the rules of nature…Right? Not so fast…

For years I have inwardly struggled, all the while holding my tongue, while people advocated a vegetarian diet for dogs. It’s just unfair… Dogs are meat eaters. They love meat! Not only that, but how can it be good for them not to eat meat? Although I have always believed that a vegetarian diet can be healthy for humans, it’s not a practice, or a “belief system” if you will, that we should impose on our dogs.

Are dogs carnivores or omnivores?

Google this: Are dogs carnivores or omnivores? Oh my goodness… it’s like opening a can of worms! And everyone seems to have “science” to back up their conclusion. Discussions among dog professionals (vets, nutritionists, behaviorists, food experts, etc.) as to whether a dog is a carnivore or an omnivore is bound to end up escalating into a squabble. Sometimes it’s an ethical quandary, sometimes a nutritional question, and sometimes it’s just plain ole “that’s the way we’ve always done it”!

Canine Food Allergies

As long as we have had Rex, he has shown all the symptoms of a food allergic dog: chewing and licking his feet, digging at his ears, itchy skin, etc.. Because of his allergy-ridden past…and a full history of dog food changes in hopes of stopping the itch… he was placed on a vegetarian diet. According to my Veterinarian, meat proteins are the #1 allergen in a food allergic dog. Non-meat proteins are less than a percent of allergic issues.

And guess what?

Eliminating all animal protein from his diet stopped the itch. AND, Rex is thriving! Preposterous? I now feel the need to apologize for my unspoken, yet sharply critical opinion of a vegetarian diet for dogs.

Does a vegetarian diet meet all of a dog’s nutritional requirements?

Even though I am humbled by this finding, I still worry that maybe Rex doesn’t get a full amino acid profile, or perhaps he doesn’t have the enzymes to process the “all vegetable” food properly. Maybe he’s not getting enough fat. But as I have researched the subject, I am amazed at the canine digestive system and the way it is able to derive necessary nutrients from a variety of sources, including plant foods. For example, their body is able to convert beta carotene (found in plant foods) into needed Vitamin A. Isn’t that amazing? That goes to show how our dog’s ancestors, as scavengers, were able to procure their nutritional requirements from whatever they foraged for the day… whether it be meat, grains, garbage (eeek!), plants, etc.. What’s more, Rex loves his food, which quashed my remaining fear of taking away his joy at mealtime. And I am happy to report that after 6 months on a vegetarian diet, his energy is still boundless, he has not lost any weight, and he shows all the signs of a robust, healthy dog!

Do your research

Now, would I have voluntarily put Rex on a vegetarian diet if he were not allergic? No. It is still my opinion that a dog should have meat in his diet to assure sufficient animal dietary protein. However, a vegetarian or even vegan diet can provide a fully balanced nutrient profile. Should you find it necessary to put your dog on a meatless diet, do your research, and seek professional help to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Make sure you choose a food that meets all of your dog’s nutritional needs according to the levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles* for proteins, fats, energy, vitamins and minerals, fiber, etc..

*http://www.aafco.org/Portals/0/SiteContent/Regulatory/Committees/Pet-Food/Reports/Pet_Food_Report_2013_Midyear-Proposed_Revisions_to_AAFCO_Nutrient_Profiles.pdf

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