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Can Dogs and Cats Be Vegan? | BetterVet

Can dogs be vegan? 

The vegan and vegetarian movements are rapidly becoming popular in mainstream culture. Veganism promotes the better treatment of animals, providing people with an impactful way to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to the battle against global warming. There are also religious reasons people choose to become vegan or vegetarian. But, can dogs be vegan? The domestic pet population has exploded in recent years which also contributes to our carbon footprint, as does the production of pet food. 

It makes perfect sense to apply the principles of the vegan lifestyle to your pets if you have adopted this diet for yourself. In fact, Lewis Hamilton’s bulldog is a famous example of a vegan dog. But is it healthy for dogs? Let’s take a closer look.

Dogs can adapt 

It is a common belief that dogs are strictly carnivores, but this is not true. Dogs are omnivores and in the wild would eat a mix of predominantly meat sources, supplemented with plants, such as berries or roots. Their short gut and powerful digestive system allow them to absorb as many nutrients as possible from their meals. 

While in theory, a dog can be vegan, the reality is more complicated,, due to the lack of any commercially available, reputable vegan dog food approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Currently, all vegan pet food diets need to be home-cooked and prepared, opening up the potential for a nutritional imbalance for your cat or dog, which could lead to health issues. 

Can cats be vegan? 

 It is not possible to feed a cat a vegan diet, because of their protein requirements. As obligate carnivores, they cannot survive without high protein levels in their diets. And a plant-based diet is not sufficient enough to reach their protein needs, of a cat, and cats also struggle to digest plant proteins. 

 

Health concerns 

Taurine

Dogs and cats need essential amino acids to function and are not able to produce enough naturally, so they must come from the diet. One such example is Taurine. Taurine is important to heart health and function. A cat cannot produce their own taurine so they must eat a high protein diet to get the quantity required for a healthy heart. The taurine levels of plant-based sources are often too low to provide the required amount that cats need, which is why animal proteins are needed.  

Taurine deficiency in dogs has been linked with grain-free diets, and a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. Taurine deficiency has been shown to affect eyesight and growth in both cats and dogs. Taurine can be supplemented with capsules or powders, and working with a veterinary nutritionist can help avoid this and other deficits in vegan diets. 

Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is another important element obtained from food. In humans, we can use the power of the sun to increase our vitamin D levels, but animals do not have this special skill. Most of their vitamin D comes from the consumption of meat. If your pet is deficient in vitamin D, this can also lower calcium levels, leading to weak or underdeveloped bones. Again, this nutrient can be supplemented in other foods, but knowing how much to give and how often is something better left to the professionals. 

 

Ask the experts 

It is not advisable to feed a vegan diet to your dog without consulting your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist. If you get the ratios of macro and micronutrients wrong, you could cause permanent damage to your dog’s health. 

Your dog will need to have a diet specifically formulated for your dog’s age, weight, sex, and exercise needs. It is likely that you will need to prepare your pet’s meals at home andy you will need to add supplements to their diet. A veterinary nutritionist will also make sure that your pet’s diet follows AAFCO standards (the minimum food standards set out for dogs to meet health requirements). 

 

FAQ 

Are there any safe vegetarian diets that I can feed my dog? 

Yes, the Royal Canin Vegetarian and the Purina ProPlan Vegetarian diets are safe and nutritionally balanced to feed a dog, but always check with a veterinarian before feeding. 

Are there any safe vegetarian diets I can feed my cat? 

No, your cat must have a meat-based diet to live a healthy lifestyle. Plant sources of Taurine are too low to meet the minimum requirements for cats.

Can a puppy be fed a vegan diet? 

Puppies are growing rapidly and have high nutritional requirements in the first year of life. It’s not advisable to try and feed a vegan diet during the first year, as your puppy’s development during this time can affect their long-term health, particularly their bone and joint health. 

Are crickets a safe protein source for dogs? 

Crickets are a good alternative source of protein to feed your pets if you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint. They are a good source of nutrition as part of a balanced diet and have a much lower environmental impact than other animal protein sources. 

Can a kitten be fed a vegan diet? 

Again, a vegan diet is not nutritionally sufficient to sustain the health and development of a kitten or adult cat. 

 

Summary 

To summarize, dogs can be vegan, with a lot of planning and professional help. Can cats be vegan? Unfortunately not, as it would not be nutritionally sufficient for them.

A veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist is the best source of information if you are considering a vegan diet for your pet. When in doubt,  book an appointment to discuss the nutritional needs of your dog or cat before starting to feed a vegan diet. Often, this type of appointment can be done virtually, eliminating the need to travel to a vet clinic. Your veterinarian will be able to check in regularly with your dog as he or she goes through different life stages and can make changes to their diet to meet their nutritional needs.  They can also offer services like blood tests to make sure that certain levels, like taurine, are within the normal range. This will give you peace of mind knowing that your dog is on a healthyvegan journey, should you choose to feed this diet.