Dogs are omnivores, like humans are, so they can technically survive on a vegan or vegetarian diet and some even need to in order to address health issues. But transitioning to a meat-free diet isn’t right for every dog, so you should consider the following factors before switching your dog to a meat-free diet.
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Dr. Cailin R. Heinze, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and Assistant Professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, typically recommends a vegan or vegetarian diet for dogs dealing with liver disease, specific types of bladder stones, or when testing for food allergies. While she’s open to working with owners who want to switch their dog because of their personal beliefs, she warns against putting growing puppies on meat-free diets because of the high amount of protein and other essential nutrients they need to develop. Your dog may have different needs, so you should check with your vet before transitioning their diet, even if they’re facing one of the health issues discussed above.
Know the Nutritional Content
Dr. Heinze points out that some popular commercial meat-free dog foods may not contain the adequate levels of protein and amino acids, so you should stick with therapeutic diets sold through your vet. Make sure to check that any commercial food you buy fulfills your dog’s nutritional needs before you shell out for it.
If you decide to make your own vegan or vegetarian dog food, you still need to make sure they meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Dr. Heinze explains how homemade diets can be lacking, too:
Home-cooked vegetarian diets tend to have much bigger nutritional concerns than commercial diets—many of the ones that I’ve seen are quite protein deficient, as well as lacking in other essential nutrients.
You can get help formulating a homemade meat-free diet by finding a certified animal nutritionist through the American College of Veterinary Nutrition’s directory. They’ll help you figure out if your dog should be on a meat-free diet, how to best design one for your dog’s nutritional needs, and if there are any other foods your pet should stay away from.
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Stay in Close Contact With Your Vet
As with any diet change, you should err on the side of caution and have your vet keep a close eye on your dog during the transition and even as your dog continues with a meat-free diet. Dr. Heinze explains why you need to have your dog monitored by a vet even after they switch diets:
While vegan and vegetarian diets can be made to meet dog nutrient requirements, we don’t know that dogs that eat them long-term are as healthy as dogs that eat more typical diets. No one has really studied the use of these diets long-term in healthy dogs.
Ultimately, you have to decide what is right for your dog, but knowing the common issues that come up with vegan or vegetarian dog diets will help you figure out how to keep your pet healthy.