Dogs can survive on quite a varied diet as long as they get all the essential nutrients they require.
Cats, however are strict carnivores and cannot survive on a vegan diet without risk of health issues long term. They have difficulty absorbing some essential nutrients from plant sources. It is not only harmful to their health, but I believe it is cruel to deprive them of their natural food source.
To raise dogs on a vegan diet does take a bit more time and effort but it can be done as long as you ensure they are getting their nutritional requirements adequately met.
It is generally easier to start a puppy on these foods, than it is to change an older dog’s eating habits, but some dogs are more than happy to eat meat-free meals, while others may flatly refuse.
If you are preparing healthy vegetarian meals for yourself, then you can easily feed many of these same foods to your dog, but remember that onions are toxic to dogs!
Once you have the basic ground rules, it is not that difficult to prepare healthy meat-free meals for your dog, as long as you are aware of their basic nutritional needs.
Dogs have higher protein requirements than humans, and this protein requirement can be adequately met with legumes and other vegetarian sources. The amount of protein required ranges between 12% – 40%.
Dogs can find starchy foods (grains) difficult to digest, and excessive amounts may cause digestive problems, arthritis, obesity and other degenerative health disorders.
Vegetable fibre must be finely minced or ground for your dog to digest it properly. This means it will need to be minced in a food processor or you may use the pulp from vegetable juices or lightly cook and mash them.
Supplementation is needed to reduce the risk of deficiencies. Two important amino acids that may be lacking in vegetarian diets are taurine and L-carnitine, and a deficiency of these nutrients can cause serious health problems.
Variety is the key to getting a good balance in the diet, and you will be less likely to run into deficiency problems.
I have been a vegetarian myself for over 30 years, and my personal philosophy is to allow each species to eat the foods they are designed to thrive on. In my experience working as an animal naturopath for many years, is that dogs who eat raw bones are healthier in the long-term than those fed on very restricted diets, but this does not mean that there aren’t many exceptions to this rule, such as a Border Collie named Bramble who reached 27 years old on a vegan diet consisting of rice, lentils and organic vegetables.
Take note of your dog’s health & appearance, and if they fail to thrive on a vegan diet then please consider adding some raw bones or free-range eggs to their diet.
One of the most common mistakes many vegans make when feeding their dogs, is to use predominantly cooked foods and lots of grains or feeding a totally processed food diet. It is extremely important to also include plenty of fresh raw foods as dogs can find grains difficult to digest. It is a good idea to add a good digestive enzyme supplement to the meal to help overcome any possible digestive issues.
I also recommend checking your dog’s urine pH regularly. Protein naturally acidifies the urine and a low-protein diet can be a problem with vegan dogs due to poor protein assimilation. This can result in urine which isn’t acidic enough and kidney problems may develop. Canine urine should be between 5.5 and 7. If urine is not acidic enough, you can supplement with cranberry powder to help increase urine acidity.
So what do you feed a vegan / vegetarian dog?
Vegan protein sources~
Legumes such as lentils, beans & chickpeas will need to make the basis of the protein sources for your dog. Soy beans are a good source of protein, but soy foods such as soy milk & tofu do not agree with many dogs, and there are varying opinions on the health benefits of soy foods, so I prefer to avoid them, or use only moderately rather than as a regular addition to the diet. Soy can also inhibit the absorption of zinc so if feeding any soy products it is recommended to supplement with zinc.
Other Vegetarian protein sources~
Although I don’t usually recommend dairy products for dogs, small amounts can be used as an additional protein source. Select only organic dairy products such as raw goat’s milk, natural yoghurt or plain cottage cheese. Free-range eggs are also a good source of protein and can be fed raw, including the finely crushed shells if your dog likes them. You should restrict the amount of eggs used and not feed them every day. Three times per week is sufficient.
Vegetables – zucchini, broccoli, celery, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, squash, green beans, etc. Vegetables such a pumpkin and cauliflower can be steamed and mashed before serving, while all others may be minced and fed raw.
Brown rice, rolled oats, barley flakes, millet, quinoa, buckwheat. Rice and other grains will also need to be well cooked first. Rolled oats may be soaked overnight in water to soften before feeding. Vets all natural Complete mix food is ideal as a substitute for grains and vegetables in a convenient blend with added extras that is simply soaked in water for 24 hours and mixed with your protein source.
Sprouts and fresh ripe fruits. Fruit must be well ripened and sprouts should be minced in a food processor before mixing into meals.
Essential fatty acids are important and can be found in cold-pressed oils, coconut oil, flax seed oil and flaxseed meal, hemp seeds or hemp oil.
Additional high nutrient foods and supplements such as Greenpet Essentials may be added to give a boost to your dogs diet.
Taurine is an essential amino acid that is often lacking in vegan diets for dogs & is essential for heart health.
L-Carnitine is another essential amino acid that is essential for vegan dogs.
Vitamin B12 may also need to be supplemented if not getting this from dietary sources.
Vitamin D is not absorbed via sunlight in dogs so it must be obtained through the diet.
Nutritional yeast is very high in many vitamins and minerals but some dogs may be allergic to yeast so avoid if your dog has skin issues or allergies.
Wheatgerm is a highly nutritious food that contains many vitamins and minerals but ensure it is fresh and kept refrigerated at all times.
Flaxseed or linseed meal is a great source of fatty acids and fibre.
Kelp (seaweed meal) contains a wealth of minerals.
Dolomite powder is a good source of calcium and magnesium.
Spirulina, green barley, wheatgrass and alfalfa are all very rich in chlorophyll and also contain a large amount of vitamins and minerals. Supa-Greens is a rich blend of these.
Carob powder is a good source of calcium and other nutrients.
Tamari or Bragg liquid amino’s may be used sparingly to enhance the flavour of veggies until your dog gets used to eating them.
Putting it all together –
Here are some recipes from the book “Vegetarian dogs toward a world without exploitation” by Verona re-Bow and Jonathan Dune.
2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup cooked pinto beans
1 cup wheatgerm
1 tsp calcium carbonate
Fresh minced vegetables with added kelp, alfalfa and zinc.
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 ½ cups wheatgerm
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup finely minced greens
1 cup minced carrot
1 tablespoon cold pressed vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon kelp
pinch alfalfa powder
1 ¼ teaspoon calcium carbonate
Mix together all of the above adding enough water to combine and moisten all ingredients.
2 cups rye flakes
1 ½ cups oat flakes
1 cup finely chopped or steamed greens
½ cup minced carrots or other vegetables
¼ cup nutritional yeast
2 Tablespoons cold-pressed vegetable oil
1 teaspoon calcium carbonate
¼ teaspoon kelp powder
The above recipes serve one medium sized dog for one day (2 meals).
The following supplements may be needed ~
Taurine – 13mg per kg of bodyweight
L-carnitine – 25mg / kg bodyweight
Zinc – 20mg for medium sized dog
Calcium carbonate, dolomite or eggshell powder (you can make this yourself using free-range egg shells – allow to dry out, then blend in a food processor until fine)
Vitamin B12 – 100mcg monthly or bi-monthly
Provide hard foods for dogs to chew on – Whole carrots make good chew toys and some dogs love to eat them. Healthy muesli biscuits can be made up for treats also.
So feed your dog’s with healthy food, give lots of love and rest assured that you are helping to significantly reduce the number of animals killed for pet food each year.
Julie Massoni ND ATMS