Can my dog or cat eat a vegetarian or vegan diet? It’s a common question that doesn’t necessarily have a simple answer. Usually owners wish to feed a vegan or vegetarian diet because they themselves are vegetarian or vegan and feel uncomfortable feeding meat or animal products to their animal whether for moral reasons or religious obligation. It’s important to provide options for these animals, however we must remember what is nutritionally adequate for that animal as they are far more sensitive to nutritional imbalances than we as humans are.
So the real question is, is it safe for your pet to go meat-free?
Let’s think about cats first; cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat meat or animal products to survive. They require essential amino acids that must be provided in their diet that are sourced from animals – particularly taurine. That being said, cats do also eat diets that contain plant based products such as grain or herbs because they can digest plant matter; in the wild, cats will eat organ meats and intestines of herbivores or omnivores that contain plant matter so have developed the ability to digest plants. However, they cannot survive on this alone as a plant based diet would lack essential amino acids that cats require to live. A vegetarian diet can potentially be safe, if carefully crafted and appropriately supplemented by a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist, however a vegan diet (something that is entirely free from animal products) is unsafe and not possible to be formulated for a cat. Majority of vegetarian diets that are formulated for cats and commercially available are prescription only – some cats can have allergies to certain animal proteins therefore may be provided with an alternative protein source to avoid exacerbating their conditions, cats with very severe allergies may need a diet that doesn’t contain any animal based proteins which is why these vegetarian diets exist. These diets are available exclusively from your vet and have been developed by a team of Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists, are heavily researched and have been through numerous feeding trials to ensure they are nutritionally complete and balanced. They still contain some animal products to provide the cat’s nutritional requirements, however the primary protein source is not meat-based therefore can be considered vegetarian but not vegan:
– Royal Canin Hypoallergenic: soy protein source (contains animal fats)
– Royal Canin Anallergenic: feather protein source (contains fish oil and animal fats)
– ProPlan HA Veterinary Diet: soy protein source (contains animal fats and hydrolysed chicken liver)
**I would strongly recommend that you do not feed your cat a vegan diet as taurine deficiency can severely harm and even kill your cat. Depending on local animal protection laws, feeding a vegan diet to your cat can be considered an animal cruelty offence if your cat develops severe illness. Please seek a professional opinion before changing your cat’s diet; if you insist on going meat free, please opt for a vegetarian option as listed above, in conjuction with the professional opinion of your veterinarian.
So what about dogs? Dogs are quite abit different – they are omnivores like us. They have evolved alongside humans to be able to digest a similar diet to us and can handle a more plant based diet than cats. Granted, the diet will still need to be complete and balanced, and will be enriched with supplements to prevent deficiencies of certain nutrients. Dogs do require taurine, but they can synthesise their own taurine from precursors (methionine and cysteine) unlike cats, who must have taurine in their diet to survive. So it’s a little easier for your dog to go vegetarian or vegan, though it is still a challenge, typically commercially available vegetarian diets are abit safer if they contain a dairy or egg based protein source, compared to vegan diets that only contain soy or cereal based protein sources. As for home-cooking, I would NOT recommend anyone try to make a DIY vegan diet for their pet as it’s extremely difficult to ensure it is balanced and not dangerous to your pet. Always seek the assistance of a Veterinary Nutritionist or feed a diet that has been formulated to meet the AAFCO requirements for your pet. If you wish to feed a vegetarian diet, the above mentioned diets also have canine formulas that are heavily researched and safe. If you wish to feed your dog a vegan diet, the below diets are formulated to meet AAFCO standards, however they are NOT formulated by Veterinary Nutritionists and have not undergone feeding trials, so feed with caution as it’s not possible to know if they provide the correct levels of nutrients to the pet without a feeding trial:
– BIOpet Vegan Dog Food: soybean meal as protein source
– Veganpet Dog Food: soya meal as protein source*
*Since this post was published, Veganpet dog food has been linked to an outbreak of megaoesophagus. Read more here. Again, I would strongly recommend clients feed a diet formulated by an Veterinary Nutritionist, or one of the researched and feeding trialled options as mentioned above.
Always keep in mind your pet’s health above all else. A vegan or vegetarian diet isn’t for everyone, just like a vegan or vegetarian diet isn’t suitable for every animal. Always have your pet assessed by a Veterinarian annually, and routine blood testing is always a good idea to keep track of their health and ensure any changes in health are caught early.
Do you feed your pet a vegan or vegetarian diet? How do you manage their health?
A study comparing vegetarian and meat based diets: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035952/
Tufts Petfoodology Blog discussing vegan dogs: https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2016/07/vegan-dogs-a-healthy-lifestyle-or-going-against-nature/