Many people are switching their own diet to vegetarian or vegan food. There are many reasons for this: a plant-based diet is healthier, it counteracts factory farming and it is more environmentally friendly. Vegetarians and vegans who live with a dog and/or cat may consider adapting their pet's diet to their own. This raises the question of whether dogs and cats can be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet. And if so, what do you need to consider?
Vegan and vegetarian diet for dogs
Like cats, dogs have carnivorous ancestors. Due to the domestication of the dog, it is possible for dogs to be able to process vegetarian food – their predecessors were often dependent on leftovers from humans. It is now well known that dogs can be fed vegetarian and vegan diets. As with any form of nutrition, the prerequisite is that the dog meets the necessary health requirements and that the diet is wholesome and balanced. Dogs need to receive all important proteins they would get primarily from meat/fish through the vegetarian ingredients and/or through supplements. Typically, dogs take in proteins, among other things, by eating meat and offal such as liver, tripe and heart as well as fish. For a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to provide these nutrients through plant-based proteins found in grains and legumes. This is not feasible if your dog has a grain allergy.
Feeding dogs with a vegetarian or vegan diet is possible. However, these forms of nutrition require very good knowledge about species-appropriate and balanced feeding, since a lack of essential nutrients such as vitamins makes the dog susceptible to various diseases.
Vegan and vegetarian diet for cats
Feeding cats, a balanced diet is a difficult task, because they depend on nutrients that they can only naturally find in food from animal sources. This includes the taurine, which is important for many things, including heart muscle function, normal vision, normal pregnancy and a healthy immune system. Taurine is an essential nutrient because it must be obtained from the diet, either in a natural form through consumption of meat, or as a supplement.
The situation is similar with vitamin A. It is important for vision, bone and tooth growth, reproduction, healthy skin and mucous membranes. Like taurine, vitamin A must be ingested through food. The cat can do this by e.g., consuming animal products – especially liver and fish oils or through a dietary supplement.
The last example is vitamin D – more precisely D3 – which is important for bone metabolism. Cats cannot produce this vitamin themselves. Therefore, it must be supplied to them with their food. The vitamin is particularly found in liver, egg yolk or certain types of fish such as salmon.
As you can see, a meatless diet is very difficult to implement, and vegan cat feeding is impossible. Also remember that cats are picky eaters. Your cat may simply refuse a change in diet. Do not force them by starving them, because a radical diet can lead to life-threatening lipidosis in our feline friend.
Before changing your pet's diet
Remember that all pets have special dietary needs. Some tolerate diets that are harmful or even dangerous to others. If you want to change your pet's diet, be sure to talk to your vet beforehand; only an experienced specialist can create a nutrition plan that is tailored to your dog or cat.
It is commendable when people change their diet in order to make a contribution to animal welfare and, as a result, to climate protection by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. The more people who choose a meatless diet, the better. As humans, we have food choices, but our pets don't. Before you impose your dietary principles on your pet, ask yourself:
- Might it be more useful to convince your fellow humans of a meat-free diet?
- Do you want to subject your pet to synthetic (man-made in a lab) additives?
- Is your pet physically able to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet?
- Is a meatless diet the best option for your pet?
- Might it be better to give your dog a veggie day or two every week?
- Do you possibly even violate the national animal welfare law when feeding your pet vegetarian or vegan diet?
- Do you maybe just want to let your dog be a dog and your cat be cat?