If you have been asking yourself what the best diet is for your dog, you have probably run across information that suggests putting dogs on vegetarian diets. Sometimes people who don’t eat meat decide to feed their dogs a plant-based diet because they themselves have found it helpful.
But even if you’re not a vegetarian, you may be wondering if a non-meat diet is the best option for your furry friend. The simple answer is that it is not. While it’s possible for a human to get what they need from a properly balanced vegetarian diet, the same can’t be said for a dog.
Below we will debunk the most common myths about vegetarian dog diets.
Myth #1: Wolves Eat Vegetable Matter in the Wild, So it’s Okay for Dogs
It may be true that wolves have been seen to consume plant matter in the wild, but it’s important to note that this is not their preference. Wolves and wild dogs sometimes eat vegetable matter during the winter months or other times when prey isn’t as available. But given the choice, a wolf will choose to eat meat, and a domestic dog will do the same.
There was even a video that appeared on the internet in 2018 where a woman had been feeding her dog a diet of carbohydrates and vegetables. She said that the dog suddenly stopped eating meat on its own and she hadn’t fed it meat in months. A morning talk show decided to do a test on live TV. They offered the dog two bowls: One with vegetables and one with meat. Do you know what happened next? Yep, you guessed it, the dog went straight for the meat.
Myth: Vegetarian Dogs are Healthier
Vegetarian diets for dogs aren’t made up of the vegetable matter that a wolf may consume in the wild. The vegetarian dog foods available today are often packed with high glycemic carbohydrates. They do not have the nutrients of natural plants that a wolf or dog would eat if given the freedom to choose.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the idea of vegetarian diets is the fact that dogs are so resilient that they can eat a nutritionally deficient diet and appear to thrive. Wild wolves are strong enough to survive for months without sufficient food, to get them through those times when prey is scarce. But just because they can, this doesn’t mean it’s okay for people not to give dogs the food they need to survive and function well.
Myth: Dogs Have Evolved to Digest Grain and Vegetables
Dog’s stomachs are not the same as people’s and that hasn’t changed, even though we have domesticated canines. They are still missing an important enzyme that us humans have (called amylase) that helps digest grain and other starches. Even if dogs did produce it, they wouldn’t have much use of it because it is typically produced in saliva and dogs don’t chew their food as much as humans do.
Some people have suggested that feeding dogs vegetarian diets over multiple generations has changed their biology to the point where they can more easily digest carbohydrates. Even if this were true, it doesn’t make this practice biologically correct. Also, a dog’s digestive system is much shorter than a human’s, which means it’s harder for them to digest anything that is plant-based. Have you ever noticed
if you feed your dog a carrot, that it looks almost the same coming out as it did going in? That’s because the dog didn’t assimilate any of the nutrients and it basically went straight through them. There’s nothing wrong with feeding a dog a carrot, but it’s not going to give them the energy and nutrients they need either.
Myth: Meat is Unhealthy to Eat
People who have decided to stop eating meat may have done so because of the way they feel after consuming it. Maybe their stomach was upset, or they felt bloated or overly full. People love their pets, and they don’t want their dog to feel sick, so they may switch because they think it’s the right thing to do.
But the reason people and pets may feel sick is usually because of the grade of meat. These days so much dog food is processed that it’s not as healthy as it could be. Basically, most dog foods are made from the leftovers after human-grade food is produced. Then it’s stuffed with grains and other fillers to make the dog feel full, but it’s not the same as real meat.
Also, toxins are much more prevalent in meats than in vegetables. Pesticides are stored in the body fat of animals, which means that anyone eating those animals gets a big dose of those pesticides as well. Fruits and vegetables don’t absorb pesticides in the same way, meaning that a person with a plant-based diet is being exposed to less chemicals.
Myth: Dogs Aren’t Missing Anything by Eating Vegetarian
When a dog eats good, raw meat they are getting some additional nutrients not found in a processed dog food. Consuming real meat will give your dog the collagen, elastin, and keratin they need. Animal tissue also has amino acids your dog requires. Plant proteins contain some of these amino acids, but not all of them.
If you feed your dog a vegetarian diet, you run the risk of not giving your dog the amount of protein they must have to thrive. This kind of diet can also cause deficiencies in Vitamin A and D, plus Taurine (an amino acid which is important to the metabolism of fats). Dogs need Vitamin A and D in their diets, because they don’t have the ability to product D in their skin. Vitamin D must be specifically from animal sources (which is Vitamin D3), rather than from plant-based sources (which is D2). Taurine is something a dog can produce if they have the right kind of protein in their diets.
Myth: It’s Okay to Give Dogs Supplements to Replace Nutrients
If the deficiencies of a vegetarian diet are allowed to go on for too long, your dog could suffer from serious medical problems. This can include a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which is an enlarged heart that doesn’t pump well. Or a dog could develop reproductive issues, growth problems and eye disease. The dog may appear to be doing well but could suddenly develop one of these problems apparently out of the blue.
Some people try to provide the missing amino acids and important vitamins via supplements. Giving dogs vitamins to replace an important nutrient that would normally appear in their food is not going to help them as much as it should. These kinds of supplements simply aren’t as good as what your dog will get from eating whole foods that contain the same nutrients.
Still Not Sure? Check with Your Vet
Before making the decision to start your dog on any new diet, always be sure to check with your veterinarian. In rare cases, it might be better for some dogs to have a diet that contains more carbohydrates and less meat. This could happen if your dog has a specific medical problem such as bladder stones, liver disease or even a food allergy. Always consult a professional to be sure you are giving your dog the food they need to be healthy.