Vegetarian food is more than just a trend, since there are many arguments in favour of avoiding meat: vegetarian food is healthy, no livestock is harmed and it protects the environment. But what's the situation with our dogs – is a vegetarian diet suitable for them too?
Vegetarian Dog Food – a Genuine Alternative?
Short history of the canine diet
Many dog owners only eat meat rarely or not at all and would also like to give their dogs a vegetarian diet if they could. However, dogs are carnivores like wolves. As a result, a vegetarian diet is simply not suitable for them, according to a frequent argument against this. There are many small and more significant differences between dogs and wolves though, including with digestion. The two species have different back-stories, since wolves are not domesticated. Dogs live where humans do and have been their close companions for thousands of years. For centuries, they always ate what humans left them – often leftover food containing little meat, since this was considered very valuable. Only during the last few decades when meat became more and more of a bulk commodity did dogs start to receive meat as food more often – at least in industrialised western countries. In many countries, dogs still eat leftovers to this day, sometimes even carrion or human faeces. In contrast to cats, dogs living in the wild eat far less prey. Leftovers are undoubtedly not a suitable meal for dogs, though their digestion has adapted to our habits over time.
Are dogs omnivores or carnivores?
As a result, dogs are nowadays able to utilise both meat and carbohydrates, which is demonstrated by numerous studies. For instance, an investigation from Uppsala in 2013 shows that dogs can process starch much better than wolves. So are dogs omnivores or carnivores? Opinions on this subject are very diverse, though it is true that dogs are less dependent on animal protein than dogs or even wolves. Some people therefore describe dogs as “carni-omnivores”, though they predominantly eat meat.
More and more dog owners are vegetarians. If someone doesn't eat meat for ethical reasons – for instance, because they are against factory farming – it is difficult for them to give their dog meat-based meals every day. Some avoid meat for environmental reasons too, because producing plant-based food requires less resources. Compromises are often possible for these owners: they use vegetarian dog food as a treat or alternate with meat-based meals. If your dog tolerates this, there's nothing against a mixed diet in this vein. Sometimes though, the reason for switching to a vegetarian food is the dog itself: some dogs have certain intolerances or allergies towards animal proteins, meaning that the owners opt for vegetarian or vegan dog food.
Vegetarian and balanced
It's no news for humans that dogs occasionally like to gnaw at a carrot, but you would be advised against switching your dog to a vegetarian diet of your own accord, because vitamins, proteins, minerals and fats should be adapted to its needs. Otherwise, there is the danger of deficiency symptoms, which often only come to the fore several years later. Thankfully dog owners now have the choice between several types of vegetarian dog foods containing plant-based sources of protein, because protein supply remains very important. Some manufacturers use sweet lupine, for instance, to cover protein requirements. Lukullus Veggie is an example of this. Cold-pressed morsels with plenty of vegetables combined with cold-pressed oils provide dogs with everything they need as a complete food and score points with a high acceptance level too. Since the biscuits aren't fatty, they make excellent treats too. The company Yarrah offers a vegetarian dog food from an organic farm and also produces a vegetarian wet food. Manufacturers like Green Petfood offer purely veggie dog food with potatoes and peas as sources of protein. Green Petfood has also developed a hypoallergenic dog food with protein from insects – a clever idea for dogs with intolerances and from a sustainability perspective too!
Tips for a vegetarian diet for dogs
Don't give your dog a purely vegetarian diet off your own bat, but choose a suitable complete food (we have already outlined some varieties) in order to give your companion a balanced diet. The transition should be slow – mix part of the old food with an increasing amount of the new one so that your dog can get used to it. If your dog tolerates its vegetarian food well, you can occasionally supplement its diet with fresh eggs or low-fat curd. With growing dogs in particular, a vegetarian diet should be monitored by the vet, who will carry out regular health checks. Discuss a purely vegetarian diet with your vet during the annual check-up. If you're considering vegetarian or vegan dog food as a supplement to a meat-based diet, there's usually nothing extra to consider.