Is a vegan diet healthy for cats and dogs?
Today, many of us are switching to plant-based diets and reducing our intake of animal products.
If you’ve made that switch for yourself, you may be wondering if your four-legged friend can do the same.
But can a completely vegan diet give your meat-eating pet the nutrition they need to stay healthy?
We’ve done the research to give you the answers you need.
Cats and dogs need protein
Proteins provide your pet with the vital amino acids they need. And while we mainly think of proteins coming from animal products, they can also come from plant-based sources such as whole grains, beans, corn and soy.
The question is, can cats and dogs get enough of the nutrients they need purely from plants?
Cats are obligate carnivores
Biologically, cats are obligate carnivores, which means they have to eat meat. Their digestive systems and metabolisms aren’t designed for plant material and some cats can’t tolerate it at all.
Many of the essential nutrients cats need are only found in animal proteins.
One of these nutrients is taurine, an amino acid cats can only get from meat and fish.
Without these essential nutrients, a cat’s health would deteriorate quickly. Taurine deficiency can cause blindness, heart disease, a compromised immune system and eventual death.
Vegan cat food is available, but it has to have these vital proteins and nutrients added artificially.
Dogs are omnivorous
For dogs, a typical diet has around 20–35% protein. Most complete dog foods contain a mixture of meat, grain and vegetable proteins.
Dogs are members of the order Carnivora, a group of mammals that primarily eat flesh.
However, they’re actually omnivores and can eat a mixture of meat and plant proteins. In fact, 20–30% of a balanced diet for dogs should come from plants.
The protein in a dog’s diet can come from meat, but it doesn’t have to. So, with the right diet and nutrients, it’s possible for a dog to be vegan.
Is vegan dog food nutritious enough?
A typical dog’s diet should contain around 40% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, 27% vegetables and 3% oils.
The diet should also contain taurine, L-carnitine, iron, calcium, iodine, vitamins E, B12 and D — many of which come from meat. If you’re using a vegan meat substitute, like soy protein, these essential vitamins and minerals will need to be added.
Buying a complete vegan dog food may be easier, as this will include all the vitamin and mineral supplements your dog needs.
The University of Vienna conducted a 6-month study of 20 dogs on a vegan dog food plan. They found that the dogs remained healthy, with no negative impact.
How to switch to vegan dog food
As with any change of food, start by mixing the vegan food into your dog’s regular food. Keep increasing the proportions of vegan dog food until there is no meat left.
Following the switch, keep a close eye on your dog to ensure the new diet agrees with them. Particularly, check for any skin or gastrointestinal problems.
If the vegan dog food causes problems
If you find your dog isn’t thriving on its new vegan dog food, you should do the right thing and return to a meat-based diet.
Choosing more eco-friendly pet food
If you’ve ruled out a vegan diet for your pet, but still want an eco-friendly alternative, there are other options that are naturally healthy and still kind to the environment.
Some of the things you can look for include:
- Fresh, natural and nutritious ingredients
- Proper meat and fish that’s easier to digest
- Organic foods made without harmful chemicals
- Fish from sustainable fisheries
- Eco and recyclable packaging.
Check out our fabulous Lily’s Kitchen range for a mix of wet and dry pet food with organic options and eco credentials.