There’s no denying that vegetables are great for canines. (We’re big fans of peas as a natural source of fiber for pups!) And if you’re a vegetarian yourself, you might feel weird about dishing out meat on a daily basis. But can a plant-based diet really fulfill all of their nutritional needs?
Dogs are omnivores, so they can survive on a veggie diet—and there are certainly benefits to including ingredients like dark leafy greens in what they eat (i.e., swiss chard is good for the immune system). And yes, there are plant-based protein sources for pups, including lentils, eggs and quinoa. But there are potential downsides to serving them just veggies:
Vegetarian diets tend to lack amino acids, taurine and L-carnitine—without these, your dog’s heart could become large and eventually dysfunctional, says Justine Lee, toxicologist and vet specialist at the Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. Other vitamins and minerals that are often missing include phosphorus and iron. It’s also harder for dogs to readily absorb the essential vitamins via plants versus meat because they contain cellulose.
Dogs have a relatively high protein requirement—and a bowl of greens isn’t going to cut it for them, even if you add beans or soy, Lee says. They do best with animal fats, proteins, amino acids, plus some greens. And while the veggies aren’t bad for them, it’s the omega-3 fatty acids and the taurine that’s really keeping your pup healthy, Lee says.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that most commercial vegetarian diets weren’t compliant with labeling regulations. “We were not surprised by the finding of amino acid adequacy in the diets,” says Jennifer Larson, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California Davis. “However, we were surprised that so many of the diets evaluated had issues with appropriate labeling.”
It’s very difficult to get the right ratio of proteins, vitamins and minerals into a vegetarian diet, and even if you do, your dog may refuse to eat it, Lee says. “From a taste aspect and from a quality of life, they’d prefer to eat meat,” she says. Since a meaty aroma is one of the things that often entices dogs to eat, they may not consume enough of a veggie only diet.
There are no guidelines for vegetarian diets right now, and health issues may arise over time that you can’t see immediately. Monitor your dog’s diet with a nutritionist and your vet, and look out for these signs: a potbelly, decreased appetite, vomiting, a dry coat, abnormal feces, or lethargy, Lee says. Ultimately, dogs can survive on a vegetarian diet, but they won’t thrive on one.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.