Is a vegetarian diet good for your dog?

Revathy Suresh with Arjun

While many people are moving towards a vegetarian or even vegan diet, mostly because of environmental, philosophical or religious reasons, they are also putting their dogs on a vegetarian-only diet. But is it alright for your dog? The opinions are divided. 

While some believe that a vegetarian-only diet is fine if adequate and required nutrition is provided, others feel it is unnatural and is not species-appropriate.  

Dr Lohith H D, veterinarian surgeon, says that people’s perception that a vegetarian-only diet can be harmful for dogs, as they are mostly meat-eaters or omnivorous, has changed today. However, he warns that while dogs are fine with a vegetarian diet, it is a strict no-no for cats. 

“Dogs can be on a vegetarian diet but not human-kind of vegetarian food. People need to understand that they have an entirely different digestive system. Thus, the requirement of protein and calorie also differs. If this concept is kept in mind, a vegetarian-only diet is fine for a dog,” he says. 

A dog’s diet should have a minimum of 30 to 35 per cent of protein and 30 per cent of calorie component with the rest of it consisting of fats, vitamins, fibres and minerals. 

Dr Lohith says that paneer is a good source of protein for a vegetarian diet. One can also feed all varieties of ‘dal’ too. Curd rice is also good but the proportion of curd rice should not exceed more than 30 to 40 per cent of their meal. 

“When I interact with pet parents, most of them think that curd rice can be a major meal like humans. But that’s not true. Rice should be given at a low
level. It is necessary to consult a professional before switching to an all-vegetarian diet,” he says. 

If you are changing your doggo’s diet, give him or her a week to adjust. It is important to keep in mind their willingness to eat. Forcible feeding is not good.

Revathy Suresh, assistant film director, has a two-year-old Labrador, Arjun. He has been on a vegetarian diet ever since he was a puppy.  

Coming from an orthodox vegetarian family, she admits she was sceptical when adopting the pooch as to whether he could be raised as a vegetarian.

“I got positive responses from many people; however, I read a lot and also consulted a veterinarian about his diet. He said that it is totally normal, as long as Arjun has enough nutritional content in his diet,” she says.  

He has been fed fruits, vegetables since he was a pup. The only non-vegetarian food that they give him is egg. And to meet his other nutritional needs, supplements andn kibble come handy.  “My dog is healthy, has muscles and is the right weight. We check his health every six months,” says Revathy. Arjun seems to be fond of fruits and veggies like banana, apple, watermelon, carrot, cucumber.

“I cook his food separately and his diet usually consists of paneer, flaxseeds for Omega 3, curd and one fruit daily. I add one egg with his rice and mix it with coconut oil. Sometimes I also add pumpkin paste, carrot or beetroot puree. Right before his morning food, I give him his supplement,” she shares. 

Lee Georgina, canine nutritionist, Georgina’s Kitchen, doesn’t seem to be in favour of a vegetarian-only diet for dogs. Especially because of the health issues she has seen in dogs when they are kept on a vegetarian or vegan diet. She says that dogs are able to sustain on a vegetarian or vegan diet is when they have really good genetics.

“Genetics play a big role especially here because we don’t really have an excessive amount of research about breeding — most of our puppies are coming out of puppy mills or we are picking up indies from the streets. So technically it would be good to put these dogs on a meat-based diet just to keep them healthy and avoid issues in the long run,” says Georgina.  

So what are the health issues? 

Heart conditions, kidney, liver issues, tumours (because they are being fed rice and soy and other such ingredients) and cancer in dogs are common health problems.  As are allergies and skin irritations, she says.    

“Dogs require meat protein because they need some kind of essential amino acids that come from their diet. While a set of amino acids are already present in their body, certain others need to be given through diet.”

What if their diet is suddenly switched to a vegetarian or vegan diet?

“It puts the body in overdrive. It is the same concept we apply for human. People who have moved from a meat-based diet to vegan take time for the transition. They often complain of
body pain and lack of energy,” says Georgina. 

Moreover, when a dog is put on high vegan diet or plant-based diet, it is to be understood that plants have longer compounds as compared to meat, so, the body finds it hard to break down those links available in plant matter.

Are smaller breeds okay with a veg diet?

Going by the classification of dog and how their body works, the essential amino acids, irrespective of the breed and size, can be delivered to the body only through meat-based diet, she says.

Can they be fed kibble?

Kibble has preservatives that might be harmful to dogs and these preservatives are used to increase the shelf life of the food.

There is scientific evidence that certain brands of kibble are loaded with corn and soy and have absolutely no nutritional value.

While manufacturing, a huge amount of nutritional value is lost because of kibble being processed and manufactured at high temperatures.

Most kibble brands use animal by-product or roadkill which means that these parts were not considered for human consumption. It is important to check labels on kibble bags to check if the brand states the use of ‘meat flavours’ or ‘animal by-product’ as compared to ‘meat protein’ which is an essential part of your dog’s diet. Certain brands of kibble might have as little as three per cent protein which is not exactly matching the daily protein requirement for dogs. Thus, kibble might not be a great choice in terms of balanced nutrition for dogs.

— Lee Georgina, canine nutritionist

Say ‘no’ to these foods

  • Grapes
  • Dates
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Tomatoes (a source of stone development)
  • Wheat-based products (allergy issues are a lot more with it)

... and yes to these

  • Ragi (to an extent)
  • Millets
  • Carrot
  • Beetroot
  • Potato
  • Pumpkins
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