Can Dogs Be Vegan? Here’s What Veterinarians Have to Say.

One of the most common pledges on everyone’s New Years’ resolutions list is to eat healthier or exercise more. Veganuary, a non-profit organization based in the UK, encourages people to take it up a notch and follow a vegan diet for the entire month of January. While humans opting to go on a meat-free diet is undoubtedly good for the planet, is it OK to force it on our pets? Can dogs be vegan and still meet their nutritional needs?

Dr. Cailin Heinze, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, and professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine writes: “Most dogs can do quite well on a carefully designed vegan diet that meets all of their nutritional needs.”

Emphasis on “carefully designed”. Dog parents who insist on putting their dogs on a vegan or vegetarian diet should consult a veterinary nutritionist to develop a dog food meal plan that meets their nutritional needs without health risks.

Here’s the scoop on the veggie-centric adaptions to your dog’s diet.

can dogs be vegan

Should you put your dog on a vegan diet?

“I do not recommend vegan/vegetarian diets for dogs,” veterinarian Dr. Kaite Pagan of Heart + Paw told Outward Hound. 

“Dogs are omnivores and thrive on both plant and animal diets. We risk our furry friends becoming nutritionally deficient on vegan or vegetarian diets.”

If you still want to dip your toe into the world of “boutique” diets, Dr. Pagan recommends consulting with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to ensure your dog is eating a well-balanced diet.

It cannot be stressed enough that pet owners interested in putting their dog on a vegan or vegetarian diet should always consult their veterinarian first. There are various commercial vegan dog food brands on the market, but you need to consider your dog’s individual needs such as health problems (if any), food allergies, or food sensitivities before making a drastic change to their regular pet food or kibble.

dog-friendly fall activities apple picking

The risks

“I have found that there are many fad diets on the market that cater directly to pet parents and are not beneficial to the dog i.e. plant-based, grain-free, boutique diets. Most veterinarians do not recommend plant-based diets for dogs,” says Dr. Pagan.

That being said, there are a few risks associated with plant-based and grain-free dog food. For one, the FDA is still investigating the link between legumes and heart disease in dogs, or canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Legumes include lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans, and soybeans.

In addition, if you are going to make your companion animal a vegan or vegetarian, they could suffer from protein deficiency, vitamin and mineral deficiency, and essential amino acid imbalance, according to the American Kennel Club.

You’ll need to supplement a vegan pet’s diet with taurine, L-carnitine, and vitamin B-12 if you eliminate animal products. It’s also a good idea to check to see if your dog food of choice is approved by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an organization that establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods.

dog with eggplant toy

Are there health benefits to having a vegan or vegetarian dog?

Yes, there are certain health benefits that come with a vegan or vegetarian diet. Dogs who have allergies to animal proteins, for instance, can thrive on a meat-free diet. Plant-based foods also help with digestive issues and promote healthy stools. 

Can cats thrive on a vegan diet?

While dogs are omnivores, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they are unable to get the essential nutrients they need from plants. Due to these nutritional requirements, felines need meat to survive. So no, cats absolutely cannot and should not be fed a vegan diet, let alone a vegetarian one.

The key component of meat that cats require is an amino acid called taurine. Taurine cannot be found in plant sources, only animal sources. Without taurine from animal protein sources, cats can develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a deadly heart disease.

Stick to Mittens’ regular cat food.

dog with carrot stuffer

Proceed with caution

You want your dog to live a long and healthy life. While vegan food reduces the environmental impact of meat production, aids animal welfare, and works great for dog owners, it’s not fair to force it on our pets to the detriment of their nutritional health. There are just too many unknowns.

Talk to your DVM for more information if you are considering making your dog vegan, vegetarian, or grain-free. A veterinary professional is the only way to go in order to create a high-quality, well-rounded diet plan that meets all of your dog’s nutritional needs from the right amount of protein and calcium to vitamin A and carbohydrates.

Vegetarian dog treats