Can dog’s really live without meat?
Owners who decide to feed a vegetarian or vegan diet can fully satisfy their dogs dietary needs if they are aware of the species’ nutritional requirements.
Dogs may prefer to be carnivores whenever possible and while meat and fish are their preferred prey, even when times are plentiful they will still eat some herbage. Perhaps they are self medicating in some way. Perhaps obtaining certain minerals and vitamins that their meat diet lacks. Observers of carnivorous animals have noted that hunters will often eat intestinal contents before tackling raw meat. Another piece of evidence to give us an insight into the dogs true nutritional needs.
What’s the best doggy vegetarian diet ?
So what should you take into account when preparing a vegetarian diet for your dog. Well firstly because they do not have a large capacity to digest vegetable matter, including starches and sugars they do lean towards a high protein and high fat content diet.
Therefore be aware that cereals, including rice, and potato must be kept to a minimum. Excessive starches and sugars increase the risk of your dog developing serious diseases such as diabetes, colitis and other digestive conditions.
Vegetable fibre is difficult to digest and so must be well broken down by mincing or liquidising though not necessarily cooking; which will reduce nutritional value. Raw is often best if it is broken down to improve digestability.
Plant proteins are abundant in legumes, peas, beans etc.
Since practically all vegetable material contains fats and oils in addition to the oils you may add, you need to be aware that too much omega 6 oils are harmful, causing internal inflammation that can give rise to arthritis and other complaints. The better vegetable oils are: olive, coconut and flax. Avoid sunflower, corn and rapeseed oils especially. We have a good article on vegetable oils for dogs in our online healthcare blog.
What are “essential” nutrients?
The clever thing about metabolism is that if we don’t get a certain nutrient in our diet then the body can synthesise it from the chemical building blocks obtained from other parts of our diet. So in fact not that many nutrients are really classed as “essential”. But nevertheless there are some that are essential that the dog can’t manufacture at all or can’t manufacture enough of to fulfil their true potential. This can lead to a dog “surviving” on a vegetarian diet rather than “blossoming”. It can also become more important for older dogs as their internal “manufacturing” systems weaken with age.
What is the case for supplementation?
This then is the area where judicial supplemention of the diet on the owner’s part can help the vegetarian diet become truly fulfilling both for dog and owner. Supplementation is usually needed to reduce the risk of deficiencies at somer point in your dog’s life.
Two important amino acids that may be lacking in vegetarian diets are taurine and L-carnitine, and a deficiency of these nutrients can cause serious health problems within the nervous system, heart and circulation. Taurine is an “essential” for example and no plant foods have more than a trace of it.
Many minerals can be deficient either because of where crops are grown or over-intensive agriculture. Plant derived vital Omega 3 fatty acids EHA and DPA are found only in algae, and so seaweed and spirulina are good things to add to the diet for this and for the vast array of minerals they contain.
Bear in mind that the greater the variety of foods that you introduce into the vegetarian diet the lower the risk of deficiencies.