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Posted on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 6:03 p.m.

Are strictly vegetarian or vegan diets suitable for pets?

By Lorrie Shaw

The pet food industry has boomed in recent years. Years ago, one of our dogs began experiencing allergies, manifesting as irritated paws and angry-looking ear canals. Our vet recommended a prescription diet (whitefish and potato) to address the problem. At that time, only a handful of specialized pet foods were available, and for the most part directly from the veterinarian.

Today, there has been a huge shift in the thinking about what and how pets eat. There are countless purveyors of not only age and species-specific diets, but also those that vary from being grain-free, limited ingredient, organic and one category that has generated a lot of positive and negative attention: a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet for dogs and cats.

Pet owners gravitate toward choosing a vegetarian diet for varying reasons. Health issues (typically directed by their veterinarian) are common, although some folks desire to reduce the impact on the environment or live by their code of ethics.


Flickr photo courtesy of ret0dd

Dr. Tony Buffington, professor of veterinary medicine at The Ohio State University's Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, cited in a recent article, points out that while canines - who are carnivores - can adapt more easily to a vegetarian diet, cats cannot: They are obligate (strict) carnivores, meaning that most of their nutrition comes from animal sources and their nutritional needs are different.

Feeding dogs a commercially available meat-free diet has in fact been a longtime option in addressing health-related issues. However, the main caveat with feeding felines a vegetarian or vegan diet is that they usually become deficient in taurine - an amino acid essential for proper cellular function. Cats synthesize taurine at a lower rate than dogs, and it is depleted more quickly. Taurine deficiency can lead to problems with vision, and is associated with dilated cardiomylopathy, a type of heart disease.

Commercial dog food companies, like V-dog offer vegan kibble that is fortified with taurine and L-Carnitene - another essential amino acid.

It's important to remember that each breed of canine and feline can be predisposed to organ dysfunction, and a balanced diet that addresses each species' needs is integral in keeping them healthy. Dogs and cats do not metabolize foods - especially some fruits and vegetables - the way that humans do. Before considering a significant dietary change for your dog or cat, do your research, talk to your veterinarian - or seek the expertise of a veterinary nutritionist.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting as well as a regular pets contributor on She also blogs frequently on More Than Four Walls, and enjoys researching solutions regarding pet wellness and behavior, as well as social issues related to pets, including cats. She can be reached via e-mail.



Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 3:43 p.m.

I've had vegan and vegetarian dogs for over 20 years and never had a problem or an overweight dog. I don't want to participate in the appalling meat industry, thus I'm not going to feed meat (or fish) to my dogs either! Thanks for opening the discussion!


Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 8:08 a.m.

My cat recently passed away at 23 years old. He ate nothing but regular old purina cat chow, and a few mice and birds that entire time.

just a voice

Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 12:17 a.m.

I'm glad to get some facts on this issues, so another thanks for the article, while I don't have a cat, its nice to know what my dog can and can't handle, he said dogs can adapt easier to a vegi diet, and I'm not planning on going that way, I would like to know if there are any negative effects of feeding a dog a vegi diet.

Lorrie Shaw

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

Thanks for your comments, everyone; I appreciate it. This is a "hot" topic that I thought that was deserving of discussion. With all of the focus on pet nutrition today, and all of its influences - it's important to have facts, from reputable sources. After all, we are our pets' advocates. Thanks for taking the time, to give your two cents!


Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 9:22 p.m.

Why is this even being discussed, how dumb can we be? Dogs and cats eat MEAT, they are carnivores not vegetarians as Sandman noted. I cannot believe I wasted my time posting on this article.


Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 8:10 p.m.

Dogs are carnivores; let them be. Humans are omnivores; let them be. We all have our own proper diet; please focus on our health, not your issue. Vote for your job, so you have money to fight for your issues. If you vote for your issues, you will have no money to fight for them and you will then focus on your job.

Urban Sombrero

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 7:42 p.m.

My dogs won't eat veggies. Now matter how I try to present them to them. I go by what my vet says. She's the one called, "Doctor", and she's the one who went to veterinary school. I figure she knows what she's talking about....definitely more than the links I find via google.

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 5:33 p.m.

i couldn't imagine giving my lab a vegan diet. he's got enough gas already. certainly doesn't need to encourage it w/that kind of thing.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 5:24 p.m.

I'm glad this vet agrees that cats cannot handle a vegetarian diet. Most cat foods are actually pretty bad for them. They need a protein-rich diet with as few carbs as possible. I call it Catkins. Fancy Feast is actually one of the healthiest products for cats. I've red far less about dogs. I suppose if they have energy and aren't getting obese, they can handle more variety.

John Spieser

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 3:52 p.m.

Thanks for this Lorrie! My dog "Patch" is coming up on 12 years now and is still in excellent condition. I have evolved my thinking about proper feeding a lot over the years and believe that on-going research is something all pet owners should stay engaged in.

Morris Thorpe

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 6:49 a.m.

The pet food industry has literally exploded in recent years. Finally! I wondered why all the Purina keeps ending up in my porch.