Vegetarian food for pets?

Couple with pet dog
Photo by 5688709 on Pixabay, free for use

Disclaimer: If you want to swap your dog’s diet to vegan or vegetarian, please consult a licensed veterinary nutritionist or vet first to make sure it is suitable for your dog.

Vegetarian food for pets: is it good for them?

Vegetarian pet owners like me often struggle with the idea of feeding one species of animal to another species: our pet animals. It seems like encouraging cannibalism. How can someone who stops consuming meat, since they consider it ethically wrong to torture and slaughter animals, feed their pets meat products? Also, being aware of the effect meat production has on the climate, can one continue to give one’s dog a food made from animal products? Ever since I became vegetarian (with numerous attempts at veganism), I have played with the idea of feeding my dogs vegetarian dog food.

This topic causes a lot of discussions and controversy on social media on both sides of the argument. People are quite passionate about the welfare of pets. 

Do pets need the same type of food as their relatives in the wild?

Some pet owners think that pets need to have a diet which most resembles what their species of pet consumes in the wild. Dogs and cats are both predators, thus many owners think meat or fish based food is the best for them.

However, looking at life expectancy of wolves in the wild, pet dogs live twice as long. Is their diet a contributing factor? Dogs, in fact, are omnivores and cannot survive on pure meat alone. Several minerals, vitamins and roughage are added to vet supervised dog food. Cat owners are often told that cats are supposed to be more dependent on animal proteins for their health. 

Ethical views re pet food

A Guardian opinion piece by Tim Dowling examines the dilemma facing vegetarian and vegan pet owners. Some pet owners consider that their ethical views make it necessary for them to opt for a plant based diet for their pets too. The Guardian quotes one of the dog owners who feeds their healthy looking pet plant based food:

“I think the question is not really whether the food we feed our dogs is vegan or not,” says Thomas. “The question is more: if I can feed my dog a delicious, nutritious, balanced food that’s healthier for them, kinder to other beings and kinder to the environment, then why on earth wouldn’t I?” (editor note: name changed out of fear of abuse experienced on social media.)

Photo by Seaq68 on Pixabay, free for use
Photo by Seaq68 on Pixabay, free for use

Another dog owner interviewed found that the change to plant based food improved her sensitive dogs digestive issues.

What BVA think vs a vet who supports plant based food

Opinions on the impact on dogs’ health vary. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) warns that,

“While dogs can theoretically be fed a vegan diet that meets their nutritional needs, not enough is known about the effects to consider it safe.”

One of the dog owners interviewed in the above Guardian article, who also happens to be a vet, considers that a vegetarian diet is of benefit to a dog’s health. In her practice as a vet, she noticed that more and more health problems by pets were due to their obesity. She decided to do some research on the content of dog foods and health. She concluded that, like with humans, the more plants were eaten by pets, the healthier the animals would be. Dr Arielle Griffiths MRCVS, is the director of ‘Just Be Kind’ dog food, offering nutritional advice and vegan dog food recommendations on her Just Be Kind website. She says:

“….the protein levels you can get with plants is equivalent to the protein levels that you can get with meat and fish. Most plant-based complete pet foods meet the nutritional guidelines set out by the PFMA and the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF). But not all do.” 

Less vets visits

The Guardian cites a survey result which found that pets fed plant based food needed less vets visits, concluding that they must suffer less health issues. It was found that vegetarian food was less calorific thus aiding weight control.

That is in contrast to the view that only meats can supply dogs and cats with the required nutrients.

Personal decision on how to feed my dogs

I have considered changing my dog’s diet to cut out meat but was not persuaded that vegetarian or vegan food would supply animals, who are supposed to be domesticated wolves, with the necessary nutrients to thrive.

However, the American Kennel Club says,

“Omnivores eat plant and animal matter. Humans are omnivores. Dogs produce amylase in much greater quantities than wolves, enabling them to digest foods other than meat. This enzyme allows dogs to digest a diet rich in starches – something wolves can’t do.”

Of course, from an ethical point of view and also considering the impact of meat consumption on the climate, I would much prefer vegetarian dog food. Pets consume around 20% of meat and fish produced globally. Looking at animal factory farming, which is where the meat products added to dog food comes from, horrifies me.

I’m afraid, until now I’ve decided to compromise and have been feeding my beloved dog kibbles without meat, but with salmon and white fish. I know fish being killed is not painless and they are also farmed often in cruelly restricted spaces. But at least they are not transported live for days without food and water, like farm animals are.

Is it time to review my decision?

However, after reading the opinions and research results described in the Guardian opinion piece, and checking several web sites for the growing number of vegetarian dog food choices, I might decide to follow my heart and give my dog a pure plant based diet. Of course, the cost of the food is a factor to consider.

Cost of meat based and vegetarian dog foods compared

My Pets At Home own brand AVA kibbles with salmon for dogs with sensitive skins and stomachs costs at the moment £43.99 for 15kg. In addition, to mix in the medicine my dog needs, I use about 100mg of canned food from Lidl at £0.50 for a day’s supply of 300g. I’m afraid I had to opt for cheaper tins when I had two elderly dogs to feed (and buy medicine for. That costs me £67 for 20 days per dog. But that’s an issue I plan to get back to in another article.)

The only vegetarian dog food, apart from a few treats available, I found at Pets At Home was by Lily’s kitchen. A 400g tin costs £2.75.

Other vegetarian/vegan dog food for sale on the internet were Edgar Cooper at £76. £76 for 12kgs.

A pack of twelve tins costs £36 at Pet Pack

Finally, the above mentioned vet Arielle Griffith’s web site Solo Vegetal offers 10kg kibbles for £64.50 and 12 tins at £44.50. 

To conclude, the vegetarian food on offer works out a lot more expensive and for people with large dogs or several dogs, shopping ethically comes at a price. Maybe, once more people buy vegetarian food, the cost will go down just like it did with human vegetarian food.

What do other pet owners think? Letters welcome to editor@kentbylines.co.uk.