Are Vegan Diets Healthy For Dogs?

By Allegra Ringo

More and more people are opting for vegetarian and vegan diets. People do it for a number of reasons, including ethics, environmental concerns, and health. With this trend on the rise for humans, some have wondered if their canine companions can make the dietary switch, too. But is it okay for dogs to be vegan?

If decades of cartoons are to be believed, dogs survive on meat alone. Specifically, those huge ham bones that you never see in real life. But let me be the one to break this to you: Cartoons are not the same as science.

I spoke to Linda Case, a canine nutritionist, science writer, and author of Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices. I asked her the big question: Is it healthy for dogs to subsist on a vegan diet?

"Yes, it is okay because unlike cats, dogs are omnivores," Case told me. She addresses this fact in Dog Food Logic. In this section of the book, Case explains the pervasive confusion on the topic. A domesticated cat is an "obligate carnivore," or "true carnivore," meaning it needs some meat in its diet to survive. By contrast, a dog is "more generalist in [its] eating habits and subsequently in its nutrient needs." In other words, contrary to popular belief, dogs are omnivores: "Similar to its wild cousins, the domestic dog is a predatory species that also consumes plant foods and scavenges, and is capable of consuming and obtaining nutrition from a wide variety of food types."

(You can read the rest of the book's section here. Case does an incredible job of breaking down this complex topic.)

I also asked Case if there are any benefits or risks associated with vegan diets for dogs. "There are no documented benefits to feeding a balanced vegan food when compared with feeding a food that contains some type of meat source," she told me. "The biggest risk is producing a diet that is not well-balanced nutritionally."

Your dog can, indeed, safely lead a vegan lifestyle. But there's one important condition: Before making this or any other change to your dog's diet, consult a canine nutritionist. Your vet can help you find one. Canine nutritionists can help you plan any sort of specialized diet while making sure their nutritional needs are met.

Tell us about your dog's diet in the comment section!