A dog can subsist on a vegetarian diet, but the consensus among experts is that responsibly and ethically switching your dog to a no-meat diet requires exceedingly careful nutrient management. Dogs are not biologically designed to be vegetarians. While it's possible, a vegetarian dog diet has to be closely monitored to ensure he's getting the right nutrients -- otherwise, it's arguably irresponsible. Despite your best intentions, making your dog a vegetarian can negatively impact the pet's health.
A dog's digestive system is designed to process both plants and animals. His sharp teeth are built for ripping and tearing flesh and sinew, while his short intestinal tract is designed for processing more meat than plants. Whether in the wild or in a domestic setting, he needs foods that are compatible with his body -- unless your dog refuses meat products, this means an omnivore's diet. If you want to switch him to vegetarianism, the only ethical way to do it is to make sure his diet doesn't clash with his constitution.
WebMD reports that vegetarian dog diets are relatively controversial, particularly because dogs require nutrients like protein and certain amino acids that are found mostly in animal products. Mother Nature Network notes that certain commercial brands are fortified with extra protein and nutrients, so that vegetarian dogs don't miss out by leaving meat out of their diets. By choosing a brand like this, you ensure that your dog gets the nutrients he needs to help prevent problems like urinary tract infections and heart disease.
Before You Switch
Consult your veterinarian before switching your dog's food, but especially before switching to a vegetarian diet. While not widely considered unethical, it is generally perceived as a relatively risky decision that can negatively impact your dog's health if poorly executed. Your vet can advise as to whether or not your dog is a good fit for a vegetarian diet, and if so, what kind of food he should have.
Watching the Diet
Your vet will likely instruct you to monitor your dog's health and whether he is receptive to his new diet. Dogs have very specific nutritional needs that are generally met by animal products -- for example, they rely on a type of vitamin D that is found in animals, not plants. Your dog may need to take nutritional supplements along with his typical diet, so make sure that he consistently gets all of the nutrients that your vet recommends, and schedule followup appointments to ensure that he remains in good health during and after the transition.
By Tom Ryan
About the Author
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.