Step into any pet store, head for the food aisle and you’ll be greeted with a ton of information about all the pet food they have to offer, and if you’re a first-time pet owner, the choices on hand can get pretty overwhelming.

On top of that, you may have heard that more and more pet owners are turning to vegetarian food for their pets. Wondering if this will work for your pet? Before you jump on the vegetarian bandwagon with your pet in tow, some of the questions you should be asking yourself are: Are vegetarian diets for my pets healthy? Can they get the nutrition they need? Is it even safe? The answer is both yes and no.

Nutritional Requirements  

If you’re thinking of doing your part for the environment and changing the diet of your canine and feline friends to a vegetarian one, whatever the reason, you might first want to consider your pet’s biological requirement.

Depending on their breed, both cats and dogs have very specific nutritional needs. This also differs based on their level of activity, age, size and sex. And no, cats and dogs do not have the same nutritional needs, which means they cannot be fed the same food.

For Canines

Dogs are no doubt omnivores and can adapt much better to a well-balanced vegetarian diet.

Dogs are no doubt omnivores and as compared to cats, can adapt much better to a well-balanced vegetarian diet. As we all know, dogs were evolved from wolves and compared to their carnivorous ancestors, these omnivorous dogs have evolved a superior ability to metabolise carbohydrates.

According to a 2016 review from the Centre for Animal Welfare in the UK, this simply means that domestic canines can subsist on a diet lower in protein as they can obtain the nutrition they need from plant sources as well.

So if a vegetarian diet is the route you’re planning to take for your furry friend, you’ll be glad to know that there is a wide range of commercially prepared ‘complete’ vegetarian dog foods available making it a whole lot easier for you. It is also a safer way to start your dog on a plant-based diet.

For Felines

Cats are true carnivores and have highly exacting nutritional needs.

Cats, on the other hand, are true carnivores and have highly exacting nutritional needs. Simply put, they need meat to thrive.

According to The European Pet Food Industry, cats have high requirements for protein and amino acids which their bodies breakdown very rapidly. If resources run low they’re unable to reduce the rate of breakdown, which makes them particularly sensitive to deficiencies.

One such important amino acid is taurine, which is exclusively found in animal-based proteins. Without it, it can lead to blindness and even heart failure. While you and I, and even dogs can produce taurine, cats, unfortunately, cannot. Furthermore, cats can metabolise taurine quickly making it essential that they get regular amounts in their food daily.

The European Pet Food Industry also adds that arachidonic acid is another example of a nutrient required by cats only available from animal sources, along with preformed vitamin A (retinol) as cats cannot utilise sufficient quantities from the provitamin A of vegetables.

That’s not all. Cats also need to maintain good levels of vitamin B12, which again are found naturally in meat.

To make up for imbalances in your cat’s diet, supplements are available but just how well it is absorbed vary.

Going Vegan

If you’re planning to take it one step further and put your pet on a vegan diet, be sure to check with a vet or animal nutritionist, as they may be deficient in various vitamins and nutrients. The key to making this work is attention to detail and a carefully designed vegan diet to assure nutritional adequacy.

As compared to commercial vegan and vegetarian diets, homemade ones don’t always provide your pets with the nutrition they need. This complicated task requires meticulous planning and a specific formulation from a vet or animal nutritionist especially if you have a cat at home.

The European Pet Food Industry surveyed 86 vegetarian dogs in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. They found that over 50 percent of the dogs were fed diets deficient in protein, essential amino acids, calcium, zinc and vitamins D and B12.

Needless to say, these dietary deficiencies can have a significant impact on your pet’s long-term health and well-being. So if you’re intending to change your pet’s diet to a vegetarian or vegan one, be sure to do what’s best for them and speak with a veterinary nutritionist before making the switch.


 

PRODUCT PICKS...

Addiction Zen Vegetarian:
For Wellness & Vitality

To translate the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle to your dog, there’s Addiction Zen to turn to.

The food formula does not include meat protein, artificial flavourings or preservatives. Instead, it offers vegetable proteins to provide a holistic,
and well-balanced meal. It’s also designed to promote wellness in dogs allergic to meat.

Available 3 lbs (1.36kg) packs from:
Pet Lovers Centre.

Natural Pet:
Vegetarian: 3-In-1 Joint Care
 
Suitable for vegetarian pets, pets with sensitive skin irritations or digestive discomforts associated with food allergies, the Natural Pet Vegetarian 3-In-1 Joint Care comes in a pack of 60 tablets. 

This 3-in-1 hypoallergenic veterinary formula offers vegetarian Glucosamine to rebuild joint cartilage. In addition, it contains celadrin for continuous joint lubrication and MSM for the relief of pain and joint stiffness.

Available in 60-tablet allotments at:
Pet Lovers Centre.