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Is it safe to feed my dog or cat a vegetarian diet?

It’s likely that your cat or dog will thrive on a vegetarian diet. Studies have shown that ailments associated with meat consumption in humans, such as allergies, cancer, and arthritis, also affect our companion animals. In addition to pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, commercial pet foods can be composed of parts of animals deemed unfit for human consumption, such as ground-up feathers and diseased flesh.

Do be especially cautious when making the transition to a vegetarian diet for your cat as cats have very specific nutritional requirements. Vitamin A, taurine, and arachidonic acid are essential and can be provided with supplements such as VegeCat by Harbingers of a New Age. For optimal health, many people also choose to supplement their cats’ diets with fresh, wholesome grains, proteins, vegetables, and essential fatty acids such as those found in flaxseed oil.

Unless they eat raw meat, some dogs require supplemental taurine and L-carnitine (available in health food stores). These amino acids can prevent dilated cardiomyopathy in breeds that are prone to the disease, such as Doberman pinschers, boxers, cocker spaniels, Dalmatians, and many large breeds.

For a smooth transition, start by mixing vegetarian food (several quality brands are available, or follow recipes found in Vegetarian Dogs by Verona re-Bow or Vegetarian Cats and Dogs by James Peden) with the meat-based food. Gradually increase the vegetarian portion and decrease the meat-based diet over one to two weeks. Most dogs’ and cats’ health improves on a vegetarian diet, but be sure to monitor your animal closely to be absolutely sure that the new diet is agreeable. If not, you may need to switch to a different brand, try supplementing commercial food with fresh whole or raw foods, or go back to the meat-based food.