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

“A growing body of evidence appears to indicate that dogs and cats can survive, and indeed thrive, on nutritionally-sound vegetarian and vegan diets,” according to Andrew Knight and Madelaine Leitsberger, the authors of a review in the journal Animals of four studies that examined the nutritional adequacy of vegetarian diets for cats and dogs. One study comparing the health of vegetarian cats to that of cats on conventional diets found no significant differences in perceived health status between the two groups.

Some dogs are even sensitive to meat and do better without it for that reason. Many commercial meat-based dog and cat foods contain ingredients that are harmful to them, such as pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, poor-quality fillers, and parts of animals that are deemed unfit for human consumption, such as ground-up feathers and diseased flesh.

Dogs are considered omnivores, but many require taurine and L-carnitine, which are found in raw meat, in their diets. These amino acids can prevent dilated cardiomyopathy in breeds that are prone to the disease. Nowadays, however, most commercial dog foods, both vegetarian and meat-based, contain them, and if you want to feed a homemade diet, you can purchase them in powder form online or at a health food store.

Cats have nutritional requirements that are more stringent than those of dogs. Vitamin A, taurine, and arachidonic acid are essential for maintaining their health. Today, these are also found in any high-quality commercial cat food, and they also can be added to a homemade, plant-based diet.

Many people supplement the diets of both their dogs and their cats with fresh fruit, such as melon, bananas, and apples; vegetables, such as green beans and carrots; whole grains, such as millet and barley; homemade dog biscuits; and superfoods such as spirulina, nutritional yeast, and nori.

For a smooth transition, start by mixing vegetarian food (several brands are available to choose from, including v-dog, Amì, and Wild Earth, or follow the vegan recipes in Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats or that come with Vegepet supplements) with the meat-based food. Gradually increase the vegetarian portion and decrease the meat-based diet over one to two weeks. Most, but not all, dogs and cats can do well on a vegetarian diet, so watch closely to be sure that the new diet is agreeing with your animal companion. If you notice skin or digestive problems, you may need to make adjustments. Try a different brand or recipe, or if necessary, go back to feeding the previous diet.

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