Feeding a vegetarian food to your dog is a personal decision probably decided because of your own personal preferences. the Vegetarian Society has a lot of information on feeding a veggie diet to your dog, particularly how to ensure the basic nutrients are provided. They suggest that if your dog has been brought up on a meat diet, make the changeover to a vegetarian diet gradual.
With active dogs there is a problem of bulk versus energy and readers are advised to consult their vet for guidance to ensure that sufficient energy can be obtained from the amount of food given.
Vegetarian feeding of cats is not generally recommended because cats are obligate carnivores – that is, they need meat in their diet. The Vegerarian Society has info on cats.
The main problem with natural feeding of a veggie diet would seem to be the sheer bulk of food needed to ensure full and complete nutrition, and the variety of foodstuffs needed to make up such a diet (click here for more info)
There are a large number of ingredients that you can incorporate into the diet:
Vegetables – Green vegetables are a great way of boosting your dogs immune system, you can feed these raw or cooked. Raw carrot makes a healthy treat. Vegetables are possibly better for dogs than fruit. Potato must be cooked, and mashed potato is a suitable ingredient for home cooking.
Fruit – in the wild, dogs would have scavenged windfall fruit as well as digesting the remains of fruit eaten by other animals when they pick over the carcass, so giving your dog fruit is not as strange as it might sound. Fresh fruit is packed full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and all sorts of other healthy nutrients, so it's great for keeping your dog in top condition. Some fruits are quite acidic (as well as sugary) and may not be good for dogs with skin or digestive complaints.
Grains – Rice is universally recommended, and brown rice preferred, but make sure that it is well cooked so that your pet can get the maximum goodness.
Fish – Vary the protein that you are feeding, so that a good range of amino acids is provided. Fish, particularly oily varieties are a good source of omega 3 and 6 oils.
Yoghurt – this is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamins, and is particularly good for dogs with diarrhoea thanks to the probiotics it contains.
Cottage cheese – another surprisingly healthy dairy food which is great for growing puppies and lactating bitches.
Brewer's yeast – Can be purchased from health food stores or chemists as a food supplement and is full of nutrients and vitamins. You only need to use about 1/2 tsp a day with recipes.
An alternative is to look at the small number of complete vegetarian foods available for dogs which have a declared analysis that meets nutritional guidlines. Feeding amounts on these can be higher than equivalent meat based foods (ie 650g for a 30kg dog as compared to 3-400g with meat based foods) so do follow the recommended feeding rates.
You should be aware that not all Veterinary Surgeons are happy about the nutritional adequacy of home cooking – there are issues regarding vitamin, mineral and micronutrient content.
A recent field study presents a survey of the primary reasons for choosing a vegetarian diet and an outline of the most frequent nutritional imbalances found in these diets.
The survey consisted of personal interviews. Owners were asked to fill out a questionnaire to provide a detailed account of their pet's diet and medical history and to present their dogs and cats for clinical examination.
If possible a blood sample was drawn. Energy and nutrient intake of the animals were calculated and compared with requirements. Additionally, twelve prepared complete vegetarian dog foods were investigated.
A total of eighty-six dogs were investigated in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium and applications continued to arrive after the survey was finished. By contrast, only eight cats were found which currently were fed a vegetarian diet.
With few exceptions, the survey's participants were also vegetarians who believed that animals should not be killed in order to provide meat and / or that meat production was carried out in a way which was cruel to the animals and detrimental to the health of consumers.
The protein intake was inadequate for over half of the dogs. Nutritional errors typical of all homemade diets also occurred in the vegetarian diets.
The calcium requirements were not met in 62% of the dogs' diets, likewise for phosphorus, which was below standard for roughly half of the dogs. This resulted in an unbalanced Ca / P ratio.
In addition, 73% of the dogs had an insufficient intake of sodium. In many cases, the supply of trace elements was inadequate. A high number of the plasma samples also showed insufficient amounts of iron, copper, zinc and iodine. Of the vitamin contents calculated, vitamin D was most often below recommendations.
Here also, a reduced plasma content of 25-OH-vitamin D was common. Fifty-six percent of the dogs showed a vitamin B12 intake below recommendations. Despite the fact that some of the diets were unbalanced, no clinical problems were found in the adult dogs.
The protein intake of the cats was not far below the requirements, although the amount of S-containing amino acids was frequently inadequate. None of the cats in the study were provided with enough taurine although products containing taurine were used.
Similar deficiencies to those of the dogs in minerals and trace elements, as well as vitamin D and B12 were found in the cats' diets. Vitamin A intake was deficient in all cases, and in all but two cases, cats had insufficient amounts of arachadonic acid. One cat showed symptoms of retinal atrophy and two displayed reduced frequency of estrus.
The mineral and vitamin content of the prepared vegetarian petfoods frequently did not provide a balanced diet for a dog's nutritional needs. Only two of the twelve products that were analyzed can be recommended without reservation.
Source: E. Kienzle and R. Engelhard. A field study on the nutrition of vegetarian dogs and cats in Europe. From Proceedings of Sixth Workshop in Pet Food Labeling and Regulations. p. 139.
by John Birch