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Vegetarian Cats and Dogs?

Should a cat or dog consume a vegetarian or vegan diet? I belong to several online pet and wildlife groups. Often I see discussions about feeding a meat-free diet to pets. Personally, I don’t eat meat. However, I believe our dogs and cats need to eat meat. I asked several veterinarians and all said that you should feed your cats and dogs a meat based diet.

Dr. Ernie Ward with his canine pal.

Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM at Seaside Animal Care and author of the book, Chow Hounds, shares his thoughts on meat-free diets for dogs and cats with Pet News and Views (PVAN).

PNAV: Do you think dogs and cats should eat a meat-free diet?
Dr. Ernie: In my opinion, a perfect world is one in which no animal is harmed or killed for food. Of course, we live far from that utopia. The decision to pursue a vegetarian or meat-free diet for yourself or your pet is a deeply personal one. From a strictly nutritional viewpoint, there appears to be positive health benefits of feeding your pet animal proteins, especially fish proteins.

Dogs, like humans, can thrive on vegetarian diets while there is debate on the ability of cats to adapt to a meatless diet. The difference is in their physiology: dogs are omnivores meaning they can derive nutrition from a wide variety of food sources while cats are obligate carnivores meaning they need certain nutrients that can only be found in meat. If you want to share a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle with your dog, I encourage you to do so. For your cat, however, this may be somewhat challenging due to their unique nutritional needs.

PNAV: I know you’ve said dogs can eat carrots instead of biscuits and treats. How many vegetables should a dog and cat get in a day?
Dr. Ernie: Vegetables and fruits are nutritious, low-calorie alternatives to high-calorie, high-sugar and high-fat commercial treats (and they’re often much less expensive). You can give your dog these whole food treats anytime you’d normally give your dog a biscuit. While there is a limit to how many vegetables your dog could eat a day, that threshold is very high and you’re unlikely to exceed it. Carbohydrates and vegetables should ideally constitute about 50 to 60 percent of your dog’s daily calories, depending on your dog’s age, activity level and health status.

PNAV: How do you define snacks, and how often should they get them?
Dr. Ernie: Snacks are anything you eat outside of a normal meal. There are healthy snacks such as vegetables or high-protein foods and unhealthy snacks such as high-carbohydrate treats. I’m all for snacking; just make sure you’re enjoying healthy goodies and avoiding junk food. The problem isn’t with enjoying birthday cake and ice cream; the problem is we celebrate our birthdays every day, sometimes several times a day!

PNAV: How many times per day should a dog and cat eat?
Dr. Ernie: Dogs have unique anatomical adaptations such as a large, highly-expandable stomach that allow them to eat a large meal and run. Cats, on the other hand, have a smaller more muscular stomach designed for smaller meals. Dogs can be fed once or twice a day with no problem. Cats would ideally be fed several small meals throughout the day. If you’re unable to feed several measured meals throughout the day, try feeding two to three times per day based on your schedule. Programmable automated feeders that dispense a specific amount of food four to six times per day are a great alternative for feeding your feline.

PNAV: What do you think of meaty raw diets for dogs and cats?
Dr. Ernie: Raw food poses great health risk not only to our pets but to us. Raw foods are often contaminated with pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, campylobacter and clostridium. For these reasons, both U.S. and Canadian health agencies have issued strong warnings against feeding pets raw meat.

Whenever pet owners tell me ‘Dogs and cats evolved eating raw meats, that’s why it’s better for them.’ I remind them that the animal flesh they’re feeding their pets are nothing like the animals they evolved eating. Ninety-nine percent of today’s chickens, cows and pigs are raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) or factory farms.

These animals have been severely genetically altered, fed a cocktail of growth hormones and are raised under such duress that they require a constant infusion of antibiotics to keep them alive until slaughter. The end result is a highly-contaminated meat source ripe with harmful pathogens, antibiotics and hormones. Feeding a dog raw chicken, beef or pork in no way replicates the hunting of wild game dogs and cats evolved eating. Unless your cat or dog is catching its prey, avoid feeding raw; we simply live in a very different and very dangerous world.

You can read more about diets for cats and dogs. I interviewed Dr. Ernie about Putting a Cat on a Diet and Putting a Dog on a Diet.

On Monday, Jim McBean of the blog DoggyBytes gives an alternative view. He is an advocate for raw diets for dogs.

What do you feed your cats and dogs?

22 comments to Vegetarian Cats and Dogs?

  • How is there debate on cats? Don’t they need taurine from a raw meat source?

  • Yes, you are absolutely right.

  • Like you, Amy and I do not eat meat … unless it is open range, farm raised. So about 90% of the time, we are meatless.

    I understand that there are many inherent health benefits to humans following a vegetarian or vegan diet. I also understand that dogs and cats are carnivores and need a meat-based diet for them to lead a healthy life. Why are people trying to confuse/merge the two??

  • We feed our dogs a dehydrated raw diet from The Honest Kitchen. Like Dr. Ward, I am concerned with the chemicals pumped into our foods – that’s why this disclosure on the side of the Honest Kitchen box was a relief to me: “We never use any by-products, fillers, artificial colorings or preservatives. Our USDA meats are hormone and antibiotic free. Our fruits and vegetables are certified non-GMO, and our grains are certified organic and free trade.” Additionally, the food is made with 100% human food grade ingredients and is taste tested by humans as part of their standard QC program. For us, it is a great way to get the nutrition of a raw diet and the high quality food we want to feed the boys. It doesn’t hurt that the dogs absolutely LOVE it. They lick the bowls to a high shine after every meal!

  • I don’t understand the doctor’s logic behind this. While I don’t claim to know anything about a dog’s or cat’s diet, I do know much about that other obligate carnivore: the ferret’s. Vegetables are harmful for ferrets, so why is the doctor suggesting you feed your obligate carnivore cats vegetables? How does the doctor explain all the canine teeth in these carnivores’ mouths (and I am considering a dog a carnivore here).

    It’s interesting how the doctor warns against feeding meat because of all the harmful additions to meat, but has he considered organic meat which contains none of these hormones? I know many ferrets who are fed raw meaty bones and/or prey. Because of their quick digestive tract, they do not get sick from non-organic meat. The food is out of their system before e. coli or salmonella can grow. I don’t know how this would work for dogs, but if cats have the same obligate carnivore requirements and need meals more regularly (like the ferret), shouldn’t it stand to reason that they can also safely eat meat?

  • Ernie Ward

    Synthetic (meat-less) taurine has been available since the 1930’s. While extremely challenging and hotly debated (and I’m not an advocate ), you can feed a cat a vegan cat (although there may be health risks unless done with utmost care and even then…). We’re vegan but feed our cats a meat-based diet. For debate, just Google “vegan cats.” Enjoy…

  • I do agree on feeding dogs veggies, but putting a dog on an all vegetable diet isn’t a good idea. Jersey’s diet consists of 2/3 meat and 1/3 veggies and she’s pretty healthy. Just got her blood work back from the vet and it’s A+.

  • Interesting post and while I don’t believe dogs should be remade into vegetarians to suit the notions of his or her person, just as I prefer that cows eat grass and not corn, there will likely come a time when we’ll need to rethink the raising of cattle for food as grasslands disappear and the carbon footprint costs soar.

  • Glad to hear that Jersey is in A-One shape.

  • Hi Natalie, Dr. Ernie believes that cats should eat meat, and that vegetables are good for a snack. See the article on Putting a Cat on a Diet. http://petnewsandviews.com/2009/12/putting-a-cat-on-a-diet/

  • Amy, I’m impressed that it is “taste tested by humans.” Best, Michele

  • I feed my five dogs vegetarian dog food due to the allergies and skin problems that two of them have. They came into my life with these “issues” and after putting them on numerous drugs (including steroids), I was trying to find an alternative with less (or no) side effects. I read about food allergies and tried different types (lamb, salmon, etc.) until we tried vegetarian. In the case of my two dogs, it has significantly improved their conditions. All of my dogs are doing well.

  • I understand that from the article, Michele. But if he agrees that cats are obligate carnivores, like ferrets, then why should they eat vegetables at all? Obligate means “obligated” to eat meat. Vegetables in a ferret’s diet do horrible things. They are also obligate carnivores. Why should it be different for cats? And if it is different, perhaps they are not obligate carnivores.

  • In his last posts on putting cats and dogs on a diet, he talks about giving raw carrots instead of fatty treat.

  • Neal

    He gave the standard answer from the veterinary associations on raw feeding. The veterinary associations are in the pocket of the large pet food manufacturers for funding and support. Those companies hate to see pet food moving away from the slaughterhouse floor to food that can be sold to humans. Kibble is made for two things only, profit and convenience.

  • Neal, I’m a Dr. Ernie fan, and I don’t think he is in the “pockets of the large pet food manufacturers.”

  • Neal

    I said the associations were, not this one vet. Individually we humans are well meaning awesome people, in groups we can be terrible purveyors of destruction, all the while the individuals are well meaning awesome people.

    So I will clarify. The Veterinary Associations do not always have what’s best for your pet at heart as they require funding through advertising and donations. That means they are highly politicized environments. The politics of those associations do not always allow veterinarians to voice their own opinion as they can be chastised by the association for going off message. The association (no mention of any specific vet here) have not only vets to represent but vendors as well and the pet food vendors have an iron grip on the business of pet food and the messages the associations put forth.

  • Carnivore, meaning ‘meat eater’ (Latin carne meaning ‘flesh’ and vorare meaning ‘to devour’), is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue, whether through predation or scavenging.

    Dog Taxonomy; (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)

    Order Carnivora > Suborder Caniformia (caniform carnivores) > Family Canidae > Genus Canis which includes dogs, jackals, and wolves (canis lupus familiaris, canis aureus and canis lupus, respectively).

    Dogs and cats are supposed to eat meat. Look at the dog’s digestive physiology, from it’s “up and down” moving jaws (omnivore jaws move side to side to grind their food), to it’s sharp teeth (omnivores have large flat mollars), to its seriously corrosive stomach acids (dogs have a stomach pH of 1-2, humans pH 5-7). It really isn’t hard to see that a dog was made for eating meat and bone, not spinach and broccoli. Incidentally, a pH of 1 is roughly the equivalent of a 0.4 solution of hydrochloric acid. Very corrosive stuff!

    I don’t think many of us would argue that meat is a major component of a raw meaty bones diet or that commercially produced pet foods (except the vegetarian ones) are comprised mainly of meat – if we can believe what the pet food companies tell us is in the bag.

    A vegan or vegetarian dog, cat or ferret owner is one thing, but feeding your pet carnivore a meatless diet is completely another – and a recipe for disaster concerning your pet’s health.

    Do your own research and approach it logically rather than emotionally!

  • Neethi Nayak

    I would have to disagree with people who say completely vegetarian diet is unhealthy for dogs and cats. I have had cats for pets as far back as i can remember. I have fed them only vegetarian foods like milk, rice, breads etc.. And they seem to love it… Dogs in fact are even better. My aunt’s dog actually refuses to go near anything meat based. Rather he enjoys raw veggies a lot. he loves them so much that he goes to the extent to sneaking them from the kitchen. Its not any particular sort of a vegetable. He loves all vegetables. This isn’t to say that he eats only raw vegetables. He eats all sorts of vegetarian food. He is perfectly healthy, very playful and isn’t suffering from any problem eating only vegetables. I can even say that i have never seen a better looking dog than him.

  • protein foods are needed badly during times of sickness and if you are working out heavily~,-

  • Best wishes for ones data. Significantly loved.