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.
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.
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?