Going Meat-Free: Can Dogs Be Vegetarian?

by | Sep 23, 2019 | Health and Nutrition

Dogs were some of the first animals (back then they were wolves) to be domesticated. While our cave-dwelling ancestors probably didn’t have furry friends, we’ve still been cuddling with our doggos for hundreds of years.

There are whole dog breeds named for the historic people that loved them so much. What’s the point at looking at the history of dogs?

To notice how different we’ve made their diets over time. Dogs were meant to eat meat – but some humans want them to live meat-free. Can dogs be vegetarian? Sure – but should they? That’s another question.

We’re exploring the pros and cons of plant-based diets for dogs, below.

Can Dogs Be Vegetarian? Evolutionarily, No

While our dogs look less like wolves every year, with designer breeds, some people think we should still be feeding them as such.

That would mean a diet high in meat, with a very low percentage of plant matter. It’s not that wolves never eat plant matter – but they do it with a purpose, like when your dog eats grass when they’re having stomach issues.

Your Dog’s Jaw

Dogs haven’t evolved, at least in their bone structure, that much when compared to their wolf-ancestors. If you look at the jaw and teeth of a canine, they’re much more wolf-like than human-like.

Their jaws, which chew apart toys in what seems like seconds, are that strong so they can crush bone and cartilage as you’d find in a natural kill.

Their sharp teeth at the front are meant for tearing the meat off the bone and getting through fur and skin.

Is it a pleasant thing to imagine your loving little pal fluffy doing? No – but it’s evolution.

Dog’s Don’t Have the Digestive Tract for Plants

While your digestive system isn’t the largest organ in your body, it’s still pretty big. If you stretched out your intestines (gross!), they’d be about 30 feet long, combined.

All that digestive tract length allows us to process plants better than dogs can. There’s enough real estate in our bodies to break down the plant matter, extract what our bodies need, and get rid of what we can’t use.

Dogs? Not so much. Their digestive tracts are less than half as long as ours – which means there’s less processing going on.

That’s why if you’ve ever seen your dogs poop after giving them raw food (like a carrot or corn), it comes out looking the same on the other side.

But the length of their digestive tract isn’t the only reason they don’t digest plants well. They have an issue with cellulose, a common plant protein. They can’t digest it and so feeding it to them is almost pointless.

And making your dog’s body do all that extra work, trying (and failing) to digest plants correctly, can hurt them. It can cause inflammation in their gut and reduce their body-acid levels below where they need to be.

Hormones and Vegetarian Dog Diets

No – we’re still not done. There’s yet another biological reason dogs shouldn’t eat vegetarian diets. It has to do with their hormones, specifically in their adrenal glands and thyroids.

Trying to digest things they can’t digest stresses out the body, causing your pup to produce more of the stress hormone – cortisol.

But feeding them meat isn’t the perfect solution, hormone-wise, either. At least, feeding them low-quality meat isn’t.

The majority of mass-meat farms, farmers inject their animals with hormones and feed them food that was treated with pesticides. Those toxins get into the fibers of the meat, and create what we call a “toxic load”.

Those hormones that farmers gave the animals are transferred to your dog through the meat, throwing their hormone system through a loop.

So it’s safe to say – quality counts when you’re buying dog food – and meat for yourself!

How to Properly Feed Your Dog

Now you might be saying, “if my dog shouldn’t eat plants but meat isn’t great either, what should they eat?”.

The answer is high-quality meat-based foods and even the stuff most butchers throw out.

Julie Anne, a dog expert and a vegetarian herself, argues that dogs need the “bits” people usually throw out. We’re talking about the gizzards, the feet, the eyes, the brain – things you don’t want to think about.

These have nutrients and fats in them you can’t get in packaged meats alone. And as such – they’re hard to get your hands on.

If you have a butcher in town, you can ask them if you can pick up some of this “waste”. Your local supermarket isn’t going to have the gritty stuff, but you can buy scraps of meat from them for a cheap price as well.

These unglamorous bits of meat have collagen, keratin, elastin, amino acids, and other things your dog won’t get without a meat-based diet.

It sounds gross – but asking for those butcher scraps is worth it, for your dog’s long-term health.

Feeding Your Dog: Red over Green

Even if you’re a vegetarian or vegan yourself, making your dog eat the same way isn’t good for them. They’re not evolutionarily supposed to eat plants – and it hurts to digest them.

Do your research on dog foods that contain nothing but meat – or as close to that as you can get.

Yes – those types of dog foods are more expensive, but they could save you money on vet bills down the line.

So, can dogs be vegetarian? No, and it’s not something you can try to change.

But you can change your diet to include more plants – and you should! Learn more, here