People have many reasons for choosing a vegetarian (no meat) or vegan (no animal products) lifestyle: to lower cholesterol, lose weight, conserve water, save rainforests, stop animal cruelty, and many other personal, health, environmental or ethical reasons. Sometimes, these reasons are so compelling that they want to extend this major life choice to their pets as well.
Dogs are classified as carnivores, but as a practical matter, they are omnivorous and can easily survive without meat, as long as they eat a balanced diet. Dog relatives like foxes and coyotes consume lots of fruit or other vegetation at certain times of the year. While not ideal for every dog, most dogs can be successfully converted to a vegetarian or even vegan diet, and there are several suitable commercial dog foods as well as homemade diets. If you are considering a vegetarian rather than vegan diet for your dog, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet has more flexibility by allowing dairy products and eggs as protein sources.
Cats, however, are exclusively carnivorous by nature and by physiology. The cat’s body has made many specific adaptations to its expected diet of prey, which consists mostly of protein, fat and moisture. While you may hear stories about successfully vegetarian cats (including one lion), as a veterinarian, I cannot recommend trying to make a cat exclusively vegetarian or vegan. I’ve just seen too many problems from it. However, one company makes a good canned food that can be helpful in reducing the amount of meat you need to feed your cat:
There are lots of products being marketed as “vegetarian” dog foods. However, many contain corn gluten meal or soybean meal—both of which are already common meat substitutes in mass-market pet foods. Dogs have difficulty digesting soy, which along with soy’s naturally high phytoestrogen content, makes soy problematic as a protein source. Corn gluten meal contains about 60% protein. Today, it is being promoted as a lawn fertilizer and weed killer! When considering a vegetarian dog food, corn and soy are key ingredients to avoid. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about that when you’re shopping at Only Natural Pet Store—we don’t carry foods containing those ingredients! We carry dry, canned, and even “raw” vegetarian dog foods:
As we’ve talked about before, variety is essential to your pet’s diet, so don’t get stuck on a single food–a mix of homemade and commercial foods may be ideal for both variety and convenience.