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Should Your Pet Go on a Vegetarian Diet?

The risks of feeding vegan or vegetarian diets to your pet.
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Dos and Don’ts

If you are considering a vegan or vegetarian diet for your dog or cat, "there is a lot to think about,” Larsen says. “It isn’t something to be taken lightly.”

Here are four guidelines to follow:

  1. Never feed vegetarian or vegan diets to puppies and kittens or to dogs and cats you plan to breed.
  2. Only consider or feed commercial diets that have gone through feeding trials and meets the requirements for AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) compliance.
  3. Consult with a veterinary nutritionist who can analyze your commercial or homemade vegetarian pet diet and make recommendations for additional health safeguards.
  4. Schedule more frequent wellness exams, including blood work, with your family veterinarian -- at least twice a year, even for young pets eating vegetarian diets.

Specialty Veterinary Diets

In some medical cases, veterinarians use specially formulated pet foods only available by prescription that are made from nonmeat protein sources (egg or soy, for example) either to diagnose or treat these conditions:

  • Food allergies
  • Liver disease
  • Bladder stones

Veterinarians typically use these foods -- which have been developed, tested, and made by large pet food companies -- while they closely supervise the pet’s overall health and specific conditions.

Vegetarian Pet Diets and Supplements

To make up for imbalances or deficiency in a pet’s diet, people who choose to feed dogs and cats vegetarian or vegan diets often turn to nutritional supplements.

“Experimentally, there are ways to get around it,” Heinze says, “but you’re adding a lot of chemically synthesized nutrients to replace what would normally be in an appropriate diet.”

Pet Food Ethics and Pet Selection

Pet care professionals who warn against vegetarian diets for dogs and cats empathize with pet owners’ concerns that lead to these decisions. But there are options other than species-inappropriate diets for dogs or cats.

“People do this to make themselves happy,” says Olson, who worked in psychotherapy before changing careers in the early 1990s. “It’s not about the animal. When people tell me they want to feed a vegan diet, I say, ‘Get a goat, get a rabbit.’”

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Reviewed on May 19, 2011

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