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Dogs - A Vegetarian Diet?

Part 1: - Introduction -- Basic Principles -- What They Eat

Part 2: - Sources of Nutrients


But they need meat don't they?
You'll probably often hear people say " but dogs are carnivores, and carnivores need meat. " However, the true facts are not that simple. Scientific studies have described the "all meat disease syndrome" in which animals fed meat alone (without the addition of vitamins and minerals) develop soft bones, general poor condition and sometimes die. The condition is attributed to lack of adequate calcium, iodine and vitamins A and B1, and to a poor calcium to phosphorus ratio. Meat is particularly deficient in calcium. The natural diet is far more varied. Wild dogs and cats eat not only the meat but also the bones (rich in calcium), the organs, and the intestines containing assorted vegetable matter.

Why should dogs be vegetarian?
Even with government subsidies, the cost of meat is high in monetary terms. To the cow, sheep, chicken, rabbit, pig or fish the cost is even higher: they lose their lives, which in many cases will have been short, spent imprisoned in intensive rearing conditions. Imported meat may come from countries where slaughter methods are extremely cruel. It is indeed kind to save an unwanted dog from destruction, but this to some extent loses its point if it means that other animals will be killed to feed this one. Furthermore, eating meat is a means of prolonging human suffering across the world. While half the world is starving, we continue to rear animals for food, an inefficient means of food production since only a small proportion of the food eaten by animals becomes available as meat and dairy produce in the end. The yield of essential nutrients from existing available land could be greatly increased by growing plant foods for direct use. (see The Impact of Meat Eating on the Environment)

Basic Principles

If you are a vegetarian, you will already know about vegetarian foods. With a little common sense, your own meals can easily be adapted to suit the animal. Give plenty of variety: deficiencies are unlikely if a wide variety of foods are eaten. Find out what your animal does well on and what it likes. Make meals appetising, taste and smell are especially important.

It is useful to remember that dogs are fond of yeast products so flavouring with Marmite or Barmene might make food (such as textured soya protein) more attractive to them, as well as providing extra B vitamins. Dogs often like a little honey for flavour, on cereals for example. At the same time, check that you provide sources of all the various nutrients; protein, carbohydrates, fats and oils, vitamins, minerals etc.

If the animal is thriving, then well and good. If there are problems such as persistent diarrhoea, vomiting or itchiness, the animal may be allergic to certain food items, so try to identify these and eliminate them from the diet. However, occasional vomiting may be normal. Avoid strong, spicy foods like curries. They tend to cause digestive upsets. When feeding cooked foods, do not give them too hot. Nor should food be served too cold from the refrigerator.

Remember that dogs have a shorter digestive tract than humans, and may not cope so well with large quantities of fibrous (roughage) foods. However, they do need their share of roughage (vegetables, bran, whole grain cereals, raw fruit). Cooking fibrous vegetables (15 minutes at boiling) breaks down the fibres, reducing the roughage value and making them more digestible but too much cooking destroys some vitamins, especially thiamine. Crude fibre (ie roughage) fills the gut to reduce feelings of hunger, and stimulates defecation, so some grated or chopped raw vegetables are useful in the diet.

Potatoes can cause digestive upsets in some dogs. Over-consumption of sugar and sugary foods can encourage bad teeth, diabetes, digestive upsets and obesity.

What They Eat

Details provided by owners of vegetarian dogs living in Great Britain showed that they liked and thrived on the following general feeding regime. This is intended only as a general guide and should be adjusted to suit your animal.

Adult Dogs
Dogs generally do well on two meals daily, a smallish breakfast and a main afternoon or evening meal, though toy breeds may do better on three or four smaller meals. Breakfast: (morning or midday)...usually wholegrain cereals like muesli, Shredded Wheat, porridge in milk. Flavour with a little honey or dried powdered yeast if necessary according to taste.

Dinner: (afternoon or evening) - a selection from the following:
Grated cheese, cottage cheese, egg, nutmeat (tinned or home made), textured soya protein, cooked lentils and other pulses, not forgetting baked beans.

Together with:
Raw (grated or chopped) and/or cooked vegetables such as carrot, cauliflower etc.

Other suitable foods
Raw chopped or grated fruit, dried fruit.

  1. Wholemeal bread (fresh or toasted), Marmite sandwiches, baked rusk.
  2. Brown rice, sprouting grains.
  3. Remember that dogs need some hard foods to chew to exercise their gums and jaws; perpetual sloppy food leads to dental tartar, pyorrhea and loose teeth. Dogs can chew raw whole carrots, lightly roasted cabbage stumps, nylon bones, raw whole apples, hard wholemeal dog biscuits.
  4. Given daily, a teaspoon of uncooked vegetable oil such as sunflower seed oil, by mouth or in the food (but unheated) for a medium sized dog such as a cocker spaniel, or a few drops for a toy poodle, helps provide essential fatty acids (polyunsaturates) to condition the coat. Vegetable oil should be stored in a closed bottle in a cool, dark place (preferably a refrigerator) to prevent oxidation of fatty acids. Oil may cause diarrhoea in a few dogs, in such cases the quantity should be reduced.


Birth to eight weeks
Pups generally depend solely on their mother's milk until around three weeks of age. They continue to take the mother's milk until about seven or eight weeks of age, but during this period they will supplement it with progressively increasing amounts of other foods. Therefore from three weeks (earlier if necessary) offer small dishes of milk, sometimes with baby cereals or finely ground whole cereals as a sloppy gruel (perhaps flavoured with a pinch of dried brewers yeast powder to enrich B vitamins). A little later, offer other foods from the list. Start with easily digested foods like cottage cheese and poached egg. If certain foods cause serious diarrhoea, avoid these. Feed small meals about five or six times daily as young animals cannot digest large amounts at a time.

From eight weeks to about four months
Give four small meals daily. As a basic guide:
8.00am: Cereal in milk.
Noon: nutmeat and vegetables, egg, cheese, grated nuts, wholemeal bread with Marmite or Barmene, fruit etc.
4.00pm: as 8.00am
8.00: similar to noon.
Also provide foods to gnaw as described earlier.

From four months to about eight months
Omit one meal, eg the 8.00am meal thus reducing to three somewhat larger meals.

From about eight months onward
Feed as adult diet, usually two meals daily. Toy dogs often stay on three or four meals daily.

How much to feed
This depends a lot on the individual animal. A very rough guide is given as 1oz (30g) of total food per pound body weight for growing pups and 1/2oz (15g) per pound for adult dogs.

This rough estimate may be altered drastically by:

  1. the liquid content of the food.
  2. the calorie content of the food; a dog with a tendency to be overweight can eat a lot of low calorie vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower, but much less of high calorie bread or cereals to produce the same calorie intake.
  3. individual variation: for example, some highly-strung Alsatians require three to four times the calorie intake needed by some Labradors the same size, or by some Alsatians with a lower metabolic rate. The progress of the individual animal should always be the main guide provided that a nutritionally balanced diet is fed.
Don't overfeed. A fat animal is not a healthy animal. If a dog is getting fat, he is eating too much high calorie food. Watch the tidbits, they can add up to a lot. By getting the animal to like low calorie vegetables from the start, you will find it much easier to reduce his weight if necessary later. In most cases, weight can be controlled by food intake control; only a few are unslimmable "glandular" problems. Don't force a dog to eat if he doesn't want to, you may be training him to get fat by so doing.

Final note
A perfect diet may be provided and yet the dog's health be spoilt because insufficient exercise is given. Every dog needs plenty of exercise and fresh air, EVERY DAY. Cleanliness is important and regular grooming is needed. For long-haired breeds daily thorough combing is a must, otherwise matted hair encourages skin disease and parasites. Lastly but very important, have clean, fresh drinking water available at all times.

Part 2 - Sources of Nutrients


  • Best sources: Cheese, eggs, soya beans, soya flour, tofu, soya protein.
  • Other useful sources: Pulses (lentils, beans, split peas), whole cereals and wheatgerm, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, nuts except chestnuts and coconuts.
An assortment of protein sources provides a good balance of amino acids, eg by feeding pulses and cereals together at one meal.

Fats and Oils

  • Mainly saturated: butter, hard margarines, cheese, eggs, olives and olive oil.
  • Intermediate: nuts, coconuts, wheat germ and their oils.
  • Mainly unsaturated: sunflower seed oil, safflower seed oil, corn oil, linseed oil, soya oil, soft margarines which state high polyunsaturate content.
Dogs utilise unsaturated oils well. Vitamin E helps in unsaturated oil metabolism. Unsaturated oils are oxidised, reducing their nutritional value, by exposure to light, heat and air.

Cereals and their products (flour, bread, cakes etc), bananas, chestnuts, cashews, pulses, pears, dried fruit (not raisins), potatoes, sugar etc. Carbohydrates are unlikely to be in short supply in the average varied diet. The starch in potatoes can cause diarrhoea in some dogs.

Roughage (Crude Fibre)
Vegetables, bran and whole cereals, pulses.


Vitamin A:

  1. as vitamin A - margarine, butter, milk, cheese, eggs.
  2. as the precursor carotene - carrots and green vegetables.
In dogs, carotene has about half the nutritional value of actual vitamin A.

Vitamin D:

  1. As vitamin D - Margarine, butter, eggs, milk.
  2. As its precursor, which is converted by sunlight on the animal's skin to vitamin D - green leafy vegetables, cereal germ, yeast.
Vitamin E:
Cereal germs (especially wheat germ oil), green leafy vegetables eg cabbage, spinach, curly kale, lettuce.

Vitamin K:
Green leafy vegetables.

B-complex vitamins (except b12):
Yeast, whole cereals, cereal germs, bran, eggs, various vegetables, nuts. Easily destroyed by cooking.

Vitamin B12:
Barmene, fortified soya milk, cheese, some TVPs (read the label!), milk.

Vitamin C:
Fresh sprouts, curly kale, blackcurrants, rose hip pulp and syrup, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, green peppers.

Vitamin C is not normally essential for dogs as they synthesise their own. However, some researchers suggest that vitamin C synthesis in dogs may be inadequate on a low protein diet and a few individuals may not be able to synthesise the vitamin and so require it in the diet.



  • Good sources : cheese, yoghurt, sesame seeds.
  • Fair : almonds, black radish, kolrabi leaves, dried figs, cucumbers, ripe beans, lemons, milk, tangerines, leeks, curly kale, lettuce, cauliflower, endive, celery, peanuts.
  • Foods with a good calcium/phosphate balance : cheese, yoghurt, ripe beans, ripe peas, lentils, hens eggs, currants, curly kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, white cabbage, salsify, dried figs, milk, cauliflower, celeriac, lettuce, dates, bananas, oranges, peanuts, almonds, hazels.
  • Low calcium relative to phosphorus : cereals and their products eg bread, flour.
These foods need to be balanced with higher calcium foods to prevent calcium deficiencies. Phytic acid in cereals may also reduce calcium absorption. Soaking grains overnight is believed to activate enzymes which break down the phytic acid. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption.

Celeriac, cream cheese, tangerines, spinach, various fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole cereals.

Seaweed, eg kelp powder, eggs, whole grain rye and wheat, lettuce.

Other minerals are generally well provided in a diet containing a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, milk, cheese, eggs.

If your dog has been brought up on a meat diet, make the changeover to a vegetarian diet gradual. With active dogs there is a problem of bulk versus energy and readers are advised to consult their vet for guidance to ensure that sufficient energy can be obtained from the mass of food given.

Milk alone is not an adequate source of calcium for puppies and a mineral supplement of calcium phosphate is recommended. Rapidly growing dogs of heavy breeds particularly need a high calcium intake.

Back to Part 1

Dogs - This article has been reproduced courtesy of the Vegetarian Society based on a leaflet originally compiled for the Vegetarian Society by C.M.Morey

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