Can Dogs and Cats Eat a Plant-Based Diet?
You are at the grocery store, hanging out in the produce section like every good plant-based human, loading up on leaves, roots, stems, and tubers when you remember you need food for your fur baby back home.
Navigating the pet aisle, you take in the ingredients in many varieties of canine and feline food: chicken, lamb, beef, tuna, salmon. And it hits you: How can you buy animal products for your pets if you won’t buy them for yourself?
Whether you are plant-based for health, environmental, or animal protection reasons, if you are a pet owner, you need to consider what is best for your dog or cat.
Can My Dog Eat Plant-Based Food?
Dogs evolved from wolves that consume a diet primarily of animal flesh, but evolution has provided dogs with two distinct DNA differences from wolves:
- Genes controlling behavior have evolved to make dogs the cuddly companions we love.
- Dogs have the ability to digest starch (carbohydrates) from plants. In fact, evidence shows dogs evolved from wolves in part by consuming plant foods.
While dogs fall into the order Carnivora, they are not true carnivores. Many animals in this classification are omnivores — not strict carnivores — including bears, giant pandas, skunks, and racoons. These animals, dogs included, produce more of the enzymes required to break down starches, they have lower protein and amino acid requirements than true carnivores, and they can absorb vitamins A and D from vegetables.
Dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet, but it should be a carefully planned diet. Home-prepared diets often lack many essential nutrients, and not all vegan dog foods are high quality. For the best care, consult with a veterinary nutritionist. Your veterinarian may work with a nutritionist, or you can search this directory of the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists.
Can My Cat Eat Plant-Based Food?
Cats, on the other hand, are true carnivores. They require meat in order to live. Cats do not get much energy from carbohydrates, and their gastrointestinal tracts are not designed to digest plants. They need a diet very high in easily digestible protein.
Cats are unable to synthesize the amino acid taurine as humans and dogs can. Taurine is only found in animal sources. Without taurine, cats can develop blindness and dilated cardiomyopathy, a fatal heart condition.
You eat a plant-based diet because you want to be the healthiest version of yourself. Respect your cat’s right to do the same by feeding what he or she will thrive on. You can still make a difference in animal welfare by shopping for food brands that are dedicated to the most humane processing methods.
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