Many of us humans are shifting to vegetarian diets, whether for health reasons or ethical reasons but what about our pets!? Should they be held to the same diet standards as us? Most of us realize that our dogs, and cats, are carnivores, not herbivores, but some people feel that they want their pets to be vegetarian as well.

Is this ok?

No, not really. Definitely not for cats. Dogs, not so much either.

Humans are omnivores, and can thrive as herbivores; canines and felines are carnivores, and generally, they will not thrive as herbivores. Here’s why….. 

Digestive enzymes differ in our pets…

The plant material that is ingested by dogs and cats in the wild is generally pre-digested in the stomach of their prey. As such, they do not possess adequate levels of digestive enzymes needed to metabolize plant materials, compared to humans. So on a plant diet, they are not able to optimally avail of nutrients without assistance from added digestive enzymes. 

Dogs can avail of plant material to an extent. Their ideal diet is made up of protein and fat, but they can tolerate a little carbs. However, cats are obligate carnivores and have zero carb requirements. Their diets should be protein and fat. This is partly why cats diagnosed as diabetic can revert to normal when changed to a canned diet from a kibble diet. 

Gut transit time is altered in dogs and cats… 

Also, plant materials require a longer gut transit time to digest, which requires a longer tract. A dog’s digestive tract is shorter because it is made for digesting meat. A cat’s digestive tract is even shorter.

Gut microbial populations are altered by diet…

Additionally, plant materials require a different gut microbial population than a meat-based diet. Is that microbial population going to lead to mental/emotion/body imbalances? Populations of certain microbes are beneficial to anxiety and depression, or optimal weight when high, and cause problems when low. How will a completely plant-based diet affect this? It’s really unknown. What is known is that certain gut microbes, potentiated by fat and protein, help to maintain optimal digestive processes for our pets. 

What about trace nutrients? 

Finally, as carnivores, much of their vitamins and minerals come from organ meat and from bone. Obtaining trace minerals and vitamins from natural sources is, as we know, always better than from synthetic.

Is the quality of ingredients important?

The answer is YES. 

There are some veterinarians, and veterinary prescription food companies, who do not believe that the quality of ingredients is important. There is a famous (in the vet profession) story of two diets. Both had comparable protein, carbohydrate, and fat levels. However, one diet was whole food ingredients, while the other was rubber from tires, sawdust, and corn oil. Which diet would you prefer for YOUR pet? Ingredients DO matter, right?

What is the final word?

There is so much that we don’t know about optimal nutrition for our pets. We are still learning about the interaction of food ingredients within the gut. For example, some ingredients impair digestion or absorption of other ingredients, which can lead to deficiencies. We would do well to remember this when considering diets for our pets. Dogs and cats have evolved as carnivores.

Yes, dogs, better than cats, can process limited plant materials due to their long cohabitation history with humans, but their primary source of food was prey – other animals. And their digestive processes have evolved based on this. Providing a plant’-based primary protein source will alter that digestion through changing the bacterial microbe, and may ultimately result in nutrient deficiencies, which can manifest as chronic gastrointestinal disease (diarrhea, IBD) or cardiac disease, or chronic infections/allergies via an impaired immune system. For optimal health, it’s best to feed dogs and cats as intended by nature… as carnivores.

To read a few of our food blogs on meat-based diets we enjoy head here.