Vegetarian and Vegan Dog Nutrition

Understanding the basics of dog nutrition helps pet owners make wise dietary choices. Unlike cats who simply need meat to survive, vegetarian and vegan diets will fit a dog's lifestyle. Make sure you understand exactly what your dog needs for vitamins and minerals.

Never switch your dog to a vegetarian or vegan diet abruptly. Allow the pet time to acclimate to the new food to prevent stomach upset. The general recommendation is to mix a small amount of the vegetarian or vegan food with your dog's normal food for a week or two. Then increase the amount of new food during that time until the dog is strictly on the vegetarian or vegan food.

Dietary Requirements for Dog Nutrition

Dogs are unable to produce essential amino acids and vitamin D critical to their health. They receive the proper amounts of these amino acids from proteins in their food. The essential amino acids are found in high quality proteins and help a dog's body convert food to glucose for energy.

Essential fatty acids help keep a dog's coat shiny and their skin from being dry and itchy. In addition, essential fatty acids are believed to help maintain eye health and help wounds heal more quickly.

Most experts agree that dog's diet should include a mix of carbohydrates, fiber, fat and protein. General recommendations are that the food contain:

  • 3.5 percent fiber
  • 5.5 percent fats
  • 10 percent protein
  • 50 percent carbohydrates

Very active dogs need more carbohydrates for energy and puppies or pregnant dogs will require more fat than an adult dog. Inactive dogs should have a diet lower in carbs and fats.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Proper Dog Nutrition

When planning a vegetarian or vegan diet for your dog, you must meet the requirements for healthy dog nutrition. This is especially important if you decide to create your own dog food.

The vitamins and minerals that are most important in terms of dog nutrition include:

  • Calcium - Critical for bone growth and blood coagulation
  • Chlorine - Assists in the body's maintenance of fluid levels in the cells
  • Choline - Important in cell growth
  • Copper - Aids in tissue formation and metabolism of iron
  • Folic Acid - Important in cell and bone growth
  • Iodine - Critical to thyroid health
  • Iron - Important for blood levels
  • Magnesium - Helps with enzyme function and nerve cells
  • Manganese - Important for proper bone growth
  • Niacin - Aids in enzyme function
  • Pantothenic Acid - Maintains energy levels
  • Phosphorus - Creates proper DNA structure and bone growth
  • Potassium - Maintains nerve health and function
  • Riboflavin - Aids in enzyme function
  • Selenium - Protects the skin and cells against damage from free radicals
  • Sodium - Maintains proper blood chemical levels
  • Vitamin B1 - Helps transfer carbohydrates to energy
  • Vitamin B12 - Aids in enzyme function
  • Vitamin B6 - Aids production of red blood cells and assists glucose levels
  • Vitamin K - Helps blood clot properly
  • Zinc - Helps with cell growth, healing and metabolism

What to Look for in Vegetarian and Vegan Dog Foods

If you purchase commercial dog foods, look for labels that state specifically that the food meets the nutritional requirements set forth by AAFCO. Try the food for a few months and then take your dog to the veterinarian to make sure your dog is thriving on the new vegetarian diet.