The vegan and vegetarian movement has gained a great deal of power in recent years with more and more individuals making the choice to go meat-free. Switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet is about more than just not eating meat, however. For many people it is a political choice or, at least, an issue of social justice. For these individuals, going vegan is a means of taking a stand against animal cruelty in a world where billions of animals are not only killed to feed humans, but bred solely for the purpose of being slaughtered. Furthermore, it can be an act of protest against the livestock industry which subjects animals to a life lived in confinements, often kept in cramped, squalid conditions until they reach the proper size to be slaughtered and turned into food for humans.

Another reason why people make the choice to go vegan or vegetarian has to do with environmental protection. Industrialized animal farming plays a major role in the degradation of our environment and, in many ways, it is not sustainable – the grains used to feed animals raised for slaughter could be put to better use in feeding humans. At least, that is what many vegans and vegetarians believe. Some of these anti-meat protestors go so far as to impose their beliefs on their pets. Vegan and vegetarian diets for dogs and cats are becoming more mainstream and there is a great deal of controversy surrounding them. Keep reading to learn more about what goes into vegan or vegetarian dog food and to learn more about whether this kind of diet can meet your dog’s nutritional needs.

Is a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet Healthy for Dogs?

If you take the time to compare the ingredients lists for a dozen different commercial dog foods, you will find a wide spectrum of ingredients. Many of the high-quality dog foods you analyze will contain animal-based ingredients like fresh meats and meat meals. The mid- to low-quality dog foods may contain some of these ingredients as well, but they will probably appear further down the ingredients list with preference being given to plant-based ingredients made from corn, wheat, soy, or rice. All of these dog foods still bear the AAFCO seal of approval, stating that the product adequately meets the minimum nutritional requirements for dogs according to established nutrient profiles. This just goes to show you that it is possible to meet your dog’s nutritional needs with a variety of different ingredients.

While it may be possible to meet your dog’s minimum nutritional requirements solely with plant-based ingredients, many dog owners want to know if this kind of diet is healthy for dogs. One thing you need to consider in answering this question is the biological adaptations dogs have to a certain kind of diet. Dogs are a domesticated version of the wolf (though there are thousands of years between them) but many scientists and animal nutritionists agree that modern dogs are still adapted to follow the same kind of diet as their wild ancestors. Wild dogs (wolves) are not strictly carnivores in the way that cats are – they consume a limited amount of plant material in the stomach contents of their prey and they will sometimes eat plants in the wild if meat is not available. A dog’s body is optimized to digest animal products, but it does have a limited ability to digest plant materials of certain kinds.

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When it comes to composing a complete and balanced diet for dogs, there are several key nutrients to consider. Protein is the most important nutritional consideration for dogs, no matter where it comes from. What you need to remember here is that proteins are made up of 20 different amino acids, 10 of which the dog is capable of synthesizing within his own body. The remaining 10 amino acids are called essential amino acids and they must come from the dog’s diet. Animal proteins (like meat, poultry, and fish) are considered complete proteins because they contain all 10 essential amino acids. Plant proteins do contain some essential amino acids as well, but different plants contain different amino acids in differing amounts – you need to combine plant ingredients to obtain all 10 essential amino acids.

The most important amino acid for dogs is taurine. Fortunately, dogs can produce their own taurine if provided with the right dietary building blocks. L-carnitine is another important amino acid for dogs and it must be carefully balanced with taurine. Balancing these and other amino acids is one of the challenges associated with plant-based diet for dogs. Your dog also needs a balance of certain essential fatty acids. Like proteins, fats can be obtained from animal sources as well as plant sources, though animal sources are generally agreed to be more biologically valuable for dogs. The key here, however, is to achieve a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from various plant sources including flaxseed, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and certain vegetables. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in nuts, seeds, and various nut and seed oils.

When considering whether a vegan or vegetarian diet can be healthy for dogs, it is important to make the distinction between the two. A vegan diet is completely devoid of animal products while a vegetarian diet may allow for the consumption of eggs and milk. Eggs are actually one of the most biologically valuable sources of protein. If a vegetarian diet for dogs includes eggs as one of the primary protein sources and the rest of the formula is nutritionally balanced, there is no reason why it cannot be a healthy diet. A vegan diet for dogs, however, poses some unique challenges. Not only does the product need to provide a minimum protein content of 25 grams per 1,000 calories, but the plant ingredients used in the formula need to be properly cooked and highly digestible for dogs. Additional nutrient supplementation will also likely be required for a vegan diet compared to a vegetarian diet.

All in all, it is a personal choice whether you want to feed your dog a vegan or vegetarian diet. If you ascribe to a meat-free philosophy of life, you may have a desired to mirror that choice in all aspects of your life – including pet ownership. In doing so, however, you need to decide whether it is more important to impose your personal beliefs on your dog or if you instead want to make sure that your dog’s nutritional needs are met in the most biologically valuable way possible. In short, it is possible to meet a dog’s nutritional needs through a plant-based diet, but there is no strict “yes” or “no” answer to the question regarding the legitimacy of this kind of diet.

What Goes Into Vegan and Vegetarian Dog Food?

If you decide that you want to give your dog a vegan or vegetarian diet, you should seriously consider choosing a commercial dog food formula instead of making your own food at home. Achieving the proper balance of nutrients in a homemade dog food is challenging enough when you are allowed to use animal-based ingredients, but it can be downright difficult to achieve that balance through the use of plant products. Different types of plant proteins offer different amino acids in different concentrations – they also contain different vitamins and minerals. Not only do you need to worry about giving your dog enough protein, but you need to avoid excessively high concentrations of certain vitamins and minerals as well as a healthy balance of certain amino acids and essential fatty acids. In the end it is healthier (and easier) to simply choose a commercial vegetarian or vegan dog food.

Each commercial vegan or vegetarian dog food will be different, but you can count on many of the same ingredients being used. The Vegan Dog Nutrition Association recommends that the base of vegan or vegetarian dog foods be made up of soybeans, rice, lentils, oats, and sweet potatoes – all of these ingredients need to be properly cooked to ensure good digestibility. These ingredients provide a good blend of protein and dietary fiber. For essential fatty acids, ingredients like flax seed oil, help seed oil, and nut or seed butters are common choices – the key is to strike the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Sea vegetables are often included as a natural source of key minerals, and fresh or dried fruits provide plenty of essential vitamins. Again, each recipe will be different but these are some of the most common ingredients used in vegetarian and vegan dog food.

Top Recommended Vegan Dog Food Brands:

Before you switch your dog to a vegetarian or vegan diet you need to confer with your veterinarian. Certain medical problems may necessitate the switch to a meat-free diet for dogs while others may make this kind of diet very unhealthy, or even dangerous for your pup. It is always a good idea to check with your vet before making any major changes to your dog’s diet or lifestyle, just to be safe. If you decide that a vegetarian or vegan diet IS the best option for your dog, consider some of the top recommended brands of meat-free dog foods reviewed below.

Natural Balance Vegetarian Dry Dog Food Formula – The Natural Balance pet food company was founded by Dick Van Patten in 1989 with the goal of providing pets and pet owners with “food for a lifetime”. This company offers a variety of quality dog food products including grain-free options and several Limited Ingredient Diets. Natural Balance products are all designed with the health and wellness of your dog in mind, formulated using sound scientific principles and nutritional truths. The Natural Balance pet food company has been producing and manufacturing high-quality pet foods for several decades and they use only the finest, quality ingredient in their recipes, plus they follow the strictest standards of quality and safety. In addition to offering a number of traditional kibbles and dry foods, Natural Balance also offers a vegetarian option.

This Natural Balance Vegetarian Dry Dog Food Formula is designed to provide adult dogs with complete and balanced nutrition using only meat-free ingredients. This recipe is made with the same essential nutrients found in traditional dog foods but it contains no animal or dairy products. This vegetarian dry food recipe features high-quality brown rice, oatmeal, and potatoes as the primary sources of energy with the addition of complex carbohydrates like peas. It contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to ensure healthy skin and coat, plus it is free from artificial additives. This formula contains 360 calories per cup and it offers 18% protein, 8% fat, and 4% fiber.

V-Dog Vegan Adult Dog Food – While some pet food manufacturers offer a single vegetarian or vegan diet option, V-Dog is completely dedicated to producing vegan diets for pets. This company follows the tagline “for pooch and planet,” which highlights their equal dedication to pet health and environmental protection. V-Dog has been a family-owned and –operated business since 2005 and they are based in California. This company is committed to what they call a “win-win” lifestyle which focuses not only on the health and wellness of the planet, but also on the people and animals who inhabit it. All of their products are designed with premium-quality, meat-free ingredients, offering pet owners a healthy alternative to traditional dog food. V-Dog currently offers a limited selection of products, but they may be expanding their offerings in the future.

The V-Dog Vegan Adult Dog Food recipe is a 100% plant-based formula which offers 24% protein, 9% fat, and just under 5% fiber. This recipe is made with dried peas and pea protein concentrate as the primary sources of protein, with additional protein from lentils, potato protein, and alfalfa meal. The primary source of carbohydrate in this recipe comes from brown rice, a complex carbohydrate that is considered highly digestible for dogs. Additional ingredients worth noting include canola oil, flaxseeds, and vegetable pomace for dietary fiber. This V-Dog Vegan Adult Dog Food also includes plenty of vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. This recipe is completely free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients and it is proudly made in the USA.

Halo Vegan Garden Medley Adult – The Halo pet food company has been producing and manufacturing holistic products for pets for more than three decades. This company follows the tagline, “Purely for pets,” and it is obvious that they put pets first when designing their products. Halo offers a wide range of product choices, all of which are designed with a strict attention to detail and quality, made with only the freshest, natural ingredients available. Though they offer a wide variety of products, all of Halo’s recipes are complete and balanced, designed to provide pets with the highest quality nutrition possible. In addition to providing pet owners with a healthy choice, Halo also gives back to pets in need – the company donates more than a million bowls of food to animal shelters every year.

This Halo Vegan Garden Medley Adult Dog Food is made from whole, wholesome ingredients and it offers the same essential nutrients found in traditional commercial dry dog foods. This recipe features peas and chickpeas as the primary sources of protein with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables to provide vitamins and antioxidants – these ingredients also provide the nutrients needed to support your dog’s immune system. For essential fatty acids, this recipe is made with canola oil, sunflower oil, and flaxseed – these ingredients help to support your dog’s healthy skin and coat. Just as important as the ingredients that are included in this Halo Vegan Garden Medley Adult Dog Food are the ones that are not. This recipe is free from animal protein and fat, dairy products, and artificial additives. This recipe is also made without rice because Halo believes that high glycemic foods like rice should be avoided for dogs, particularly in a plant-based diet.

Evolution Pet Foods Gourmet Pasta Veggie Burger – The Evolution Pet Foods Company was the 2013 winner of the Animal Wellness Magazine Best Pick Award for the finest vegan pet food. This company offers 100% complete for all life stages formulas and they use non-GMO ingredients in all of their recipes. The Evolution Pet Foods Company was founded nearly 30 years ago and it has spent the last three decades becoming one of the safest, most trustworthy pet food companies in the nation. Evolution Pet Foods is active in the fight for animal rights and their products have won a number of prestigious awards. In addition to offering an assortment of pet food products, Evolution also offers nutritional supplements and treats.
This Evolution Pet Foods Gourmet Pasta Veggie Burger Dog Food is one of several meat-free dog food options that Evolution Pet foods has to offer. The company promises that all of their recipes are designed with advanced nutritional principles in mind and they are supplemented with essential amino acids like taurine, carnitine, and lysine to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. This vegan dog food recipe features whole grain oatmeal as the primary ingredient, followed by high-protein maize gluten meal, high-protein soybean meal, and pea protein. This recipe also includes a number of nutritional supplements including chelated minerals – minerals that have been chemically bonded to protein molecules, making them easier for your dog’s body to digest and absorb. All in all, this product offers 30% vegetable protein and 14% polyunsaturated vegetable oil.

Wysong Vegan Canine/Feline Formula – The Wysong Company was founded in 1979 and it has been one of the true pioneers of the healthy pet food movement. Wysong follows holistic principles for animal nutrition, using only the highest quality ingredients in their products and designing them to meet the highest standards for safety and quality. This company offers a wide variety of natural dog and cat food products as well as an assortment of nutritional supplements. One thing that sets the Wysong Company apart is the fact that they offer several formulas which are designed to meet the nutritional needs of both dogs and cats. Not only are their products complete and balanced in terms of nutritional needs, but they are also loaded with healthy supplements to help prevent disease and nutritional deficiencies in pets.

This Wysong Vegan Canine/Feline Formula is a meatless, vegan pet food designed for both cats and dogs. This product was created by a licensed veterinarian and it has recently been improved to take advantage of modern processing methods which help to preserve the natural value of the raw ingredients. This recipe features brown rice as the primary ingredient – brown rice is a whole grain and a complex carbohydrate that is generally easy for dogs to digest. This Wysong Vegan Canine/Feline Formula also relies on corn protein, extruded soybeans, potato protein, and peas as supplementary sources of protein. This recipe is fortified with soybean oil, flaxseed, and coconut oil to ensure the proper balance of omega fatty acids as well as plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for nutritional balance. It also includes chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption and dried fermentation products as probiotics to support healthy and regular digestion. All in all, this recipe provides 26% protein, 10% fat, and 5% fiber.

Choosing a healthy diet for your dog is always a challenge but it becomes more difficult when you remove meat from the equation. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the issue of vegetarian and vegan dog food formulas, but it is possible to meet your dog’s basic nutritional needs without meat or other animal ingredients. If you are thinking about making the switch, be sure to learn as much as you can about your dog’s nutritional needs and about how a vegetarian or vegan dog food can meet them. When you are ready to start shopping around, consider one of the top recommended brands of vegetarian and vegan dog food reviewed above.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

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