Vegetarian Dog and Cat Food Warnings
Today you can Google “vegetarian or vegan” diets for dogs and find a whole lot of controversial articles. Consequently, the decision to be taken, becomes difficult.
The search results will show passionate advocates asserting that dogs can live, without meat and that plant-based meals, are a much better choice to feed them.
But you’ll also find articles strongly contradicting these theories, vets and experts who insist on feeding our dogs a high protein meat diet.
The homeopath Julie Anne Lee – DCH RCSHom, at the Raw Round-up, talked about the “Nutritional, Energetic and Ethical Value of the Vegetarian Versus the Carnivore Dog” and her opinion regarding the vegetarian diet is the following:
If I was able to say to you that your dog should be vegetarian, I would make me the happiest person on the planet.
But it’s not that simple … There are many factors to consider when deciding what’s the best diet for your dog.
Her conclusion, taking into account all the points highlighted in her talk, was:
“Sadly for me there is simply NOT enough evidence to support vegetarianism for dogs.”
On the antipodes now, Lew Olson – PhD, author of Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs – makes this analogy:
“Trying to feed a cat a vegan diet would be like me feeding my horses meat. You’re taking a whole species of animal and trying to force it to eat something that it isn’t designed to handle.”
Cailin Heinze, VMD – board-certified Veterinary Nutritionist and assistant Professor of nutrition at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states:
“For cats, it’s really inappropriate. It goes against their physiology and isn’t something i would recommend at all. For dogs, certainly vegetarian and vegan diets can be done, but they need to be done very, very carefully.
There is a lot of room for error in these diets, as they are less appropriate than the ones based on, at least some of animal protein.
The risks & the potential problems
How do dogs digest grains and other plant-based foods?
There is a difference between our dog’s digestive tract and our own.
Starting from the mouth physiology, most mammals, like herbivores and humans, produce amylase in the saliva, therefore chewing their food helps pre-digest carbohydrates in their diet.
These animals have square and flat molars that provide an ideal surface to crush and grind plants (but not meats), plus a lower jaw with a distinct lateral motion, that facilitates the grinding needed to chew plants.
On the other hand, dogs have sharp pointy teeth made for tearing flesh and meat apart and jaws that move vertically and open widely, providing a smooth cutting motion.
Although pancreas will secrete amylase, in order to digest starches, dogs don’t have salivary amylase and they don’t spend much time – like herbivores – chewing their food.
Without the preliminary step of pre-digestion – in the mouth – the dog’s pancreas will struggle to recompense the amylase deficiency in the saliva.
Consequently, nothing is conclusive concerning amylase.
Dogs have much shorter digestive tracts than humans do, in other words they don’t have the ability to digest, discard and process the waste of a plant-based diet, through the gut and liver.
Dogs have a difficulty to decompose and digest cellulose;
You may notice that if you give your dog a piece of raw carrot, it will be discharged looking approximately the same as when it was ingested, hence the dog did not absorb any nutrients from that carrot.
Toxins from GMO (genetically-modified) grains and pesticides in plants, also negatively affect their intestine, creating toxic overload in the organs and chronic systemic inflammation.
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins, found in large amounts in beans, acting as the natural defence system for plants, against anti-parasitic and antifungals.
A positive action for plants, but very negative for the dogs, as lectins damage the gut lining, causing inflammation, trigger allergies and autoimmune reactions.
Mycotoxins are toxic by-products of mould or fungus, that contaminate crops before they’re harvested or after they’re stored.
They’re most commonly found in corn, barley, wheat, beets, peanuts and cottonseed, but other frequently affected foods include; sorghum, pearl millet, rice, wheat, soybean and sunflower seeds.
People and dogs can use D2 to some extent, but cats really need D3.
Dogs can make Taurine, if provided the right building blocks through dietary protein.
Cats cannot make their own taurine at all, so it is regarded as an essential amino acid in this species and must be present in adequate amounts in the diet.
Both species can suffer from taurine deficiencies, among other important nutrients.
- Inadequate total protein intake (less than the 25 grams per 1,000 calories recommended)
- Imbalance of certain amino acids, such as taurine and L-carnitine (for both dogs and cats) or essential fatty acids arachidonic acid (cats only), in particular.
- Deficiency in vitamins and minerals, such as B-Complex vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, and iron, that are obtained ideally, or only, through meat or other animal products.
- Inadequate taurine intake, which leads to reproductive and growth failures, as well as eye problems.
The one veterinarians mention most often, is taurine-related dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart with weak contractions and poor pumping ability).
Why meat is important
Eating meat provides important nutrients that can be hard to find in a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Collagen is part of the connective tissue in the skin that helps with firmness, suppleness and constant renewal of skin cells.
It’s vital for skin elasticity and health and paramount in the health and strength of ligaments (which are another type of connective tissue in the body, working to attach two bones and hold the joints together.
Therefore collagen is an important nutrient to help prevent injuries like cruciate ligament rupture.
Is present almost everywhere in the body, including muscles, bones, blood vessels and the digestive system.
It’s the substance that holds the entire body together, providing strength and structure.
Elastin is fibrous proteins that helps form the connective tissues of the body – most notably the skin, but also blood vessels, cartilage, tendons and muscles.
Briefly is protein that gives the skin the ability to stretch and bounce back.
If you have an itchy or allergic dog who scratches himself and starts bleeding, that could be due to a lack of elastin. You can get it from eating protein-rich foods, like beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products.
Keratin is a fibrous structural protein that that protects epithelial cells, from damage or stress.
It’s common to see a skin disorder in dogs called keratinisation – black, thickened elephant-like skin. Keratinisation can be classified into hereditary, idiopathic and nutritional.
If a dog is lacking a nutrient like keratin, this could be the underlying factor even in the hereditary or idiopathic categories.
Good food sources of keratin is liver, fish, dairy products (yogurt, milk, and cheese) along with some vegetables, like kale, broccoli, onions, leeks and garlic.
Biotin is vital to metabolising the amino acids, for the formation of keratin and this compound is especially in egg yolk, making it a one of the best keratin-rich food.
Commercial Vegetarian Pet Food
While reading the ingredients on a kibble pack, initially looks great! However, on a closer inspection of the guaranteed analysis, you can notice that the carbohydrate content is more than 50%.
This is way above the normal value and of course, not the appropriate diet for our dogs.
Conventional dry dog foods can exceed 40% to 50% in total carbohydrate content.
According to 30-year pet food formulator, Richard Patton:
“Carbohydrates intake above the daily needs of dogs which, is less than 8% for all dog species, triggers internal enzyme factors to store the excess, as body fat.”
In other words, in the commercial food, carbohydrates are the problem.
Grain-free diets can be higher in starch than regular foods … they just replace the grains with potatoes and peas.
Considering the fact that commercial food is synonym to “gain money”, the pet-food industry makes the biggest profit – out of the cheapest coast.
Less nutritious, doubtful origin and even hazardous for the animal’s health, but easy to substitute in order to fill their “label”, with the necessary ingredient analysis.
One of these common fillers in commercial pet food, is soy and all soy derivatives like, soy flour and soy beans.
Soy interferes with the thyroid gland’s ability to make T4 (thyroxine) and (T3) tri-iodothyronine, hormones necessary for normal thyroid function. In dogs, the result is hypothyroidism.
In a 2004 study analysing 24 commercial dog foods containing soy, researchers found that these products contained concentrations of phytoestrogens, in such quantities, to the point of have a biological impact on our animals.
What you’ll want to find is a food with the least amount of carbohydrates and that means no more than 15%.
This will be a very difficult task, when searching for a ready-made dog or cat food.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) research team, recently tested vegetable based kibble and canned diets to see if they were sound.
A cross-sectional study of 13 dry and 11 canned vegetarian diets for dogs and cats, revealed that 18 of the 24 diets were found to contain all amino acids in concentrations that met or exceeded minimum Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommendations.
However, 6 diets did not meet all amino acid minimums, compared with the AAFCO nutrient profiles.
Only 3 diets were compliant with all AAFCO pet food label standards.
“Because vegetarian protein sources are often poor sources of specific essential vitamins, fatty acids and minerals, vegetarian diets must be appropriately formulated and balanced.”
If you seriously considering to switch your pet’s diet from the meat-based protein, to the one of plants, you should be very cautious and do it with fresh, whole organic foods.
Stay away from the processed, chemical even toxic, commercial versions.
Always seek the advice of a Veterinary Nutritionist expert.
Here are some safety guidelines to follow:
1. Never feed vegetarian or vegan diets to puppies and kittens or to dogs and cats you plan to breed.
2. Use organic vegetables and sprouted non-GMO grains
3. Avoid lectins
4. If you feed commercial diets, make sure they have gone through feeding trials and meet the requirements for AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) compliance.
5. Consult with a Veterinary Nutritionist, who can analyse your commercial or home-made vegetarian pet diet and make recommendations for additional health safeguards.
6. Schedule more frequent overall health exams, including blood work, with your veterinarian – at least twice a year.
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