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Vegetarian diets for dogs

Vegetarian diets for dogs

Plants are an essential part of any diet but can dogs be sustained on plants alone? Veganism and vegetarianism are not only diets but also a lifestyle for many humans. Plant based diets are a rapidly growing trend, with many people making the switch for various reasons including sustainability, animal ethics and health. One survey even suggested that there was a 40% increase in veganism in 2020 alone. With more and more people making the switch to a plant based diet, many pet owners are wondering if their furry family members can also make the transition with them.

Benefits of a plant based canine diet

Nutritional benefits

Plant products provide dogs with a lot of great health benefits. A canine diet that is supplemented with carbohydrates, fruits and veggies makes for the perfect balance in a canine diet. Plants are a source of many essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fibre, fats and proteins. Different plants have different levels of nutrients and balanced together can be a healthy addition to any canine diet. 

The primary source of nutrients dogs receive from plants are carbohydrates, which are broken down into 2 main categories; soluble (starch) and insoluble (fibre). Starches are easily digested and broken down in the digestive tract and converted into energy by the liver. This energy is used by dogs for doing dog things like running and playing. Fibre is a carbohydrate with a different function. Fibre is more slowly degraded in the digestive system and sometimes isn’t absorbed at all. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a function though! Since fibre is slowly digested, it sits in the gastrointestinal tract for longer. This is a good thing as it helps to keep dogs full throughout the day. Fibre also aids digestion as it is utilized by beneficial bacteria in the intestines. The bacteria use fibre to help digest other nutrients in the dog’s food. Furthermore, fibre also acts as “nature’s broom”. Fibre helps to sweep food down the digestive tract, making for better, more consistent poops.

brown dog holding shopping basket full of vegetables

Just a general reminder that too much of something is never good. In high amounts, starch can raise blood sugar, putting dogs at risk for diabetes. It is usually recommended to feed dogs slowly digestible starches like brown rice, peas and lentils rather than ingredients high in available starch like corn or wheat. Conversely, if there is too much fibre in a dog’s food, it replaces the digestible nutrients and becomes just a “filler”.

Certain plant products are also a great source of polyunsaturated fats- the good fats that help to lower cholesterol! Sources of these fats include ingredients like chia seeds, hemp hearts and flax seeds, which are all high in omega 3 fatty acids.

Many plant products like fruits and veggies and certain herbs and spices are also good sources of antioxidants. While antioxidants are beneficial in reducing inflammation, they are best utilized as a preventative measure. This is because antioxidants reduce and repair the damage inflicted by free radicals before a severe inflammatory reaction even occurs. Not to mention, antioxidants can also help fight diseases like cancer, diabetes and pancreatitis! Some foods that are high in antioxidants are:

  • Cranberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Ginger
  • Leafy greens
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • And many more!


Product sustainability has become a rising trend among consumers. A movement that has carried over into pet food, many pet owners are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and are looking to do their part when it comes to their pet’s food. Often the first step to making sustainable choices is to obtain reliable information on what ingredients, processing and packaging are the most environmentally friendly.

golden retriever holding a carrot in its mouth

Sustainability is being efficient and aware of how our actions now impact future generations. For pet food, consumers are looking for certain companies and making efforts to be more sustainable in ingredients. Plant-based diets in comparison to diets rich in animal products are more sustainable because they use many fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment. According to one 2014 study, “Natural nonrenewable resources are becoming scarce, and environmental degradation is rapidly increasing. At the current trends of food consumption and environmental changes, food security and food sustainability are on a collision course. Changing course (to avoid the collision) will require extreme downward shifts in meat and dairy consumption by large segments of the world's population.” Therefore, in an attempt to be more eco-friendly, pet owners are looking to add more plant products and less meat products to their pup’s diet.

Veganism versus vegetarianism for dogs

As a trained companion animal nutritionist, I am always searching for new ways to improve dog health through food. Unfortunately, a true vegan diet may not be the answer. While dogs eat a lot of the same foods that us humans do, they digest and absorb nutrients in a slightly different manner. As a result, a full plant based diet is not completely sustainable for them. A diet completely devoid of meat, could cause dogs to become malnourished and impair normal growth and other body functions. From a nutritionist point of view, I would not recommend that owners feed their dogs a vegan diet, homemade or commercial, without consulting their veterinarian. 

Formulation does not reflect nutrient digestion

One of the reasons that vegan diets are sustainable for humans is that we can replace a lot of the protein and fat from meat products with plant products like nuts, seeds, fungi, soy, and legumes. Dogs require a lot more protein and fat in their diet than humans do. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), adult dogs require a minimum of 18% crude protein and 5.5% crude fat in their diet. While it is difficult to formulate a dog diet to meet these minimums with only plant products, it is possible. However, where the problem arises is the degree of digestibility of the ingredients used. 

Two very important terms in nutrition are digestibility and bioavailability. Digestibility is the proportion of ingested food that is broken down in the digestive tract and absorbed into the body. Meanwhile, bioavailability is the degree to which a specific ingested nutrient is absorbed into the body. 

Different ingredients have different levels of digestibility. When it comes to protein ingredients, you want a source that is highly digestible to dogs. This means that a higher proportion of the protein will be utilized for growth and maintenance. Plant protein ingredients like soy and legumes are high in protein, however dogs cannot fully digest these products to the degree that they need to to be able to fully absorb the protein. Proteins from animal sources such as muscle and organ tissue are typically more digestible than those from plant or insect sources, regardless of their overall protein content.

basenji sniffing counter where there's veggies on top

A 2000 study by researchers Bednar et al. examined the digestibility of a soybean meal diet compared to poultry meal in dogs. The goal of the study was to determine if soybean meal, a common plant protein ingredient, was digestible enough to replace animal meat in canine diets. Results of the study showed that the poultry meal diet was significantly higher in mean crude protein digestibility in ileal cannulated dogs, compared to the soybean meal diet. Dogs fed the soybean meal diet also had a much higher fecal output compared to the other diets, indicating a low total tract digestibility due to high indigestible fibre. 

This means that while vegan diets can be formulated on paper to meet the minimum protein and fat requirements for dogs, they are not digestible enough for them to fully absorb all of the essential nutrients they need to be healthy. Compared to humans, dogs unfortunately cannot digest plant products as efficiently as we can. This is why even though humans can easily sustain a fully plant based diet, dogs cannot.

Vegetarian over vegan

Vegetarian diets put plants first, while still maintaining all of the protein and essential nutrients that dogs need. Rather than relying on animal meat, vegetarian diets prioritize using plant proteins and also supplement with minor animal products like eggs, cottage cheese, whey protein and insect protein. These diets rank much higher in total protein digestibility than vegan diets, while still being conscious of sustainability and animal ethics.

carrot sliced on a cutting board

Vegetarian options at Kabo

At Kabo we are always hard at work in our kitchens, creating new and exciting recipes for our pupstomers! One of our primary goals at Kabo is sustainability and that’s why we have been experimenting in bringing plants to the forefront of our new recipe. We understand that dogs may not be able to eat completely vegan but that does not mean that we can’t be more conscious about the plant based ingredients we highlight in our new recipe. 

To give you a sneak peak, our next fresh cooked recipe will have no meat in the formulation at all. Instead we will use a combination of eggs, and other high protein plant products to ensure that your dog receives all of the necessary nutrients they need. By using eggs instead of only plant products also ensures that dogs will still enjoy the taste of their food. Palatability is one of the biggest hurdles with plant based diets when it comes to dogs. While some dogs will readily eat anything and everything, there are just as many that are picky eaters. Protein and fat are the most palatable nutrients to dogs and without the protein and fat from animal products in their food, some dogs may be less inclined to eat their whole meal.

Our new veggie recipe is expected to be available to customers on Earth Day 2023 and will feature some of these amazing ingredients:

  • Whole eggs
  • Lentils
  • Carrots
  • Chickpeas
  • Butternut squash
  • Spinach
  • And many more fruits and veggies!
bowl of fresh cooked dog food (veggie recipe)

If you’re interested, click the link here to join the waitlist and receive a discount on our new veggie recipe!

Variety of vegetarian ingredients on a wooden cutting board
Variety of vegetarian ingredients on a wooden cutting board

View Sources

Sabaté J, Soret S. Sustainability of plant-based diets: back to the future. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:476S-82S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.071522. Epub 2014 Jun 4. PMID: 24898222.

G. E. Bednar, S. M. Murray, A. R. Patil, E. A. Flickinger, N. R. Merchen & G. C. Fahey Jr. (2000) Selected animal and plant protein sources affect nutrient digestibility and fecal characteristics of ileally cannulated dogs, Archiv für Tierernaehrung, 53:2, 127-140, DOI: 10.1080/17450390009381942

The Guardian. “From fringe to mainstream: how millions got a taste for going vegan” (2021).,part%20of%20this%20year's%20Veganuary. 

Tierernaehrung, 53:2, 127-140, DOI: 10.1080/17450390009381942 

Cummings Veterinary Medical Center “​​Vegan Dogs – A healthy lifestyle or going against nature?” (2016). 

Zafalon RVA, Risolia LW, Vendramini THA, Ayres Rodrigues RB, Pedrinelli V, Teixeira FA, et al. (2020) Nutritional inadequacies in commercial vegan foods for dogs and cats. PLoS ONE 15(1): e0227046.

Kanakubo, Kayo, Andrea J. Fascetti, and Jennifer A. Larsen. "Assessment of protein and amino acid concentrations and labeling adequacy of commercial vegetarian diets formulated for dogs and cats." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 247, no. 4 (2015): 385-392. 

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February 20, 2024
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