What’s the big deal about feeding your dog commercial pet food? Just as us humans are what we eat, the same logic holds true for our companion animals. Unfortunately, most commercial pet foods contain rendered animal by-products that are deemed unfit for human consumption by the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors. This can include bodies of animals considered unfit for consumption by the slaughterhouses, animals euthanized at shelters and vets’ offices, expired meats and butcher trimmings, and even restaurant oils. It’s all sent to rendering plants, where it’s melted down into fatty grease —which is in turn used in pet foods.

According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), animal flesh that falls into the categories of dead, dying, diseased or disabled can potentially end up in pet food. Pet food has even been recalled for diseases such as mad cow disease. Cooked meat in commercial dog food has also been found in studies to contain carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), so it’s no coincidence that domestic dogs suffer from a plethora of health issues.

If feeding your dog a commercial meat-based diet presents a conflict of interest from a health, ethical or environmental perspective, you may want to consider a few facts about vegetarian dogs. (NOTE: Vegan Action does not support vegan cat diets, so we’ll just discuss dogs here.)

Vegetables can be tasty, too. Photo: Adobe Stock

SHOCKER #1: Dogs Are Omnivores and Can Be Vegetarian

While dogs are classified in the order of Carnivora, the have evolved biologically as omnivores. According to a University of California, Davis genome study, evolutionary changes turned wolves into humanity’s best friend. The study, published in Nature, indicates dogs have adapted through evolution to a starch-rich diet and are omnivores, not carnivores. According to PetMD writer and veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Coates, dogs can thrive on a plant-based, vegetarian diet. “The canine body has the ability to transform certain amino acids, the building blocks or protein, into others, meaning that dogs can get all the amino acids they need while avoiding meat,” she writes.

However, a vegetarian dog diet needs to be administered with caution, care and consulting with your veterinarian — not just any homemade mixture will do. Dogs need adequate levels of certain nutrients, including protein, calcium, vitamins A & D, L-carnitine, taurine and vitamin B12. Domesticated dogs today do not need to feed on wild prey and can obtain all of their required nutrients from non-animal sources.

SHOCKER #2: Vegetarian Diets Don’t Contain Growth Hormones or Antibiotics

Factory-farmed meat contains growth hormones and antibiotics. In addition to by-products, traditional pet foods are full of chemical additives, preservatives and dyes, all of which have been clinically linked to food allergies in both dogs and cats. Choosing pet food made with USDA-certified organic ingredients will also assure no chemical preservatives, by-products, added growth hormones or antibiotic-fed protein are included.

SHOCKER #3: One of the Oldest Guinness World Records Dogs Was Vegetarian

Bramble, a blue merle collie, lived to be 25 years old and was fed a vegan diet of rice, lentils and organic vegetables.

SHOCKER #4: Commercial Vegetarian Pet Food and Supplements Are Readily Available

While some vegetarian dog owners prefer to make their own food, this can be risky if not prepared with the proper nutritional requirements, including protein, amino acids and vitamins. James Pedan, author of Vegetarian Cats and Dogs, developed a vegetarian supplement brand called Vegepet for dogs and cats. It’s important when choosing pet food and supplements to look for those certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Some vegetarian brands include the below. (Editor’s note: This post contains affiliate links, which helps fund our Recycling Directory.)

  • V-Dog: This brand offers a nutritionally complete, 100 percent plant-based kibble that contains no corn, soy, wheat or gluten and is easily digestible. V-Dog food is ready to serve since it’s supplemented with everything your dog needs to thrive, including 24 percent protein, L. carnitine and taurine, plus other whole foods, vitamins and minerals. V-Dog works with a team of veterinarians who support a vegetarian diet for dogs.
  • Ami: This is the world’s first 100 percent vegetable pet food company serving both cats and dogs. Ami pet food is distributed in 25 countries worldwide and offers everything from dry and canned food to bone care and treats.
  • Pet Guard: Pet Guard offers vegan, vegetarian and meat/poultry food that is free of artificial ingredients, colors, preservatives, excess sugars and salt. They also offer a line of USDA-certified organic food that is free of artificial pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals, with vegan and vegetarian options.
  • Vegan Cats: Don’t let the name fool you. Vegan Cats offers Evolution vegan dog food that is 100 percent vegan, cruelty-free and safe. Check out their full line of canned and dry food to best suit your furry companion’s needs.
  • Wysong: Their holistic vegan dog and cat food contains high levels of protein and fat in addition to probiotics, probiotics, enzymes, omega-3s and antioxidants.
  • Petcurean: Their Endless Valley Gather adult dog food is crafted from certified-organic and sustainable ingredients.
  • Harvey’s: This all-natural, homemade line contains no dyes, chemicals, artificial ingredients, by-products or preservatives. The included grains are USDA-certified organic.
  • Natural Balance: This dry dog formula contains high nutrients with no animal or dairy products and no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
  • Halo Vegan Adult Dog Food: This vegan dry dog food prohibits the use of genetically modified ingredients and contains no animal or dairy products and no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
  • Compassion Circle: Manufacturer and supplier of Vegecat, Vegedog, Vegekit, Vegepup and Vegeyeast nutritional supplements. Vegepet diets meet the AAFCO nutrient requirements and are free of GMOs.

SHOCKER #5: Dogs Don’t Require Animal Flesh for Protein

Yes, dogs do require protein, but not necessarily from animals. According to a study published in Animals, “Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals,” dogs can thrive on a vegetarian diet as long as it is “nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced.”

You should consult with your vet if you’re considering a vegetarian diet for your dog. Research from the British Journal of Nutrition also supports this, as long as adequate nutrition is met. Actress Alicia Silverstone would agree and is the proud owner of not one but three vegan dogs. Extreme? Perhaps. Clueless? I don’t think so.

By Lisa Beres

Lisa Beres is a healthy home authority, Baubiologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly award-winning media personality who teaches busy people how to eliminate toxins from their home with simple, step-by-step solutions to improve their health. With her husband, Ron, she is the co-founder of The Healthy Home Dream Team and the 30-day online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health. She is the author of the children’s book My Body My House and co-author of Just Green It!: Simple Swaps to Save Your Health and the Planet, Learn to Create a Healthy Home! Green Nest Creating Healthy Homes and The 9 to 5 Greened: 10 Steps to a Healthy Office. Lisa’s TV appearances include "The Rachael Ray Show," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," "The Doctors," "Fox & Friends," "Chelsea Lately" and "The Suzanne Somers Show."