Vegan with a Carnivore Pet: Can Cats & Dogs Go Vegan Too?

When you go vegan, you might feel wrong to keep your cat or dog living that carnivore lifestyle. I’ve long heard about vegan dogs and cats, but when I got my own dog, I didn’t feel like I knew enough to try feeding her a vegan diet safely. Well, I finally decided to do some research.

So, can cats and dogs go vegan? Dogs are actually omnivores so, like humans, they can thrive on a vegan diet if done right. Cats are carnivores and tend to struggle on vegan diets. But with proper supplementation, credible sources say cats can thrive as vegans, too.

Vegans who own cats or dogs have a lot to consider: Is a vegan diet natural for your pet, and does that matter? What nutrients does your pet need or usually get from meat? How to transition to a vegan diet? Should I not even own a cat or dog if I’m vegan? I’ll cover all that below!

Table of Contents:

Eating Meat May Be Natural for Your “Carnivore” Pet… But Factory Farmed Meat In a Tin Is Not

We will explore the more specific nutrient requirements of cats and dogs below, and assess whether they tend to do well on vegan diets or not. But right now let’s address this question of whether it is “natural” for cats and dogs to eat a vegan diet and whether that really matters in principle.

Vegans who put their cats or dogs on a vegan diet are sometimes accused of animal cruelty by non-vegans. This accusation is based on the view that dogs and cats naturally eat meat, and therefore vegans are pushing an unnatural diet on them.

Although my cat or dog would eat meat in the wild, they would not be eating factory farmed meat, at regularly timed intervals, in a bowl. They would not be putting hens in battery cages or putting pigs in gestation crates so tight they can’t even turn around. My dog would not be castrating, debeaking, dehorning, or branding its pray in the wild. So although eating meat may be natural for my pet, eating factory farmed meat is not.

Most pet owners have already adopted many other “unnatural” practices. Spaying and neutering is not natural! Vaccinations and microchips are not natural. Breeding dogs to have certain characteristics doesn’t seem very natural. Separating them from their family members to find each one a home with different humans doesn’t seem very natural. So this insistence on doing what’s “natural” when it comes to maintaining a carnivorous diet seems a little inconsistent.

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Would Your Cat or Dog Struggle on a Vegan Diet?

The most important thing to look at when deciding what diet to feed your pet, of course, is how it affects their health. If a vegan diet was going to make your pet sick and kill them, you obviously would not want to feed them a vegan diet. I hope that much is obvious.

So how will a vegan diet actually affect your pet? Well, it depends on your pet and it depends on the specifics of the vegan diet. Let’s get into some of the details below.

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Cats Are “Obligate Carnivores,” But Dogs are Omnivores.

The one sentence answer to whether your carnivore pet can go vegan with you might be: “Dogs and cats both can be vegan, but cats are more likely to struggle.” Many of the specific nutrient concerns are similar, but cats have less ability to convert amino acids and convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, so they have more strict diet requirements.

Many sources recommend that you must work with a pet nutritionist if you’re transitioning your carnivore pet to a vegan diet. Some sources also recommend getting some urine or blood tests over time to ensure that the diet is working well for them. I think this is especially prudent for cats.

I’m providing the following information on nutrients as a basic primer. You should learn more and ideally talk with a pet nutritionist familiar with vegan pets if you want the best information on this subject.

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Which Nutrients Do Cats Lack on a Vegan Diet?

These are the main nutrients and the main reasons that people cite when explaining why cats can’t be vegan: taurine and other amino acids, arachidonic acid, vitamin D, vitamin A, alkalinity, and macronutrient balance.

Taurine and other amino acids: The number one nutrient cited for why cats can’t be vegan is taurine. Taurine is an amino acid, which means it’s a component of certain proteins. Plants contain protein, but they do not contain proteins containing taurine. Other amino acids are also sometimes mentioned as being inadequate for cats on a vegan diet: arginine, methionine, and cysteine. But taurine seems to be the big one.

Without getting enough taurine, vegan cats can experience a kind of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This condition causes a weak heart and can be fatal if not corrected early in its course. Taurine deficiency in cats can also cause severe vision problems and eventually blindness. Commercial cat foods often include mollusks for the extra taurine. (Vegan cat foods are supplemented with a synthetic source of taurine—more on that below.)

Arachidonic acid: The inflammatory response in cats is dependent on adequate amounts of arachidonic acid, which is a type of polyunsatured fatty acid. Skin growth, clotting, and other bodily functions are also aided by arachidonic acid, which is not present directly in vegan foods.

Vitamin D: Humans are able to synthesize vitamin D through exposure to sunlight on our skin. Cats can’t do this, so they need to get vitamin D from diet. Vegan foods don’t tend to have much vitamin D naturally, so your vegan cat would need a fortified source of vitamin D.

Vitamin A: As a human, you are able to synthesize the active form of vitamin A from beta-carotene, and this is why we understand carrots as giving us vitamin A. Dogs can do this, too. But cats cannot synthesize vitamin A from carotene. A deficiency of vitamin A for your cat can cause loss of hearing, along with bone problems, skin problems, and more.

Other issues: In general, cats are adapted to eating meat, and their digestive tract and their whole body is sort of set up for this. As such, it’s said that cats can struggle with the alkalinity of plant food (meat is more acid-forming in the body). Cats are also said to struggle with the macronutrient balance typical of plant food. A vegan diet may have too much carbohydrate and not enough protein for your cat.

So clearly, if you are formulating vegan cat food or if you’re trying to put your own cat on a vegan diet, these are nutrients that you need to be certain to include in adequate amounts.

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Why Dogs Are Omnivores and Can Be Vegan

Dogs are not actually carnivores—they’re omnivores—and this is pretty well established. Although dogs belong to the order “Carnivora,” so do giant pandas, and pandas are herbivores, of course. Dogs are able to convert certain amino acids into others, so they can get all the aminos acids they need on a natural vegan diet. (This is not the case for cats—see above.)

Some people argue that because dogs evolved from wolves and still share most of their DNA with wolves, that means dogs must be carnivores like wolves. But this is poor logic. One of the key ways that dogs have evolved from wolves is by developing a better ability to digest starches and carbohydrates.

Dogs have lower protein and amino acid requirements than carnivores, and they can synthesize their vitamin A from vegan plant sources including beta carotene, just like humans do. So it’s entirely feasible to feed your dog a vegan diet if you choose, although it requires some care and may be more expensive to do it right.

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Why Some Dogs Benefit From A Vegan Diet

Some veterinarians and veterinarian nutritionists will actually prescribe vegetarian or vegan diets to dogs to help with allergies. Often, when a dog has an allergy to something in their dog food, it turns out to be an allergy to beef, chicken, or other animal-based protein sources. So in some cases, a vegan diet can help clear up your dog’s skin issues and other allergic problems.

Indeed, a vegan diet can go very well for dogs. One of the oldest dogs ever on record was a blue merle Collie in the UK named Bramble, who lived to age 27 in good health. She was a vegan dog who supposedly lived mostly on a vegan diet of rice, lentils, and vegetables.

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Nutrients to Watch on a Vegan Diet for Dogs

Taurine and other amino acids: As with cats, one of the main nutrients to watch for on a vegan diet is the amino acid taurine. And again, the consequence of low taurine levels, among other problems, is the potential for developing dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a.k.a. a big weak heart. Some dogs may be more susceptible to this deficiency than others.

In dogs, the other amino acid I saw cited as a possible concern was L-carnitine. So vegan dog foods should be supplemented with these nutrients.

Protein levels: The ideal protein intake for a dog will depend on the dog’s age and other factors. But vegan foods tend to be lower in protein than animal-based foods, of course, so this is something to be aware of. If you have access to a pet nutritionist, they could help you assess the optimal protein intake for your own dog.

For dog owners making homemade vegan dog food, a common choice is to use well-cooked pinto beans as the base, as it provides a good amount of protein and dogs are rarely ever allergic. That said, many sources caution against doing a homemade vegan diet for your dog, as the nutrient balance can be very hard to get right without the assistance of a pet nutritionist.

Vitamins and minerals: Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for dogs to get in a vegan diet, as is the case with humans. Calcium, iron, and vitamin D are also ones to be aware of.

Specific dangerous plant foods for dogs: Of course, there are certain plant foods that are dangerous for dogs to eat, such as grapes and macadamia nuts. Some dogs also may struggle with large pieces of raw vegetables, so some people recommend using a food processor to chop up any raw vegetable you’re including in your dog’s vegan diet.

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Health Problems With Most Commercial Pet Foods

The broader context for this discussion, of course, is that most pet foods you can buy at the grocery store are unhealthy. Similar to how hot dogs and sausages are known for containing who knows what, commercial pet foods are notorious for including scraps of meat from diseased animals that the USDA has deemed unfit for human consumption.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard from many pet owners that their pet was having skin problems, digestive problems, or other health issues on a standard, big-brand pet food. Personally, my dog was having skin problems on the big name-brand dog foods. That only cleared up after we switched to a more natural, high-quality dog food. (My dog is not currently vegan. The food she typically eats has salmon in it.)

So, whether or not you judge a vegan diet to be worth trying with your pet, you should pay attention to how they are responding to whichever diets you try with them. How does it affect their skin and fur? Does it affect the regularity of their bowel movements? Are there any behavioral changes you’re noticing?

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Vegan Pet Food Options Available Today

If you’re considering transitioning your carnivore pet to a vegan diet, I would recommend getting some formulated vegan pet food. Most vegan pet foods are created with all the important nutrients above in mind. You should be less likely to run into nutritional problems with formulated vegan pet foods compared to feeding homemade vegan meals to your pet.

Honestly, the brand I’ve heard the most about (all positive things) has been V-Dog. They have a lot of resources on their website to help dog owners educate themselves about vegan diets for dogs, too. Another brand that seems to be very prominent and trusted for vegan dog food is Halo with their Holistic Garden of Vegan recipe.

Benevo in the UK also seems to be well established and has options for vegan cats as well as dogs. There are also certain vegan options by PetGuard and Natural Balance (vegetarian formula). Here is a longer list of suppliers for vegan pet foods around the world, compiled by Vegepets, which is itself a source of information on vegan diets for so-called carnivore pets.

So you can see there are more options available for vegan dog foods. I suspect this is because it is more widely accepted and demonstrated that dogs can thrive on a vegan diet, compared to cats. I would recommend looking up more reviews and testimonials for any company you’re thinking of buying, just to hear the range of experiences and know what to expect.

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Trying Out a Vegan Diet For Your Carnivore Pet

If you want to try a vegan diet for your pet, try easing into it gradually. Start adding just a little bit of vegan food on the first few days. Then add a little more vegan food to their food bowl, and gradually increase the fraction. Notice how they respond, whether they seem to be enjoying it and doing well.

Transitioning food gradually will allow your pets’ digestive enzymes and microorganisms to adapt to the dietary change, and it will minimize discomfort and gas.

If your pet doesn’t seem as interested in the vegan food, you can try to make it more appealing to them by adding just a little bit of nutritional yeast, olive oil, or soy milk.

Personally, I think our dog would eat just about anything that we drizzle some peanut butter on. Don’t overdo that, though. The amount of fat in a big serving of peanut butter can be too much for dogs, and they’ll likely vomit it back up. (I imagine the same could happen with olive oil, although I don’t have experience with that.)

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Monitoring How Your Pet Is Doing On a Vegan Diet

Some of the potential negative effects of a nutritional deficiency are things you could spot without much effort: You might notice if your pet’s skin/fur health or energy levels significantly change. You’ll notice if they’re vomiting or having diarrhea. But one other tool to consider is getting urine tests after changing their diet, and then again after some more time has passed.

Specifically, you’d be looking for urine alkalinization. Since plant foods are more alkaline-forming compared to meat, a vegan diet could lead your carnivorous pet to have more alkaline urine. This can potentially cause urinary stones and blockages, as well as infections, so it’s one of the main things to watch out for.

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Compromise By Feeding Your Pet a 50% Vegan Diet

If your pet doesn’t take well to an all-vegan diet, or if you’re concerned that you don’t know enough to make an informed choice, you can always consider a omnivorous diet with more vegan food.

If the appeal of having a vegan pet is removing your financial support from the animal agriculture industry, then even mixing in half vegan food into their bowl will give you half of the impact.

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Are You No Longer Vegan If You Accept Your Pet’s Carnivore Nature and Feed Them Meat?

If you decide to keep feeding meat and other animal-based foods to your pet, it doesn’t mean you aren’t vegan. Reading the above information about the nutrients needed for pets on a vegan diet and the possible consequences in cases of deficiencies, it can be a little scary because you don’t want to do it wrong and hurt your furry friend.

It’s also likely to be more expensive to feed your pet a vegan diet. Vegan pet food is not likely to be available for low prices at the grocery store, so you may need to order it online. Then if you want to be extra careful with the transition like some articles recommend, you may want to get blood tests, urine tests, or just take your pet to the veterinarian more often in general. Vet visits can get expensive fast!

As I explain in several of my blog posts, veganism means different things to different people, and it can be applied many different ways. If you decide to just keep feeding your pet a diet a non-vegan diet, that seems 100% fine in my book. Some vegans might argue differently, but I don’t see that as a very realistic, accessible view of what it means to be vegan.

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Herbivore Pets to Consider as a Vegan Instead

If you don’t want the nutritional complications or ethical dilemma of whether to feed your cat or dog a vegan diet, you can always consider a pet that is naturally an herbivore.

Here are twelve options for pets that naturally eat a vegan diet:

  1. Rabbits
  2. Tortoises
  3. Small fish
  4. Small birds
  5. Guinea pigs
  6. Hamsters
  7. Alpacas
  8. Goats
  9. Mice
  10. Rats
  11. Gerbils
  12. Some reptiles

Obviously, look into the details of what precise diet is ideal for the specific species and breed you have.

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Is It Contradictory For Vegans To Own Pets At All?

Aside from the issue of what to feed your carnivorous pets, some vegans actually oppose pet ownership as a whole, ethically speaking. This may suprise some readers, as it is quite common in practice for vegans to own pets. It is also widely known that pet owners are animal lovers who love their pets so much. So it may seem odd to look at pet ownership as a problematic form of animal captivity or exploitation.

But if you zoom out and look at the societal level, the way our society engages with pets does often reflect the view of animals as being things rather than individuals. Take for example the very common pattern of people buying a cute puppy, then getting bored of taking care of it, and eventually abandoning it. There are many stray animals for this reason.

Even in the best and most loving human-pet relationships, there is obviously a power imbalance. We make decisions on the behalf of our pets all the time. We even make the decision to spay or neuter them! We mostly decide their diet, and typically, we decide when they have access to the outdoors. So, even though you may be a very loving master, it is worth acknowledging that you hold a position of power relative to your pet.

So Is it Wrong for Vegans to Own Pets?

Personally, I don’t think it’s wrong for vegans to own pets. This is a complicated issue because it depends on your underlying views about what veganism means and so much more. I think, especially given the situation we have today with all these domesticated pets that need loving homes, I think vegans are some of the most compassionate and loving people to provide those homes.

I think it’s really positive to own pets as a vegan, as long as you take seriously the responsibility you have to give your pet a good life, including as much freedom as is practical while keeping them healthy and well. As it would be with parenting your own children, there must be a give and take between allowing them more freedom vs deciding what is best for your pet. Just take the responsibility of this position seriously, and I think you’re doing the right thing.

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Conclusion: What to Feed Your So-Called Carnivore Pet as a Vegan

It’s up to you whether to try a vegan diet with your so-called carnivore pet. If you try it, ease into it, be mindful of the nutrients listed above (especially taurine), do more research, and if you can afford extra vet visits in the first months and years, it may help you do it much more safely.

We haven’t transitioned our dog onto a vegan diet yet, although we do buy her more “natural” dog food brands because it seems to help with her skin. I’ve long known that it is possible to have a vegan dog, but I only finally dug into the details while writing this post. So, will we put our dog on a vegan diet? I’m not sure yet. But whatever we decide, her health will come first, of course.

There is a good deal of acceptance for vegan dogs these days, as they’re not actually carnivores, they are omnivores. But with vegan cats, it seems you really need to be especially vigilant and careful. Many vegans will not find it worth the extra effort to try to feed their cat a diet that isn’t natural to them. But I’m not judging either way—just trying to provide information!

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