Should My Pet Be A Vegetarian?
Published June 6, 2013 | By Terry
Although dogs are considered to be omnivores (feed on both animal and vegetable substances) their bodies require a great deal of protein in order to stay healthy. Even as scavengers, dogs have a preference for meat. Ethologists (one who studies animal behavior, especially as it occurs in a natural environment), never get tired of telling us that dogs are descended from wolves. As such they are predators and they hunted animals for food. They were able to get by on eating other things, but they preferred to eat meat when they could kill it.
Cats, on the other hand are considered carnivores and must eat a regular meat diet in order to survive.
To better explain this, our feline (cat) friends are classified as true carnivores because they must consume meat in order to survive. Canines (dogs) are just slightly different from cats in their conversion of foods for life maintenance; dogs are classified as omnivores. They can survive on a diet of either plant or animal origin if it’s balanced and diverse. But to thrive and not merely survive, dogs should have a source of animal protein – MEAT – in their diets. There is a huge difference between survive and thrive! Nature made the rules of biochemistry and nutrition and we mortals have no power (and no business, for that matter) to try to bend those rules. For that reason there are truly no adequate vegetarian diets for cats. For that same reason dogs thrive on diets based on meat.
As I worked on this article, I thought people would want to know the proper protein requirements and percentages for their particular pet but the more research I did and the more “experts” I listened to, the more I realized there were various opinions and many different circumstances which affected proper protein percentages. A dog or cat’s protein requirement is affected by age, physiological life stage and frequency and intensity of exercise. Protein requirements are highest during periods of rapid growth and development in puppies and kittens for the formation of new tissues. In reproducing females, protein needs are increased during pregnancy and lactation to provide for the growth of fetuses and milk production. For more specific protein requirements for your beloved pet, please consult with your veterinarian.
For your information, Dietary protein is necessary for the growth and maintenance of almost all tissues of the body. It is the major structural component of hair, skin, tendons, ligaments, blood cells and cartilage. Protein comprises the enzymes that catalyze all metabolic reactions, the hormones that act as the body’s chemical messengers and the antibodies that comprise the immune system. The diet provides a regular supply of new protein to replace the losses that occur during normal protein turnover. Any dietary protein that is not used for structural or metabolic functions can also be used as an energy source. Proteins in food are broken down during digestion and the component amino acids are used as building materials for bones, muscles, nerves and other body tissues.
For the most part, commercial pet foods (dog and cat) contain a great deal of corn or other grains and are considered inferior products. Corn is usually a cheaper source of protein than meat sources, such as lamb and chicken. For this reason some pet food manufacturers use it as a filler ingredient in one of its forms, such as whole yellow corn, ground corn or corn gluten. It does provide protein but our pets can only digest about 50 percent of the nutrients in corn. The rest passes through the animal and is deposited in your backyard or the litter box, as the case may be. Dogs fed diets high in cereal and grains typically have large, soft stools because they do not digest all of the food. On the other hand, dogs and cats fed food that is higher in meat protein can digest much more of the food. Stools are smaller and firmer because the animal is able to digest much more of the food.
When buying pet food, remember to examine the order of ingredients: Pet food manufacturers must list ingredients on the label in order of their preponderance by weight. Please realize that the first three to four ingredients on the food label usually represents 90% of that diet and will indicate the food’s principle protein sources. Use this list to identify the type of protein source that you prefer to feed your dog or cat. Also realize that the longer the ingredient list, the worse the diet as good nutrition is not only simple but also healthy.
Meat such as Chicken, Lamb, Beef or Fish should be the first ingredient(s) listed in any pet food you judge to be “the best.”
“But too much protein is bad, right?” you ask. Do your own research and poll half a dozen nutrition specialists (not the guy who runs the local pet shop) and here is what you will find: There is no general agreement among expert nutritionist’s regarding what constitutes “too much” protein in the dog’s diet. Research shows that dogs have a high capacity for digesting and utilizing diets containing more than thirty percent protein on a dry weight basis. (Dry weight basis means the food with no moisture present. Dry dog food in a bag usually has 10 percent moisture and canned food has about 74 percent moisture.) If left to catch and consume prey to survive, as wild canines do every day, dogs’ diets would be even higher in protein than what is generally available commercially.
There is currently a popular move toward feeding grain-free dog and cat foods. The thinking is that many grains are bad and that dogs and cats should eat food that has as much meat protein content as possible. This is probably an over-reaction. Especially for dogs, It is not necessary for a pet dog to eat dog food that is 40 percent protein.
What we do with our rescues, at the Healthy Pet Network Rescue and Sanctuary is, both the dogs and cats graze on a high quality grain free dry food with a quality source of protein as its first ingredient and which includes fruits and vegetables with antioxidants and other important nutrients and they also get one home cooked meal each day with high quality protein sources, vegetables and we do include a variety of quality “whole” grains such as barley, brown rice, and oats. Potatoes are very good but even though they like sweet potatoes, they only get them occasionally as they are high in estrogen. We are very careful with wheat products as they may contribute to allergies and we do not use Soy products as they are high in estrogen.
In conclusion, though some fruits and vegetables can add important vitamins and nutrients to your pets diet, STRICT Vegetarian diets are not recommended for dogs and cats. They do require meat content in order to be healthy. Make sure that you are buying dog food that has named meat sources, such as chicken, lamb, beef and so on. It is ok to occasionally mix in more “exotic” protein sources, such as, duck, venison, rabbit etc. Just remember that these novel protein sources are generally intended for pets that have allergies to the common sources of protein. If you feed your pet a regular diet of duck, venison, rabbit and other unusual meat sources, what will you do if your pet develops an allergy to them? You will have no more exotic meat sources left to try.
If you are a vegetarian and you have a dog or cat, it’s recommended that you do what is best for your dog, regardless of your own beliefs. Take into account his/her health and welfare and feed them a high quality pet food. If it makes you feel better there are many “Excellent” foods, some even feature holistic sources of meat. Some foods are even made from free range chicken or come from meat sources grown by small producers. You may not find a food you like in the large pet superstores but if you look online or visit other specialty pet food sellers, there are some excellent high quality pet foods available. If you would like a recommendation or two, I would be very happy to help.
Yours In Health,
About the Author:
Michael Goldman is an entrepreneur, teacher, writer/author, and animal care provider, who along with his wife Terry are best known as the founders of the Healthy Pet Network. As respected authorities and consultants regarding Animal Health and Longevity, they help people with their pets health and well being. Their “passion” is the continued development of the Healthy Pet Network Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. The Rescue and Sanctuary provides a home, food, medical attention and love for homeless or injured animals.
The article was originally posted and shared by the Healthy Pet Network