The vegetarian pet food debate

by | General Pet Care |

A controversial subject regarding pet care is whether or not dogs and cats should have a vegetarian diet. Typically, pet owners who are vegetarian or vegan do not wish to feed meat and meat by-products to their pets. This begs the question: is a vegetarian diet healthy for pets?

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GMO corn is used as a filler in some pet foods

There are certainly two sides to this interesting debate. This may surprise many dog owners, but canines are actually facultative carnivores and not “true” carnivores. Wolves, dogs and other predators under the Canis species do not exclusively eat meat. If no source of meat is available, they will eat plants, berries and fruits. Wolves in Yellowstone Park (Wyoming) have been studied and scientists found that plant food sources make up the majority of their diet in the summer months when meat is scarce. That being said, their teeth are designed for piercing, tearing and shearing which make them ideal meat eaters.

On the other hand, cats are obligate carnivores. They have shorter gastrointestinal tracts that do not process plant matter as effectively as they would absorb nutrients from meat. Cats also depend on taurine, which is an important amino acid that is typically found in muscle fibres. Many cat foods are fortified with taurine, as deficiencies in cats can lead to blindness and heart failure.

One thing that many pets owners and veterinarians can agree on, is regardless of the type of diet you choose, pet foods with corn or corn by-products should be avoided. Corn is used as an inexpensive protein replacement in lieu of other (more expensive to manufacture) meat sources of protein. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) mean that non-organic organisms are combined with plant or animal DNA to make the product more resilient to disease prior to the manufacturing products. Recent studies have shown that GMO corn can cause kidney and liver malfunction, as well as some heart, adrenal, spleen and blood damage in rats. GMO corn is a common ingredient in many human foods as well.

There are lots of websites and companies that offer information and studies that recommend diets, foods or health care tips that may be dangerous to your pet’s health. The best source of information when it comes to your pet’s health is always your veterinarian. He or she will have the best insight of what kind of food and dietary requirements your pet has.


For more information on nutrition, visit the Ontario SPCA’s nutrition page.