If you forgo meat you may feel squeamish about feeding it to your hound. But your pet may not want to be an herbivore too. “Dogs can survive on a plant-based diet, but they won’t thrive,” says Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., a holistic veterinarian in Fairfield, Conn., and New York City. Still, if it’s important to you to keep meat out of the house, you can make it work. “There are some good commercial vegetarian dog foods on the market, such as PetGuard, but I advise feeding your pet fresh raw vegetables and working with your vet to form a meal plan,” Fallek says. The challenge will be making sure Rover gets enough protein. “A deficiency taxes a dog’s kidneys and liver, and puts him at risk of anemia,” Fallek warns. To protect your pet, supplement a vegetable diet with plant-based proteins, like quinoa or beans.
Raw food diets, which are increasingly popular among humans, also come highly recommended by many holistic veterinarians as the best form of nutrition for dogs. But raw food for canines is raw meat, which you can buy in patty form (often mixed with raw fruits, vegetables, bones and organ meats) and store in the freezer. It’s certainly not what you’d feed yourself, but it is pretty close to what your pooch would eat in nature, points out Robert Mueller, a pharmacist in Iola, Wis., and a specialist in biologically appropriate raw foods. “A dog is an omnivore,” Mueller says. “In the wild he’d be searching out protein, especially meat.” Conventional dog chow contains ingredients like propylene glycol and other preservatives that canine systems never encountered before they were domesticated. So for dogs, “going raw” feels similar to what we humans experience when we stop eating processed stuff and switch to whole foods, raw food diet supporters claim. “It’s analogous to a cleanse,” Fallek says. “The switch can boost his energy and immune system, help him lose weight, and even clear up skin and ear infections.”
Still, raw food for dogs is expensive—up to $5 a day versus about $1 a day for premium dry food. And in addition to the freezer overcrowding, it can also pose a health risk. FDA researchers tested 196 samples of raw pet food and found that 15 contained salmonella and 32 contained listeria, which can cause disease for you and your animal. If you do the raw route, be extra careful about food safety. Thaw raw meat in your fridge instead of on counters, wash your hands thoroughly after handling, and avoid face licks from Fido. Too much hassle? Try switching from dry food to canned; it’s slightly healthier and less preservative-packed than kibble, and much less timeintensive than fully embracing the whole raw diet thing, says Jill Elliot, a veterinarian in New York City.