Photo shows a person sitting on the floor and feeding their dog
Can your pet thrive on a vegan diet? We asked an expert. | supersizer/Getty

Can My Cat or Dog Go Vegan?

You may be wondering if your pet can go vegan. We talked to experts to find out. Plus, five recipes for your furry friend to try.

For years, dog trainer and pet influencer Samantha Johnson struggled to treat her dog Baloo’s chronic allergies.

The purebred Wheaten Terrier was always in and out of the vet—even as a pup—with hot spots and other inflammatory skin issues. When Johnson finally was able to get an allergy test run at Colorado State University’s vet clinic, she discovered Baloo was allergic to 77 out of 90 outdoor allergens.

After three months of a raw diet and steroid regimen, Johnson discovered V-Dog Vegan Dog food. “It was life-changing for both of us,” she says.

Johnson is part of a growing contingent of vegans and animal-lovers in general who have made the switch to plant-based foods for their pets. But many wonder if dogs and cats can actually be healthy without animal protein.

Even before the pandemic pet boom—70 percent of U.S. households now own at least one pet—an online survey found that 35 percent of dog owners were open to the idea of switching to plant-based pet food. 

Just like the huge growth in plant-based proteins for humans, pet food makers have been increasingly looking to tap into the growing market for alternatives to meat-based foods. Wild Earth, one of the leading plant-based pet food brands, recently raised $23 million in funding from investors including Mark Cuban with the goal of moving toward cell-based meats.

But the plant-based pet food industry has been growing steadily over the past few decades without cell-based meat, using proteins like grain, soy, gluten, seeds, and peas. After all, Evolution Pet Food released its first production of vegan pet food back in 1989.

Is plant-based pet food healthy?

A major new study by the University of Winchester, published in June by Professor Andrew Knight and Dr Liam Satchell of the University’s Centre for Animal Welfare, found that existing plant-based pet food brands are just as nutritionally sound as animal-based pet food—and that pets fed a vegan diet are just as happy with their food as their meat-eating counterparts. 

“It’s a very exciting finding that animals can be healthy on these diets when nutritionally sound,” says Knight. “It’s like 30 years ago when they were finding that humans could be healthy by consuming a plant-based diet—it feels like the same point in time in dog and cat food.”

While there’s been a lot of talk about whether dogs are omnivores or carnivores (even wild wolves consume both plants and animals), many experts have long believed that canines were more suited to a plant-based diet than felines. That’s not necessarily the case, Knight and his colleagues found. Nutritionally-sound vegan diets can include plant minerals and synthetic sources to meet feline nutritional needs. “Pet foods that undergo processing with high pressure and chemical treatments tend to degrade ingredients,” says Knight, including some very important amino acids. “Synthetic taurine is used as a replacement in many foods.”

Knight’s studies, which included 2,526 dogs and 1,369 cats who maintained a vegan or meat-based diets for at least one year, indicate that nutritionally-sound plant-based diets were the healthiest and least hazardous options for both dogs and cats. 

The professor has seen firsthand the impacts that a sound plant-based diet has. When he transitioned his sister-in-law’s two black cats’ diets onto a plant-based diet while cat-sitting for half a year, he saw noticeable differences. “During that time it was remarkable to see their coats get slicker and shinier and their dermatitis clear up.”

Johnson has seen similar results in all of her dogs and the many foster dogs that come into her home. “Every foster we’ve had has been on plant-based food and I’ve never had to worry about allergies or diarrhea,” she says. “I really recommend it.”

Just like humans, every animal’s nutritional needs and food sensitivities vary. Before starting any new meal plan for your pet, consult a veterinarian to ensure you do so safely. If you get the green light, here are some easy, make-at-home recipes to try.

5 plant-based pet food recipes

Photo shows tempeh dog treats and a black dog eating one
Your pup will thank you for these treats. | Diana Laverdure-Dunetz

Baked Tempeh Beggin’ Treats for Dogs

Diana Laverdure-Dunetz is a South Florida-based canine nutritionist who thought she’d have to give up her career after she became vegan herself—she just didn’t want to be responsible for any more animal deaths. But in 2017, after years of research, Laverdure-Dunetz switched from helping clients to create bespoke meat-based dog foods to teaching them how to make plant-based recipes.

Laverdure-Dunetz then brought together 17 of the world’s top veterinarians, scientists, and animal activists for her Plant-Powered Dog Food Summit, where attendees learned about all the research taking place in the field as well as how to decode the true nutritional requirements of canines.

The canine nutritionist currently offers plant-based tips and information on her website Plant-Powered Dog, and will be releasing a new book on how to do-it-yourself called The Plant-Powered Dog: How to Raise Dogs that Thrive While Caring for the Planet, Ourselves, Animals and Future Generations. “My way of leaving the world a better place than I found it is through helping people to transition and feed their dogs plant-based diets,” she says.

Baked Tempeh Beggin’ Treats for Dogs

By Diana Laverdure-Dunetz

Gluten-Free

Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce package organic tempeh (avoid if your dog has a soy, rice or wheat allergy)  
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos  
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar  
  • 1 tablespoon organic pure maple syrup  
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

  1. 1
    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. 2
    Cut the block of tempeh in half widthwise, then slice each half section width-wise into 13 thin strips, for a total of 26 strips for the entire block.
  3. 3
    Put all of the marinade ingredients (everything except the tempeh) into a shallow pan, such as a 9.5″ pyrex pie plate. Mix the ingredients together well
  4. 4
    Lay the tempeh strips in the pie pan and turn them over several times to fully coat each side with the marinade.
  5. 5
    Let the strips marinate for one hour. Turn them a few times while marinating to be sure both sides absorb the liquid (try not to eat them!).
  6. 6
    Line a baking pan with parchment paper and lay the strips out side-by-side.
  7. 7
    Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Flip and cook for 15 minutes longer or until crisp. You can also broil them for a couple of minutes at the end to crisp them up more, but be careful not to burn them.
  8. 8
    Let the strips cool on a wire rack. They will crisp up more as they cool.
  9. 9
    Serve to your dog and watch him go crazy!
  10. 10
    Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to four days.
Photo shows a bowl of uncooked red lentils
Lentils are a healthy source of protein. | Westend61/Getty

Lentil Plus for Cats, and Oat & Soy for Dogs

Dr. Richard and Susan Hubble Pitcairn have been singing the gospel of holistic health for pets for more than three decades. The husband-and-wife duo have long been the go-to specialists for chemical-free nutrition and natural healing for pets.

More than 500,000 copies of Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats have been sold since its original publication. In the fourth edition of the book, the couple discuss the advantages of a plant-based diet, offering tips and recipes for complete meat-free eating for both dogs and cats.

Lentils Plus for Cats

By Dr. Richard and Susan Hubble Pitcairn

Ingredients

  • 1 ⅔ cup cooked red or other lentils (from 2/3 cup dry lentils)   
  • 2/3 cup organic or non-GMO firm tofu (or sub tempeh or seitan)   
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (or VegeYeast)   
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil   
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (or can sub 3/4 teaspoon organic soy sauce)   
  • 4 teaspoons VegeCat* or VegePhi** (essential, do not omit)
  • a tad minced parsley, greens, peas, corn or yam, optional

Preparation

  1. 1
    For a meatier texture, freeze the tofu first and thaw a day ahead. Then, crumble tofu to bite-size pieces.
  2. 2
    Mix in the remaining ingredients.
  3. 3
    Top with condiments, such as pumpkin puree, baby food squash, corn pureed with nori, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, dulse flakes, Green Mush (made by Compassion Circle), tamari and oil are helpful on fresh food or kibbles.

Oats & Soy for Dogs

By Dr. Richard and Susan Hubble Pitcairn

Ingredients

  • 8 ⅔ cup uncooked oats (18 ½ cups cooked), rolled or steel cut  
  • 3 cups organic or non-GMO firm tofu (or  1 7/8 cups dry non-GMO textured vegetable protein reconstituted with 1 cup boiling water)   
  • 1 tablespoon VegeYeast powder  
  • 2 tablespoons VegeDog  
  • 3/8 cup olive oil 
  • 1/4 teaspoon  salt or 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce    
  • condiments such as pumpkin puree, baby food squash, corn pureed with nori, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, dulse flakes, Green Mush from Compassion Circle, or tamari, optional   
  • raw or steamed cauliflower, yams, broccoli, or carrots, optional (no onions, raisins, macadamias, grapes, etc.)

Preparation

  1. 1
    For a meatier texture, freeze the tofu first and thaw a day ahead. Then, crumble tofu to bite-size pieces.
  2. 2
    Mix in the remaining ingredients except the oil. Then, add the oil and mix again.
  3. 3
    Top with condiments, such as pumpkin puree, baby food squash, corn pureed with nori, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, dulse flakes, Green Mush from Compassion Circle, or tamari.
Photo shows a human in a striped shirt prepping a potato while a dog watches
This sweet potato and spinach bowl will delight your dog. | Justin Paget/Getty

Ruffin’ Rainbow Treat Bowl for Dogs

Dr. Ernie Ward is the co-author of Better You, Better Dog, Better Life (2019) and The Clean Pet Food Revolution (2019). Early in his career, he focused on bringing senior pet care guidelines to general veterinary practices and later focused on spreading awareness of the dangers of obesity in pets.

Ruffin’ Rainbow Treat Bowl for Dogs

By Dr. Ernie Ward

Ingredients

  • 1 cup green spinach, finely-chopped
  • 1 medium orange sweet potato, cooked in skin
  • 1 cup red and yellow bell peppers, sliced  
  • 1 cup blueberries

Preparation

  1. 1
    Roast or boil the sweet potato until soft, remove the skin, and add to bowl.
  2. 2
    Add finely-chopped raw or lightly-sautéed spinach, sliced peppers, and blueberries to the bowl and mix.
  3. 3
    Divide into four equal portions and serve fresh or chilled.
Photo shows a small gray kitten booping a golden retriever's nose
Want to avoid store-bought kibble? You can make your own. | chendongshan/Getty

Soy Kibble for Puppy and Mama Dogs

Eric Weisman founded Evolution Pet Food in 1988 with the goal of offering a “cleaner” diet to his rescue dogs, cats and other small animals. It was the first commercially-available, plant-based pet food in North America—possibly the planet, according to Weisman.

All of Evolution’s products are designed to meet 100% of National Research Council (NRC) and American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for all life stages in dogs and cats. The brand stays away from chemical preservatives, says Weisman, subbing out those common ingredients with vitamins and botanicals instead.

Weisman and Evolution advise mixing dry kibble in a one-to-one ratio with water so that it is better digested and hydrating to the pet. This method also saves on pet food feeding requirements by about 20%, says Weisman, since hydrated dry food takes up more room in the small intestine—plus, moist food is better absorbed and utilized when it is hydrated.

Soy Kibble for Puppy or Mama Dogs

By Eric Weisman

Ingredients

  • 3-1/3 cups 520 grams whole wheat flour   
  • 4 cups 364 grams whole soy flour  
  •  1-1/2 tablespoons 10.5 grams ground flaxseed  
  •  3 tablespoons 25 grams VegeYeast or yeast powder  
  •  3-1/2 tablespoons 53 grams Vegepup
  •  1-1/3 teaspoon 7.6 grams salt (or 3 tablespoons soy sauce)
  •  2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon 32 grams or 34.5 millileters sunflower oil  
  •  3-3/4 cups 889 millileters water, or as needed to form dough

Preparation

  1. 1
    Preheat oven to 300°F (150˚C).
  2. 2
    Mix the dry ingredients together.
  3. 3
    Add the liquid ingredients to the dry mixture. Slowly add water as you determine how much is needed.
  4. 4
    Stir with a large strong spoon to form a soft dough.
  5. 5
    Flour hands and counter top to keep dough from sticking. Empty the bowl onto the counter top. Knead the dough by folding it on itself several times until smooth, proceeding as if making a pie crust.
  6. 6
    Roll dough to no more than half an inch (1.25 centimeters) thick, and smooth in place on a cookie sheet, kneading into corners.
  7. 7
    Prick the dough with a fork to prevent bubbles.
  8. 8
    Bake for 30 minutes. Don’t bake so long that the edges get brown and brittle.
  9. 9
    With a large chef’s knife or pizza cutter, cut newly baked slab into nine (or twelve) parts (on a cutting board). Cut twice horizontally, and then cut vertically two or three times. Cut each of the resulting rectangles into kibble sized pieces by cutting first in one direction, and then the other. Piece sizes are determined by the size of your dog.
  10. 10
    Separate kibble pieces onto two or more cookie sheets and place in a warm oven (at its lowest temperature) for two or three hours until crunchy dry. Direct sunshine makes an energy-efficient dryer for kibble. Kibble is dry enough when you can’t compress pieces with finger pressure.

Recipe Notes

You can flavor kibble or biscuits by using marinara sauce or vegetable broth in place of some of the water to make dough. Alternatively, you can add nut or seed butter for flavor. These extras are certainly not necessary, as kibble is tasty as-is.

Be sure any ingredient you add for flavor is low in sodium and be certain nut and seed butters do not contain xylitol. Xylitol is toxic to dogs. Properly-dried kibble can be stored in a closed container for up to three months. Refrigeration is not necessary or desirable. You can add pureed veggies or steamed, chopped veggies to kibble before serving. Variety is best!