Few things in this world spark as much argument as what to feed your pet. Facebook groups, Twitter threads, comment sections, IRL… no place is safe from vehement pet food discussions.
One of the biggest arguments? Can dogs and cats be vegetarian or vegan?
The question makes sense. Most of us have given up or significantly cut down on our meat intake for our own health and for the health of the planet. It stands to reason that we’d want to extend the same to our pets. And, the reality is: Pet food has a gigantic impact on the planet.
Read more: The Complete Guide to Zero-Waste Pet Food
Despite good intentions, though, if you’re looking for a vegetarian pet, a dog or cat isn’t your best option. Let’s look at why and then consider the 7 best pets for a vegetarian or vegan family.
Can dogs and cats be vegetarian?
Here’s the thing: I’m not a vet. I’m not a vet tech. I’m not a nutritionist–animal or human. I’m a journalist. I research and make informed assessments then write about them. So, take these conclusions as information purposes only and talk this over with your vet.
That said, I feel confident and sure when I saw that cats can not be vegetarian. Cats definitely can not be vegan. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must consume meat to meet their nutritional needs. A cat can’t thrive without meat. The end. There are a million horror stories of cats nearing the brink of death after being fed a vegan diet or whatever. Don’t do it to your cat. And, just as a philosophical aside: If it’s a question of animal rights, well, what about the cat’s right to eat how it evolved to thrive? It seems unethical to restrict a carnivore to a veg diet. The cat should have just as much a right to have his or her needs met as any other animal.
OK, that felt a little soap-box-y, but it’s just true. Cats need meat.
What about dogs? Can dogs be vegetarian or even vegan?
Dogs are like us. They’re omnivores. So while we can thrive on a vegetarian diet, it stands to reason that dogs can, too. However. Their nutritional requirements–like, for just a handful of examples, the calories, calcium, fat, protein, Vitamin B, and a zillion others–are vastly different from ours. It takes a complicated effort to create an adequate vegetarian diet for a dog. Yes, there are commercial vegetarian dog foods, but again: Talk to your vet. Figure out what will meet your dog’s needs.
Better yet: If you want a vegetarian pet, get a vegetarian pet!!! As in, a pet that has evolved to survive and thrive on a vegetarian or even a vegan diet.
The Benefits of a Vegetarian Pet
Furry, feathered, scaly: There’s a vegetarian pet perfect for you and your family!
Why adopt a vegetarian pet? Well, for one thing, they’re often overlooked at animal shelters. Adopters looking for dogs and cats often bypass the cages of bunnies or guinea pigs placed near the front–and they’re almost always there. They deserve good homes, too!
The benefits of a pet in the home, whether big or small, feathered or furred, include lower blood pressure and less stress all around for the human family members. Plus, pets can help kids build their confidence. Imagine your young, struggling reader cuddling up to your family’s iguana to share a story!
Vegetarian pets have the added benefit, obviously, of not consuming meat. That means their impact on the planet–their carbon pawprint–is much smaller than a meat-eating pet. They’re gentler on your wallet, too, since their diets are cheaper, they eat so much less because they’re so much smaller, and you can grow many of the veggies in your own organic garden.
Plus… they’re super cute!
So, if you’re considering adding a vegetarian pet to your family, where to start? Here are seven popular and wonderful vegetarian pets that will bring so much joy and fun to your family!
Top 7 Vegetarian Pets
- Rabbit: These ultra-soft, super-adorable pets have a mistaken identity as a good “starter pet.” In fact, rabbits need a lot of special care and attention, but they’re the perfect companion for the right family. They eat hay, dry food, and veggies, making them a veg-friendly companion. Learn more about rabbit care here.
- Hamster: They don’t get much cuter than a hamster. These adorable little squeakers aren’t great for tiny children, though, because they can bite when startled or handled roughly. However, they make fun pets that can even be clicker trained to perform fun tricks! Read about what it takes to be a hamster family here.
- Guinea pig: If you’re looking for a social animal, a guinea pig might be the perfect companion for you! They need lots of interaction every day and reward you with excited squeaks. Check out more on guinea pig care.
- Iguana: Not for the pet owner with limited space, an iguana can grow five to six feet long. Green and rhinoceros iguanas are strictly vegetarian, consuming vegetation and foliage. They live a long time, so be prepared to commit a couple decades to this veg-friendly lizard. Get the details on iguana care here.
- Mice: OK, truthfully, mice are omnivores. They’ll eat literally anything. However, they prefer fruit, seeds, and grains–eating them 15 to 20 times per day. It’s possible for a pet mouse to thrive on a vegetarian diet filled with variety. Learn more about keeping pet mice here.
- Guppies or mollies: These cute little fish tank friends thrive on a vegetarian diet of plant-based flakes. You can even drop in the occasional treat of lettuce or cucumber. Fish tanks take a little bit of care and attention to keep clean and running smoothly, but it’s worth it for the pretty peace they bring. Learn more about guppies and mollies.
- Parakeets: Sure, birds can eat insects, but parakeets thrive on a vegetarian diet of fresh fruit, veggies, grains, seeds, and parakeet pellets. Do note that parakeets are not vegan pets because the pellets may contain egg. Read all about caring for a pet parakeet.
Bottom line: If you want a vegetarian or vegan pet…
Avoid a dog or cat.
It’s really in their best interest. However, there are so many amazing animals that are naturally vegetarian or vegan that there’s no reason to lament! Many shelters often have these pets, too, and they are unfortunately often overlooked. Plus, there’s nothing more rewarding than giving a homeless animal a loving family!
Need some ideas on what to feed your vegetarian pet? Check out 15 veggies that are safe to share with your dog, too!
Finally, if you want to take this a step further, join our 7-day email challenge where we tackle together one simple eco-friendly swap or change at a time. Small steps add up to huge impact. Join us here!