Vegetarian meat has taken the food scene by storm in recent months, showing up in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. Countless brands have rolled out "meatless meat" options. Now vegetarians have the chance to enjoy burgers, sausage, bacon, and a whole host of plant-based meats that are nearly undetectable from the real thing. However, while you enjoy these new options, can dogs eat vegetarian meat too?
Meat substitutes are a good option for humans who are aiming to cut down on the amount of meat in their diet. These plant-based meat alternatives are also a welcome choice for vegetarians who would like to enjoy the taste of a grilled hamburger now and then. However, keep in mind that these foods were designed for humans, and can contain ingredients that are not safe for dogs. Many of these meat substitutes are often highly processed and contain high amounts of fat and sodium, both of which can be dangerous for dogs. Several also have spices such as garlic powder or onion powder, both of which are toxic to dogs.1
Garlic and onions contain thiosulphate, a chemical found in many processed foods. Thiosulphates have a cumulative effect, meaning they will build up in a dog's system even if the pet consumes small amounts over time. Humans have an enzyme to digest thiosulphates. However, dogs do not. In dogs, consumption of thiosulphates can cause damage to red blood cells.2
Red blood cells play a crucial role because they oxygenate tissues. In dogs, garlic and onion consumption can lead to Hemolytic anemia, which causes a decrease in these cells. Ultimately, this can lead to sickness and even death.3
In dogs, toxic doses of garlic and onion can cause enough damage to the red blood cells to make them rupture. The result can be anemia, so it is best to avoid feeding meat alternatives to your canine family member.
It all comes down to the ingredients. While a bite or two of your vegetarian burger might not hurt your dog, you should always read the ingredients listed on the meat substitute.
Even some vegetarian meat options, that do not have onion and garlic, often list cocoa butter in the ingredients. Cocoa butter is toxic to dogs, as it is the fat extracted from the chocolate liquor. The liquor is the liquid that results after grinding cocoa beans. As most dog lovers know, chocolate is an absolute no-no for dogs.
In addition to the high amount of sodium, several plant-based meat products contain some oils (high in fat) listed as the third and fourth ingredients.
The following oils are often listed on plant-based ground beef burgers and plant-based turkey burgers:
- Coconut Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil
- Refined Coconut Oil
- Canola Oil
One company that is producing the vegetarian meat options stated:
"The [product] was created for human consumption, with human nutritional needs in mind. Animals are often sensitive to foods commonly consumed by humans, and these sensitivities vary between species and breeds. As a result, we do not recommend that it be served to pets."4
If you are looking to switch your dog to a plant-based diet, you'll need to do some in-depth research. Keep in mind that dogs need a certain amount of nutrients such as fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that they usually get from meat.
You should consult with your veterinarian and a pet nutritionist to determine the appropriate types and amounts of food and supplements to provide all the necessary nutrients. In the meantime, feel free to check out what other human foods your dog may be able to eat.