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Can German Shepherds be Vegan? Is a Vegan Diet Healthy?

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

Veganism in humans and dogs is a controversial topic. You have extremists on either side and a wide range of opinions in between. Feeding your German Shepherd a vegan diet will garner hearty applause from some but resounding condemnation from others. But these are opinions; what are the facts? Can German Shepherds be vegan, and if so, can they stay healthy on a meat-free diet?

German Shepherds can be vegan as they are physically capable of surviving and being healthy on a vegan diet. However, before making the change, consult a specialized veterinary-trained nutritionist. If a vegan diet is appropriate, they will design one that meets all of your dog’s nutritional needs.

Knowing that your German Shepherd can be vegan is only the first step in the journey you will undertake if you decide to pursue a meat-free diet for your dog.

In this article, I’ll provide you with all the information to help you make the right decision. Let’s look at what we’ll cover:

  • Are German Shepherds omnivores?
  • Can a dog be healthy on a vegan diet?
  • Things to consider before switching.
  • Recommended vegan dog foods for German Shepherds.
  • When changing to meat-free may be necessary.
A selection of vegan foods. Can German Shepherds be Vegan? Can German Shepherds be Vegetarian?

So, for an in-depth look at German Shepherd vegan-related topics, read on!

Are German Shepherds Omnivores?

German Shepherds, like all other domestic dogs, fall into the taxonomical order of Carnivora. Despite this, they are actually considered to be omnivores. Four main physiological facts exist that support this idea.

  1. German Shepherds have blunt molars. These are capable of grinding up fibrous plants.
  2. German Shepherds can digest carbohydrates.
  3. German Shepherds are capable of using plant-based essential nutrients and vitamins.
  4. German Shepherds have smaller intestines compared to those of other known omnivores.

The above facts don’t just support German Shepherds’ omnivorous state; they also make your dog capable of surviving on a vegan diet.

Dogs can digest and absorb nutrients such as carbohydrates in cereals, fruit, and legumes due to the concept of epigenetics. This is how the environment can cause changes to how the body works.

Here’s the deal:

During hundreds of years of dog domestication, dogs learned to survive by adapting to human leftovers, including plant-based foods such as carrots, potatoes, and vegetables. Significantly, they have amylase genes which means they can actually digest plant starch.

Can a German Shepherd Be Healthy on a Vegan Diet?

German Shepherds can survive on a vegan diet, but there is a difference between surviving and thriving. So, can German Shepherds be healthy eating only plant-based foods?

What’s the bottom line?

Very little research exists on the benefits and dangers of a vegan diet for dogs. This is because the topic is relatively new. A lack of evidence proving that a meatless diet is bad for dogs is not the same as having evidence demonstrating its benefits. Although, the opposite is also true.

Based on currently available information, i.e., physiology, testimonial evidence, and a small amount of research, yes, technically, German Shepherds can be vegan. There are even quite a few veterinarians who feed their dogs plant-based diets.

However, you have to be extremely cautious when eliminating all meat from your German Shepherd’s diet. Daniella Dos Santos, president of the British Veterinary Association, puts it like this,

“It is theoretically possible to feed a dog a vegetarian diet, but it’s much easier to get it wrong than to get it right.”

Daniella Dos Santos

She goes on to say owners would need the direction of a veterinary-trained nutritionist.

A quick Google search will undoubtedly find you plenty of options, and The American College of Veterinary Nutrition has an online directory of board-certified veterinary nutritionists.

Two healthy German Shepherds playing in a field.

What to Consider Before Changing Your German Shepherd to a Vegan Diet

Understand the Responsibility

If you are looking to change your German Shepherd onto a vegan diet, we assume it is because you are a vegan yourself and have strong personal ethics, or your dog is suffering from a food allergy.

You will undoubtedly have done your research and spoke to a nutritionist or other qualified professional about the safest way to cut out the animal products from your diet before you made the change.

You will need to do the same and more for your German Shepherd. It will take a lot of time and effort, in the beginning especially, because you may have to try many options and combinations before you find one that works.

It may also involve more food preparation than your German Shepherd’s current diet requires. It is also very likely to increase the cost of feeding because specialized dog food is almost always more expensive.

Do you want to know the best veggies for German Shepherds? Check out our video below…

Work With a Professional

Consult a veterinarian and/or canine nutritionist about your decision. They can provide you with the most recent academic research findings and their own professional input and experience.

A qualified person will also need to assess your German Shepherd to see if a vegan diet is appropriate for them. All dogs are different. What works for one might be a poor choice for another.

Your chosen professional nutritionist will also be the person who can carefully design and monitor the effects of the plant-based diet on your German Shepherd. Remember, at this stage, plant-based dog diets are more like an experiment.

Medical Conditions That May Complicate a Vegan Diet

German Shepherds are prone to food intolerances and allergies. Introducing your dog to a new diet may cause a problem, so you need to do this slowly and carefully.

German Shepherds are also prone to bloating. But bloat in a German Shepherd is not the same as bloat in a human. In dogs, bloating is a medical emergency known as Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), in which the stomach can twist and even rupture.

Additionally, there is an interruption of the blood supply to various other organs. GDV quickly leads to toxic shock, and death readily follows if immediate treatment is not received.

Some causes or risk factors for GDV in German Shepherds include eating too much at once, eating foods high in soybean meal, cannot be digested easily, or expanding in the stomach. Such foods are common in a plant-based diet.

Read more: Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat? How to Prevent & Treat

German Shepherds Are Picky Eaters

German Shepherds are fussy eaters, and they may refuse to eat their new meals. It can make the change a frustrating and painful experience for both you and your dog.

Furthermore, they may only consent to eat one or two mouthfuls per meal. Unless you can somehow pack all their essential nutrients into those two mouthfuls (you get nutrient-rich non-vegan foods that make this possible), this can become a health problem.

If you happen to have a fussy eater, check out this article, Are German Shepherds Fussy Eaters? 15 Tips To Get Your Dog Eating.

German Shepherds Can’t Eat Everything a Human Can

Certain foods are okay for humans but toxic for dogs. These include but are not limited to alliums (garlic, onion, shallots, etc.), avocados, macadamia nuts, artificial sweeteners (Xylitol), grapes, and raisins. This means you cannot split your own vegan meals with your German Shepherd.

Read more: What Foods are Poisonous to German Shepherds? Hidden Dangers!

When Should a German Shepherd Not be Vegan?

There are certain life stages or situations where German Shepherds should not be eating vegan. Puppies or those you plan to breed should not be fed a plant-based diet.

Best Vegan Dog Food for German Shepherds

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recommends the following brands that sell vegan dog food:

  • Wild Earth
  • V-Dog
  • Amí
  • Benevo
  • Halo

They also advise slowly adding this new food to your German Shepherd’s current food, so the change-over is gradual.

Wild Earth seems to be one of the top-recommended of most vegan dog foods. They use an ingredient called koji. This is a high-protein wheat fungus, which resembles animal cells more closely than plant cells, thereby acting as a better protein substitute.

Koji also has a savory or meaty taste, making this plant-based food more appetizing to dogs.

Can Dogs Thrive on a Vegan Diet?

The US regulatory body for dog nutrition, The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), has different guidelines for different life stages. After doing a little research into Wild Earth, they chose their food to exceed adult dog nutritional requirements, which conforms with the principle that puppies shouldn’t be fed vegan.

However, the best vegan diet for German Shepherds is one that has been carefully designed and tailored to your dog by a professional.

This diet may include or even be based on vegan dog foods, but it will probably also involve fresh food and specific supplements.

Can German Shepherds be Vegetarian?

German Shepherds can be vegetarian as they are omnivores. Most dogs can eat a vegetarian diet and thrive. Like the stricter vegan diet or home-prepared diet, careful planning with an expert canine nutritionist is essential. This will ensure your dog is receiving the correct nutrition to stay healthy.

Dogs can be vegetarian more easily than vegan because you can replace the meat in their diet with protein-packed eggs and specific amounts of dairy products, provided they aren’t lactose intolerant.  

This means that they can also stay healthy on a vegetarian diet. Veterinarian Jennifer Coates, DVM, from PetMD, says:

“Dogs can eat a vegetarian diet and thrive.”


Vegan Diets Can be a Necessary Change for Your GSD

Food Allergies

According to this recent study, when diagnosing adverse food reactions, you should begin with beef and dairy products, the most commonly recognized food allergens in dogs and cats.

As you can see, a plant-based diet would eliminate the majority of these allergens from your German Shepherd’s diet, which is exactly what is recommended for some dogs who have been diagnosed with a meat allergy.

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are omnivores with the capability of living well on a plant-based diet that has been carefully designed for them. Strict and regular monitoring of their nutrient intake is required because it is more difficult for them to get proteins, minerals, and vitamins from plants.

Not all German Shepherds will successfully make the change. As a breed, they are prone to food allergies and bloat, triggered by grains and legumes, prime sources of essential nutrients in a meat-free diet. They are also fussy eaters, and they may refuse to eat the new food, or they may not eat enough of it to make it a viable option.

Now, close your ears to opinions, whether in favor or against vegan diets in dogs, as many of the arguments used against veganism are half-truths or myths. Learn the facts, consult the professionals, be willing to adjust as you go along, and make the right decision for you and your German Shepherd. Good luck!

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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