Have you been considering vegan dog food as an option for your pet?
People are becoming increasingly concerned with the ethical and environmental impact their lifestyle choices have on the planet.
In an effort to be kind to our planet and its inhabitants, some choose to follow a vegan lifestyle. Additionally, many feel that following a vegan diet holds many health benefits.
However, a dilemma arises for vegans who have pets such as dogs and cats (although vegan cats are a topic for another day).
Does feeding your dog foods that seem to be their natural diet (i.e. meat based) justify the animal killing done to make the food?
Let’s have a look at what researchers and veterinary professionals have to say about this topic, to get an accurate and balanced answer.
We will address such questions as: Can dogs be vegan?
How appropriate is it to feed your pooch vegan dog food?
And if your dog can be vegan, what is the best vegan diet for dogs?
Can Dogs be Vegan?
Dogs can be vegan, yes. But the answer to, ‘Should dogs be vegan?’, is not quite as simple.
Dogs are still classified as carnivores.
So how can an animal, whose natural diet is basically meat, survive on a diet that excludes not only meat, but all animal products?
The answer lies in the nutrients that dogs need to survive, as well as a dog’s ability to adapt to its surroundings.
Firstly, let’s have a look at what nutrients dogs actually need in their diet.
Vegan Dog Food – Is it Nutritionally Adequate?
Dogs need adequate amounts of proteins, vitamins, amino acids, and fats to thrive.
It is important to remember, though, that where these nutrients are sourced from is not the issue.
It is the nutrients, not the ingredients, that are important for your dog’s health.
This means that in theory, if your dog eats vegan dog food which meets all of these requirements, your dog should be healthy and happy.
However, the difficulty lies in meeting these requirements with a plant-based diet. In short, a lot of care needs to be taken when putting together a vegan diet for your dog.
Owners who plan on preparing their own homemade vegan food for their pet could be putting their dog at risk of illnesses related to dietary insufficiencies.
This is especially possible if they do not consult with a veterinary nutrition expert to ensure that the diet they have designed is adequate.
Dietary Insufficiency Research
Rice-based foods are often low in taurine.
In the study, cardiac function improved when the dogs were given taurine supplements.
It cannot be denied that your dog’s health is truly at stake if their diet is not nutritionally complete, and feeding your dog a vegan diet does leave more room for error than a traditional meat-based one.
Commercial Vegan Dog Food
Alternatively, there are a number of vegan dog food brands commercially available that have been designed to meet the nutritional needs of dogs.
We will discuss these later in this article.
So, while it is possible for your pooch to get all the required nutrients from vegan dog food, is it a natural diet for dogs?
Does Vegan Dog Food Reflect a Dog’s Natural Diet?
When we look at the physiological makeup of dogs, it does appear that a diet of meat is the most natural.
Aside from the senses, muscular build, and canine teeth needed to catch and kill prey, dogs have shorter digestive tracts and the specific enzymes and intestinal flora required to break down a diet of meat.
Herbivores, on the other hand, have teeth that are suited to grind vegetation rather than slice meat, their digestive tracts are longer, and possess the enzymes and intestinal flora needed to facilitate the digestion of plant matter.
Dogs’ Food Choices
A study published in 2013 found that when dogs are given free choice of foods, they preferred fat above any other macronutrient.
It made up 63% of their diet. Protein was favored next at 30% and coming in last were carbohydrates at 7%.
In fact, their natural dietary preferences were still surprisingly similar to wolves, despite a long history of domestication.
It is still worth noting, however, that the domestication of dogs has had an impact on their dietary needs and preferences.
The domestic dog we know and love today has the biochemical ability to convert maltose to glucose, and to take up glucose from within the intestine.
This allows domesticated dogs to survive on a diet higher in carbohydrates and lower in proteins than their wild relatives.
Recent studies, such as one published in 2013, demonstrate that domesticated dogs have adjusted to eating a starch rich diet.
These results have led some to state that domestic dogs are ‘biologically omnivorous’ despite being in the order of Carnivora. Confused yet?
However, while the domesticated dog has adjusted to get the most out of eating with humans, it still stands that when given the choice, dogs prefer meat.
There is a huge difference between the modern ‘biologically omnivorous’ dog and animals that are natural herbivores.
While with careful planning and research, a diet that reflects the natural macronutrient preferences of dogs can be created with vegan dog food, it takes much effort and human intervention.
It is clear that if dogs are left to their own devices, they would not seek out vegan dog food.
Are There Any Health Benefits of Vegan Dog Food?
If you have been considering feeding your dog a vegan diet, then you may have come across claims that your dog’s health will greatly benefit.
These reported health benefits may be secondary to the ethical reasons behind your decision, or they may be the primary reason you are considering the switch.
But considering that a vegan diet is not natural for dogs, could it really be the case that your dog could benefit from eating this way?
It is important to consider who is making these claims, and how well substantiated they are before you base your decisions on them.
People are very passionate about this topic, so make sure any claims made are based on scientific evidence, not hearsay laced with highly emotive rhetoric.
When researching this topic, it becomes clear that finding unbiased information is difficult.
It is also clear that veterinarians and nutritionists are divided on the topic.
Some veterinarians feed their own dogs a vegan or vegetarian diet, while others are against the practice and claim it is endangering the long-term health of your pet.
Still others take a stance somewhere in between.
What is clear is that more research needs to be done in the long term to determine whether a vegan diet is beneficial or detrimental to a dog’s health.
And it is important to remember that at this stage, a lot of the evidence in favor of a vegan diet for dogs is purely anecdotal.
Just like humans, what works for one dog may not work at all for another.
If you are still curious about the supposed health benefits your dog may derive from a vegan diet, make sure you plan meticulously and introduce dietary changes carefully in consultation with a qualified professional.
Also, monitor the health of your dog closely.
Let’s say you decide to give the vegan dog diet a try. Vegan dog food is available commercially.
Are these products any good? Let’s have a look.
Commercially Available Vegan Dog Food – Is it Good for Your Dog?
If you are considering a vegan diet for your dog, you may be tempted to Google ‘vegan dog recipes’ and make up the food yourself so you know for sure that there are no animal products or added chemicals in the food.
Especially if you are feeding your dog a vegan diet for the first time, it might be a better idea to purchase commercially available organic vegan dog food.
As we have discussed, ensuring a vegan diet meets your dog’s nutritional requirements is no walk in the park.
So, purchasing a product that is tested and certified to meet these requirements is likely a safer option for your pet’s health.
You will find that treats, such as vegan dog bones, are also available.
However, a word of caution is still in order.
Purchasing the cheapest or most readily available brand of vegan dog biscuits will not guarantee your dog is covered nutritionally.
You still need to do your research, and check if you need to include a vegan dog supplement in your pooch’s diet.
Low Taurine Foods
As we discussed earlier in this article, there is a connection between dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy and a diet low in taurine.
The effects on dogs fed commercially available dog foods low in taurine were examined in studies published in 2013.
Often, the dog biscuits lacking sufficient taurine were rice-based.
Interestingly, however, dog foods based on lamb meal (a meat product) were also found to have low taurine levels.
Really, the quality of the food you feed your dog needs to be carefully considered even if it is not plant-based.
Make sure that any claims that the food is ‘nutritionally complete’ are certified according to the standards set by the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.
If the food claims to be a snack, treat, or supplement, it has not met the standards required to consider it a nutritionally complete food.
As such, it should not be relied upon as the main food source for your dog.
While the long-term evidence is scant, and opinions are divided as to whether a vegan diet is harmful or beneficial to your dog’s health, one thing is for sure- people are passionate about this topic.
That being the case, reliable information can be hard to find.
This means making a balanced and well researched decision about what you should feed your dog can be a challenge.
It is important that you sort through the hype and take into consideration the individual needs of your dog.
When deciding what to feed your dog, put your dog’s health first and be objective when assessing how any dietary changes are affecting your pooch.
Do you have any experience with vegan dog food? What are your observations?
Perhaps you have some more questions that were not covered in this post.
Feel free to let us know in the comments section below.
References and Further Reading
- Rothgerber, H., Carnivorous Cats, Vegetarian Dogs, and the Resolution of the Vegetarian’s Dilemma Anthrozoös, 2014
- Phillips, C.J.C., Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals Animals, 2016
- TUFTS Clinical Nutrition Service
- Hewson-Hughes A.K., et al Geometric analysis of macronutrient selection in breeds of the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris Behavioural Ecology, 2013
- Axelsson E.,et al The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet. Nature, 2013
- Torres, C.L., et al Taurine status in normal dogs fed a commercial diet associated with taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 2003
- Fascetti, J.A., Taurine deficiency in dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy: 12 cases (1997–2001) Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2003
- AAFCO Methods for Substantiating Nutritional Adequacy of Dog and Cat Foods