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The risks of vegan pet food

TRUTH: feeding a pet a vegetarian or vegan diet can be risky… especially, if you’re unwilling to spend the necessary time researching and properly preparing their diet.

There are serious consequences to feeding pets food that are poisonous to them, or to not giving them all the nutrients they need. To make sure you do it right, you need to be aware of the risks of vegan pet food – then you can avoid the pitfalls.

Nutritional deficiency

The most likely problem is that the food given won’t meet your pets nutritional needs. This is not necessarily the case – it is possible to have a vegan diet that meets your pets needs – but to make that happen you need to put some thought and time into getting the balance right.

The requirements for dogs and cats are different. To learn more about what’s required see the pages on vegan dog food and vegan cat food.

Cats, for example can easily become nutritionally deficient in taurine, B12 or some other micronutrient that is vital for health and wellbeing.

The easiest way to avoid this problem, is to use a commercial vegan pet food that has been designed to include all the nutrition needed. Luckily, there are a growing number of vegetarian and vegan cat food options available to consumers.

Otherwise, vegan pet food supplements can be mixed with a homemade diet, which can majorly help with regulating micronutrient levels.

Inadvertently feeding poisonous ingredients to your pet

Do you know which ingredients a dog or cat can’t eat?

Before you share your people food with your pet, become aware of the ones that can harm animals.

For a quick summary, avoid these:

  • avocado
  • chocolate
  • coffee and caffeine
  • citrus
  • coconut products
  • grapes and raisins
  • nuts
  • onions, garlic & chives
  • salty snack food
  • artificial sweeteners including xylitol
  • yeast dough

Learn more at ASPCA.org

vegan puppy looking at food

Problems with transition to a vegan diet

As with any change to your pets diet, there could be issues arising during the transition stage. When your pet’s stomach is used to a particular type of food, it may need some time to adjust to the change.

Always change your pets diet slowly. Take a couple of weeks to slowly phase out the old food and introduce the new food. Pay careful attention to your pets health during the process.

Urinary stones

Further complications can arise from cats developing stones in their urinary tract as a result of their urine alkalizing, causing blockage, pain and a host of serious problems down the line.

As recommended by Dr. Andrew Knight, it is important to regularly check the acidity of your cat’s urine during the vegan transition and it’s strongly advised to take the transition gradually.  This means that you slowly replace foods in the cat’s existing diet with vegan alternatives.

This will provide enough time for your cat to properly adapt, without becoming seriously ill in the process. There are a variety of options available for checking your cat’s urine pH level, including brands of cat litter that have color indicators or testing a sample with an indicator swab.

Allergies

As with any diet, there is the risk of the pet being allergic to or having a sensitivity to one of the included ingredients. This isn’t something particular to a vegan pet diet, but something to be aware of anyway.

If there is an underlying allergy to an ingredient commonly found in vegan pet food, such as soybeans, this could spark health issues seemingly out of the blue. At the first sign of any complications arising during the transition to a vegan diet, it is important that you get your pet checked by a vet to outline the cause and not speculate.

 

Conclusion

There are certainly potential hazards of transitioning your pet to a vegan diet. The risks can, however, be managed and worked around.

There are also potential benefits that are seemingly very worthwhile, not to mention the benefit of reducing your contribution to the meat and dairy industries.

Provided that you take the necessary care and steps to ensure that your pet transitions to vegan pet food successfully, there seems to be no reason or scientific justification for not feeding your pet a vegan diet.

The risks of vegan pet food can easily be overcome by buying commercial pet food that has quality ingredients in the right balance. To help get you started, we’ve reviewed the best vegan dog food and vegan cat food brands available on Amazon.

healthy vegan dog

Are there health benefits for vegan dogs?

Short answer: Yes! Vegan dogs can benefit from a plant based diet for many of the same reasons humans can.

If you believe that dogs are carnivores, then it leads to the assumption that they must eat meat, and the idea of a vegan diet gets dismissed.

BUT…. it’s not true that dogs are carnivores. They’re actually omnivores. This means they can eat a variety of foods of both plant and animal origin. In fact, dogs can thrive on a vegan diet, as long as the diet is nutritionally adequate and caters for any allergies and specific needs.

As veganism continues to grow at a meteoric rate, more pet owners are considering transitioning their dogs to vegan diets. After changing their own diets, this is often one of the next steps pet owners become interested in to further disconnect from the meat and dairy industries. It is hard to have a clear conscience feeding your pet meat, once you’re aware of what has happened to the non-pet animals that meat came from.

Apart from the ethical issues of changing to a vegan diet for dogs, there are also potential health benefits. Who doesn’t want happier, healthier pets and less trips to the vet?

Potential health benefits for vegan dogs

Just because your dog likes meat doesn’t mean it’s best for it

People wrongly assume that in order to thrive, a dog must be fed a diet that contains animal products.

Yes, dogs like meat and they may often choose it if given options. Similarly, a small child will choose ice cream and chocolate over fruit and vegetables, and we don’t jump to the conclusion that we should therefore give them to kids every meal! Just because your dogs (or kids) like a certain food, doesn’t mean that’s what is best for them.

This false conclusion that dogs must have meat probably comes the ancestry that dogs share with wolves. The assumption is surely encouraged by the pet food industry that profits from the stereotype.  In fact, dogs are omnivorous and don’t need meat to survive.

Reduce risk of diseases linked to meat consumption

There has been a recent increase in the incidence of kidney failure, cancers, and diseases in both cats and dogs, which some claim may be caused by the carcinogenic ingredients found in animal products and, in particular, pet foods containing meat. Reducing animal products in your pets diet can reduce this risk.

A vegan diet for dogs can be beneficial for many of the same reasons a vegan diet can be beneficial for humans.

Benefits commonly reported for dogs on a nutritionally sound vegan diet include:

  • decreased ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice and mites)
  • decreased food intolerance reactions
  • improved coat condition
  • reduced obesity
  • regression in signs of arthritis, diabetes, cataracts, and urogenital disease
  • improved vitality and well being.

Unfortunately, there are very few studies conducted on the topic and, therefore, we do not know the full extent at which dogs can benefit from a vegan diet. If you’re interested in an academic paper that summarizes existing studies on the topic, take a look at “Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals” by Andrew Knight and Madelaine Leitsberger.

Brambles the vegan border-collie dog
Brambles the vegan border collie once held the Guinness World Record for oldest living dog

Inferior quality ingredients

It’s well known that the quality of meat used in dog food is questionable. The cheaper foods often contain inexpensive filler and have little nutritional value.

Traditional commercial dog food uses parts of animals that are deemed unfit for human consumption. This might include old and diseased animals, or the ‘undesirable’ parts of the animal with very high fat content.

In some cases, dog food can contain the meat from other euthanized dogs and cats, which have been obtained from animal shelters.

Vegan dogs might live longer

Vegan dogs may have increased longevity in comparison to their meat-eating counterparts and perhaps improved resistance to common illnesses. Until recently, the Guinness World Record for the oldest living dog was held by Brambles, a vegan border collie, that lived to 27 years old. That’s 189 in dog years!

What are the risks of a vegan diet for dogs?

It would be unfair to claim that owning a vegan dog is without potential risks and it is important that these are taken into consideration.

Transition to a vegan diet

The first potentially problematic issue is the process of transitioning a meat-eating dog onto a strictly vegan diet. This is a transition that needs to be implemented gradually, meaning that initially, you should be mixing the vegan food with food that your dog is already used to. This helps to prevent gastrointestinal disturbances including vomiting and diarrhoea. Some dogs can take longer to properly adapt to a vegan diet and it’s best to be patient.

If you’re noticing any peculiar developments from your dog through introducing vegan foods and eliminating animal products, either increase the ratio of animal product to vegan food or take a trip to the vet to discuss the complication.

happy dog on vegan diet
A plant based diet for dogs needs to be carefully calculated to include all the right micro-nutrients.

Ensuring nutritional requirements are met

The next potential issue lies in ensuring that the diet you’re feeding your dog is nutritionally adequate. This means that the diet contains ample calories and protein in particular, in order to keep your dog both healthy and happy. Additionally, you need to ensure that you’re providing all the right micronutrients.

To ensure you have the right nutrition covered you have 3 options:

  1. Consult your vet for a customized diet plan for your dog that ensures the home-made food you prepare meets your dog’s nutritional needs.
  2. Use a commercially prepared vegan dog food, which has been scientifically tested to provide the right balance of nutrients for dogs. You can read our reviews of commercial vegan dog food here.
  3. Use vegan dog supplements to cover any gaps in the diet you are providing. These are often provided in pill form and may require some encouragement with consuming. One easy solution is to mix them into food or coat them in an appropriate treat. Vegan dog supplements aren’t always necessary, however, it is better to be certain than potentially create problems from a diet lacking in zinc or B12.

When you changed to a vegan diet yourself, you probably took care to ensure your diet was nutritionally sufficient. Take the same care with your dog.

Summary

There is some existing evidence of health benefits for dogs who are provided a vegan diet. These health benefits are somewhat similar to those extended to humans when transitioning from the Standard American Diet to a plant-based diet.

Extra care must be used when attempting to transition a dog to vegan dog food, especially, if they happen to have any allergies or specific requirements. Vegan dogs can thrive just as well if not better than their meat-eating equivalents, though, only with proper care and consideration.

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