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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.