If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, and you feel strongly about the moral choice you’ve made, then you face a conundrum when it comes to pet food. On the one hand, you may be loath to support the meat industry in any way, including meaty dog foods. On the other, you’re concerned about the implications a vegan diet would have for your dog’s health.
Dogs’ digestive systems don’t work in the same way as humans, and what is healthy for you may not provide your pooch with all the nutrients required.
The good news, according to veterinarian Jennifer Coats, is that dogs can thrive on a vegetarian diet. Cats can’t survive without meat, but a vegetarian diet can work for dogs provided you go about it the right way.
In fact, a well-planned vegan diet for dogs can benefit their health. According to PETA, eliminating meat products from a dog’s diet can reduce the risk of certain illnesses, including cancer and kidney and heart conditions, as it’s reported to do with humans. PETA gives the example of Bramble, a vegan dog who lived to the ripe old age of 27 years (189 in dog years), becoming one of the oldest recorded dogs in history.
(Note: PETA suggests that cats can live on a vegan diet but it is not advisable. Cats are obligate carnivores and need meet to survive. Taking meat out of their diet can cause serious illness, malnutrition and death.)
But is it natural?
Some might argue that feeding your dog vegan food is cruel, since it’s the result of a moral choice made by you; a choice which your dog is incapable of making. Let’s face it, the meat industry and animal rights probably aren’t high on your pup’s list of concerns.
But while it may not be your dog’s choice to eat vegan food, it’s not really his choice to eat premium pet food (dry kibble) either, so the point is moot. Your concern, as a pet guardian, should really be about whether your dog’s getting the required nutrients, rather than whether he agrees with your moral decision, since ultimately he’s just going to wolf down anything you put in front of him anyway. If he doesn’t, then of course that’s a clear sign that something wrong, but chances are that if he’s lost his appetite, it’s not as a result of being fed vegan dog food.
So, about those nutrients …
Your primary concerns when planning a vegan diet for your dog are:
- Protein: 25 grams of protein per 1,000 calories is the recommended protein intake, according to Roxanne Hawn.
- Certain nutrients, namely Vitamin D3 and Taurine, are best obtained through animal products. In both dogs and cats, Taurine deficiency can be fatal.
Dogs are omnivores and are able to derive necessary amino acids such as Taurine from various protein sources. Cats, on the other hand, are incapable of making their own Taurine, which is why they need to eat meat.
Vegetarian and vegan diet options for your dog
Vegan dog food: As it happens, there are certain vegan dog food brands prescribed by vets in the case of food allergies, liver disease and other medical conditions. These products use non-meat protein sources, such as eggs or soy. According to Dr. Jennifer Coats, eggs actually have the highest biological value of all protein sources used in pet foods. So an ovo-vegetarian diet is a better choice for dogs than strict vegan.
Vegetarian pet supplements: These supplements can provide nutritional balance if needed. However, the best nutrients always come through diet as opposed to chemically synthesized supplements.
Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, board-certified veterinary nutritionist and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California, suggests that you follow these guidelines if you want to take your dog down the vegan path:
- Limit your choice to vegan dog food brands that have passed important safety trials. You can find a list of reputable vegan/vegetarian pet food brands in the UK on PETA.
- Schedule regular check-ups for your pet. This includes blood work to ensure their diet is not affecting their health.
- Schedule an appointment with a veterinary nutritionist. Provide details of your pet’s diet, whether it consist of commercial vegan dog food brands or homemade food. They will be able to advise you regarding any potential deficiencies in your proposed diet.
Dogs have unique metabolic processes that you need to consider when choosing a specific diet. The evidence shows that a vegan diet for dogs is doable. However, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian and follow guidelines from dog nutrition specialists.