I’d like to preface this blog post with the following disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, nutritionist, dietician, or any kind of expert on canine health. I am, however, a lifelong dog parent who wants only the best for my dogs. Their health is my number one priority when it comes to their care. When it comes to the health of your dog, always consult your veterinarian first if you’re thinking of changing their diet.
I you’ve walked around a pet food aisle of your local pet store lately, or even driven past the increasingly more common gourmet or natural pet food delis, you’ve noticed a trend developing of vegetarian, and even vegan, dog food offerings. But should dogs eat vegan? Is it healthy for them? Will their bodies receive all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need?
Opinions vary depending on who you talk to. I’ve heard of dogs who’ve lived long lives on vegan diets, but, as much as I’ve looked, I haven’t been able to find scientific proof that a vegan diet is better for dogs. I don’t count testimonials, since the health of those dogs is based solely on the owners’ observations. There is also no veterinarian endorsed and conducted study I could find that proves that a positive correlation between health and a vegan diet is due to the food and not to something else. As they say, correlation does not imply causation. Until I’m shown otherwise, I’m going to go with the scientific proof and avoid feeding my dog a vegan, or even vegetarian diet. There’s just too much science out there to back the fact they need at least some meat in their diets. (But if you’ve got scientific proof showing otherwise, let me know; I’m open-minded and willing to consider other viewpoints!)
There’s an informative article on Dognutrition.com called “Vegetarian Diets For Dogs” (vegan diets are discussed too), by David A. Dzanis, D.V.M., Ph.D., DACVN, offering evidence in support of feeding dogs animal-based products. Dr. Dzanis first considers the anatomy and physiology of the dog. Dogs are in the order “Carnivora,” because they descend from wolves, natural carnivores. Today’s more evolved, domesticated dogs could probably be considered omnivores, but they retain the dentition of their wild ancestors. Compared to humans, true omnivores with flatter, wider teeth meant by nature for chewing, dogs retain their sharp incisors, meant for tearing and shredding meat. Their shorter intestinal tracts also mean they’re not designed to eat lots of plant matter (whereas cows, who eat nothing but grasses and grains, have three stomachs). To be healthy dogs need relatively high amounts of calcium and protein (derived from meat and bones), which they can’t get from a plant-based diet.
One reason some might argue for a vegan diet for their dog is to avoid the health problems commonly associated with eating meat, i.e., high cholesterol or coronary heart disease. Incidence of these problems in dogs is extremely low compared to humans, so this isn’t a huge concern, says Dr. Dzanis.
The known nutritional requirements for dogs as developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, also are difficult to combine in one pet food. That task grows even more difficult with a homemade vegan diet. Dogs need calcium and protein in greater amounts than humans, They can get these easily from other animals, but not so easily from plants. Soy has lots of protein, for example, but the amino acids in the protein aren’t as balanced as in animal-derived protein. Dogs also need vitamin B-12, which is not found in most plant-based ingredients. Even if these needs are replaced in foods using additives, the dog may not absorb them properly like they would in they derived the ingredients naturally.
According to Dr. Dzanis, many homemade vegan pet recipes, even those found in books and magazines, are seriously incomplete or unbalanced. There are testimonials and “success stories,” but they have not been shown by scientific testing to meet the nutritional needs of dogs.
One point that I think is not debatable: If your sole reason for wanting to feed your dog a vegan diet is because you want to extend your belief in not eating animals to your pet — in other words, principle and ethics rather than health or necessity — you should think twice before extending your philosophical practices to your dog. Dogs are not humans and have different dietary needs than we do. They also do not have the capacity to think in terms of principle or belief. Their thought process is based on instinct and survival, not principle. They should be fed according to their nature, not against it. If you do decide to feed your dog a vegan diet, please do it because you’ve determined it’s best or their unique dietary needs and that it will make them the healthiest possible dog they can be.
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About the author:
I love animals and always have. I give my two dogs the best care possible, as if they were my children. We adopted one of them from a local dog rescue organization. I also volunteer at an exotic animal sanctuary every week, caring for animals like...