Vegan Dog Food
Dog food recipes tend to mirror human dietary trends, with dog food manufacturers realizing that owners see their dog as part of the family and deserving of the best possible diet. This is demonstrated by the popularity of wet and dry dog foods catering for special diets, such as high protein, low carb, grain free and gluten free. A current foodie trend among humans is veganism, with more and more people opting to eat a meat free diet that excludes all animal products including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. As a result, vegan dog food is becoming more widely available. Vegan dog owners often have a dilemma in deciding whether to feed their dog on a vegan diet too. There is some debate over whether a vegetarian or vegan diet is appropriate for dogs.
Why do some owners prefer vegan dog food?
People usually become vegan for ethical reasons because they disagree with animals being killed for food and are concerned about the welfare and treatment of animals that are raised to produce milk and eggs; or they are concerned with the impact on the planet of raising animals for food. So it is understandable for a vegan to want to choose a cruelty-free dog food that fits with their ethical beliefs.
Many people also switch to a vegan diet for health reasons, believing that a plant based diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds is healthier than one full of animal products. This may be the case for humans, but as a dog’s natural diet is primarily meat based, owners need to be very careful to choose a vegan dog food that is going to provide them with enough of the right kinds of nutrients they need to stay healthy.
In reviews there are plenty of dog owners claiming that since changing to a vegan or vegetarian kibble or canned food their dog is healthier and has more energy. This may be because manufacturers of vegan dog food have to focus on quality ingredients and added nutrients to make sure a dog’s nutritional needs are met.
What are the arguments against feeding dogs a vegan diet?
The main argument against vegan dog food is that many people believe it isn’t right to impose a vegan diet on a dog, as dogs in the wild would naturally eat a diet very high in meat protein and wouldn’t instinctively choose to eat a lot of plant based protein, vegetables or grains. Dog owners who follow the whole prey, ancestral diet model would argue that dogs aren’t physically designed to easily digest fibrous grains and other plant ingredients, and that dogs enjoy eating meat.
Although wild dogs may eat an almost carnivorous diet they do eat some plant ingredients and domestic dogs are actually omnivores. This means that, unlike cats that are obligate carnivores, dogs can get their nutrition from non-animal sources. However, a vegan diet for dogs is considered by many to be a species-inappropriate diet, which people are choosing in order to make themselves feel better rather than for their dog’s benefit.
What are the risks of a dog eating a vegan diet?
Dogs can be healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but owners need to be very careful they do it right so that their dog doesn’t become deficient in essential nutrients and experience serious health issues. The main issue of feeding a dog a vegan diet is ensuring all its nutritional requirements are met by the right balance of plant based proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.
One concern is related to amino acids. Dogs need 22 different amino acids, including taurine and L-carnitine, for optimum health, 12 of which can be synthesized by their body, but 10 of which must come from their diet. Animal proteins are the best dietary sources of amino acids. As all animal ingredients are absent from vegan dog foods, synthetic amino acids need to be added. For instance, taurine is an essential amino acid and dogs can suffer from taurine deficiency. Their bodies can make taurine (unlike cats), but only if they receive the right building blocks from quality protein in their diet. Low taurine over the long term can result in serious medical conditions including taurine-related dilated cardiomyopathy, reproductive issues, growth failures and eye problems.
Vitamins and minerals will also be added, such as vitamins B12 and D, calcium, phosphorus and iron. These are nutrients that are found in animal sources and may be lacking in a vegetarian or vegan diet. For example, unlike humans, dogs are unable to make vitamin D from sunlight on their skin, so they need to get adequate vitamin D from their food. The most readily available form is D3, which comes from fish and animal products, but dogs can use D2 from plant based sources and this is added to vegan dog foods. Vitamin D is needed for the proper absorption of calcium and phosphorus and a deficiency can lead to joint, muscle and bone issues.
Synthetic fatty acids that would usually be supplied by fish oil also need to be included in vegan dog food.
Although chemically synthesized nutritional supplements can be used in a vegan diet to avoid deficiencies, owners need to remember these are replacing the nutrients that would be found naturally in an appropriate meat based dog food.
How to switch to a vegan dog food
Owners who are thinking of switching their dog to a vegan food should give the issue careful consideration. It is a good idea for owners to consult a veterinarian or pet nutritionist to see if a vegan diet is appropriate for their particular dog’s health needs, life stage and lifestyle, and to get recommendations on the best type of vegan food and whether additional supplements are necessary.
Experts don’t usually recommend feeding growing puppies and young dogs on a vegan diet, although vegan puppy food is commercially available. It is advisable for owners to discuss their puppy’s diet with their vet to make sure it provides the right balance of nutrients for optimum health.
When switching a dog from a meat based kibble or wet food, experts recommend that owners introduce the new food gradually in order to make the transition smoother. This can be done by mixing the new vegetarian food with the old meat based food, increasing the vegan portion and decreasing the meat portion over one to two weeks. Some owners like to supplement a commercial vegan dog food with fresh whole or raw foods.
Owners should monitor their pet to make sure their new vegan food agrees with them. All dogs are unique and will respond differently to different recipes. If a dog doesn’t like the taste of a certain recipe, it is a good idea to try a different formula or change to an alternative brand, or even switch back to a meat based recipe if necessary. The key is to make sure a dog on a vegan diet stays healthy and well and receives all the nutrients it needs. Owners should read the label to make sure a recipe meets the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for Maintenance.