“Dogs, cats and other species have requirements for nutrients, they don’t need meat or any other particular ingredient.”
New research has found that vegan diets are just as healthy for cats and dogs as meat-based pet food.
University of Winchester veterinary professor Andrew Knight said his research shows that plant-based diets carefully formulated with additional synthetic nutrients are just as good or better for dogs and cats when compared to their meat counterparts.
His research, which is yet to be published is part of a larger study around vegan versus meat-based pet foods.
Knight’s findings come at a time when UK health officials have warned pet owners that canines must be fed a “suitable diet” in accordance to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the ones found guilty could be charged a £20,000 fine or jailed for 51 weeks.
While the guidelines do not specifically mention vegan or vegetarian diets, they stress that pet food must “meet all of your dog’s nutritional needs.”
Are vegan dogs at risk of dietary deficiencies?
Justine Shotton is the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA). She said: “We would not recommend feeding a dog a vegan diet as it is much easier to get the balance of nutrients wrong than to get it right, leading to a risk of dietary deficiencies and associated disease.”
However, Knight who begs to differ said plant-based pet food can be both nutritionally equivalent to products containing meat and enjoyable for pets to eat.
He told The Guardian: “Dogs, cats and other species have requirements for nutrients, they don’t need meat or any other particular ingredient. They need the set of nutrients, and provided those are supplied to them in a diet that’s sufficiently tasty that they’re motivated to eat it, and digestible, we’d expect to see them thrive. And that’s what the evidence seems to indicate.
“The claim is animals on vegan diets will necessarily become ill and it’s somehow cruel to maintain them, is contrary to the scientific evidence in this field and is ignorant.”
Several studies apart from Knight’s have also indicated that dogs and cats can ‘thrive’ on a meat-free nutritionally complete diet.
A 2009 study looked at diets of highly exercised dogs to confirm whether they could remain healthy on a meat-free diet.
The 16-week study involved sprint-racing Siberian huskies and included 10 weeks of competitive racing. The dogs on a plant-based diet remained in ‘excellent physical condition’.
Another research led by Knight and published in 2016 concluded: “Such [plant-based] diets have been associated with benefits such as improved coat condition, allergy control, weight control, increased overall health and vitality, arthritis regression, diabetes regression, cataract resolution.”
It also noted ‘decreased incidences of cancer, infections, hypothyroidism and ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice and mites)’.
‘Health, ethics and resource’ benefits
Dr Richard Pitcairn, who has a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and is one of the founders of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy – the first veterinary homeopathy professional organization in the United States – said: “I am an advocate for emphasizing a plant-based diet for dogs and cats for reasons of health, ethics and resource concern.
“Many of the chronic health problems in both dogs and cats are effects of eating other animals which have accumulated many environmental toxins, or that have been given drugs or other substances.
“As well, the accelerated development of “factory farming” has resulted in billions of animals, intended to be killed and eaten, to suffer very miserable lives. This is not acceptable to those of us that care about all animals.”
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