Many vegan dog owners will face the dilemma of whether or not their pet should follow a vegan diet. Ideally all vegans want to reduce animal suffering, so it makes sense to avoid feeding pets meat where possible.
But is a vegan diet healthy for dogs? Can they just survive or do they thrive on a vegan diet? And are there any risks involved?
Can dogs survive on a vegan diet?
Dogs require proteins, vitamins, amino acids and fats to survive. All of these can be sourced from both animal and plant-based food.
This suggests that, if a dog eats vegan food which is nutritionally balanced, a dog can be healthy on a vegan diet – a conclusion supported by a University of Winchester study.
In addition, research conducted at Tufts University concluded that ‘most dogs can do quite well on a carefully designed vegan diet that meets all of their nutritional needs’.
Can veganism improve a dog’s health?
Reports suggest some dogs have excellent health on a plant-based diet.
Vegan dog Bramble, a border collie which lived to be 27, or 189 dog years, holds the Guinness Book of World Record for the world’s oldest dog.
Bramble lived on mostly rice, lentils and organic vegetables, and got plenty of exercise every day.
The record-breaking dog’s owner was also a vegan, and usually fed Bramble one large plant-based meal for dinner every day.
In addition, a study on active sled dogs demonstrated a carefully balanced meat-free diet could maintain them appropriately.
What do dogs prefer?
There is an ongoing debate on whether dogs are carnivorous, omnivorous or somewhere in the middle.
Vegan options are available, but dog-owners must consider whether these will equally satisfy their pet.
What are the risks?
Not all vegan dog food is sufficient. A study conducted by American Veterinary Medical Association found approximately 25% of vegan dog diets did not contain vital nutrients needed.
Homemade vegan dog food also comes with risks. A survey of 86 vegetarian dogs in Europe found that approximately 50% were fed with diets deficient in essential nutrients.
Some plant-based ingredients can contain compounds which interfere with the absorption of nutrients, and might negatively affect their health.
Also, dogs on a vegan diet may have a higher potential risk of having alkaline urine, which increases the chances of developing fatal illnesses such as dysuria and hematuria.
Some vegan diets may also lack amino acids usually found in meat called taurine and L-carnitine – which may have a negative impact on a dog’s heart.
For owners who choose to cut meat from their dog’s diet, careful monitoring is advised.
Designing vegan diets for dogs is not the easiest thing to do, says Dr. Cailin Heinze, a veterinary nutritionist at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts.
There are multiple factors to be considered: nutrient balance, digestibility, physiology and bio-availability.
What works for one dog might not work for the other. Whether vegan or not, it is recommended to consult a veterinarian to identify a diet plan that fulfils the specific needs of your dog.
Do you have any experience feeding your dog a vegan diet? Tell us your thoughts in comments below!