When you decide to add a dog to your family unit, there are a lot of additional decisions that need to be made. Where will the dog sleep? Should I consider taking the dog to obedience classes? Perhaps the most important decision to make is what type of diet you will feed your dog. If you're a vegan, you may be asking yourself, “can dogs go vegan?”
The drive to bring dogs back to a more natural, even ancestral way of eating is growing stronger among today’s pet owners, and frankly kibble and canned wet food no longer ‘make the cut.’
Here's what the vets have to say about vegetarian diets for dogs:
“Dogs are opportunistic carnivores, which means they will eat meat when they have the chance or when no other type of food is available. For wild dogs, prey is not guaranteed, so especially in the colder seasons dogs will eat more plants and vegetables as meat is difficult to find. As for pet dogs, they can easily be converted to vegetarians, and if done properly, it is just as healthy as an omnivorous diet is for a dog.” – Dr. John Bauer, Professor of Clinical Nutrition at VetMed [source]
Raw dog food diets are becoming increasingly popular, as are commercially available dry dog food options that are made with all-natural, organic ingredients. But, can dogs go vegan? Let's take a look at the pros and cons of the vegan diet for dogs.
Can Dogs Go Vegan? Ins and Outs of Vegetarian Diet for Dogs
Many owners are turning to a less common dietary option for their dogs – the vegetarian or vegan option. Dog owners have many reasons for feeding their pup a vegetarian diet. These reasons can include ethical beliefs and the desire for the overall health of their pets.
Generally, a vegan or vegetarian diet for dogs remains a subject of heated debates about pet nutritionists, animal scientists and veterinarians. An article related to vegan dogs on a TUFTS University website brings up some great points about the pros and cons of going vegan/vegetarian with dogs, and what pet owners should be aware of.
One thing pet owners often forget about besides nutrition itself is all those other aspects that dogs get from their food and its composition, such as beneficial bacteria and enzymes. Studies have shown the importance of this part of dog food, and many vets have confirmed that we should be taking a closer look at this when feeding dogs.
“Animals that do eat foods like leaves and hay, such as horses, goats, cows, and the giant panda, have bacteria and other microscopic creatures in their intestines that do have the enzyme and these tiny little “friends” are the ones that actually break down the cellulose in their diet, freeing up nutrients for the animal.” – Dr Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN
Still, others are switching to this type of diet due to the allergies or ailments that their dog may be suffering from. When compared to regular commercial dog foods, BARF and general raw dog food diets, while the ingredient list has improved, still contains byproducts and other items that can cause allergic responses in dogs.
Many surmise that the uptick in these allergies (primarily skin allergies), as well as degenerative disease and gastrointestinal issues are all due to the meat-based byproducts in commercially available dog food.
Your pup can be healthy and in reality, can flourish on a vegetarian or vegan diet as long as his nutritional needs are met.
Dogs require a significantly higher daily protein intake than humans do. Diets such as the raw dog food diet often require pet owners to invest in massive quantities of expensive meat to supplement these homemade dog food meals, all based on their dog’s nutritional needs.
But with a vegetarian diet for dogs, there are other items you can give your pet that will help provide protein and other nutrition.
This concept of a vegetarian diet for dogs might seem counterproductive. Surely dogs are carnivores, aren’t they? It’s evidenced by their teeth – they have sufficient teeth for ripping into meat.
So, can dogs go vegan? In reality, biologically speaking dogs are omnivorous. This means that, like humans, their bodies can successfully process both animal and plant nutrition to meet their dietary needs.
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How to feed a vegan diet to your dog
Of course, it is important that the meals you prepare for your dog be easily digestible and palatable. Without the guidance of your veterinarian, putting together a fully balanced vegetarian meal plan can be difficult.
With any dietary change the transition should be gradual so as not to cause intestinal distress. Increasing amounts of the new food should be mixed in with decreasing amounts of the old food, until the new food can be incorporated fully.
Before switching to 100% vegetarian, you may want to consider changing your dog over to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet first. With the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, you are still able to give your dog animal-sourced protein such as eggs – which frankly is one of the best sources of protein for your dog.
If your desire is to go full vegetarian out of the gate, consider a good balance of plant-based protein sources such as beans, quinoa, corn, and whole grains. There are conflicting beliefs concerning the use of soy products.
Some dogs are able to tolerate soy, while others are not able to tolerate it. It is really determined on a dog-by-dog basis. See what works for you and your dog.
Before making a significant dietary switch like this, first consult with your veterinarian.
Your vet can provide assistance on putting together a variety of great vegetarian food choices. They can also provide guidance on other aspects of care surrounding a vegetarian diet, such as dental health.
Commercially available kibble not only provides nutrition for your dog, but its crunchy texture also keeps your dog’s teeth clean naturally. When switching to a vegetarian diet, you will be switching to soft foods and will need to establish an alternative method of keeping your dog’s teeth clean. Your vet can help you in that endeavor.
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Risks of the vegan diet for dogs
When answering the question “can dogs go vegan,” it is important to be aware of the risks involved in feeding your dog a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet. Since many of the associated risks have to do with vitamin deficiencies, it stresses the vital importance of the right balance of foods and nutrients.
Dogs are unable to produce vitamin D in their skin; thus it needs to be included in their diet. The type of vitamin D that is most important to a dog’s health is vitamin D3 (from animal sources), however they can use vitamin D2 (from plant sources) to some extent.
On top of that, there are also risks of other nutrient deficiencies:
“Even though it doesn't need it daily, meat contains essential nutriments for your dog's body, especially if it is growing or if it is being trained for sporting events. At its natural state, a dog could feed on vegetables for a while if there is nothing else available. But if it has the choice, it will always go for the meat.” – Dr Julika Fitzi, DVM at Swiss SPCA [source]
Taurine is another necessary component of canine nutrition. Dogs cannot produce taurine on their own apart from adequate dietary protein. When a dog does not produce enough taurine, a taurine deficiency can occur. Symptoms of this deficiency include:
- enlarged heart
- blood in the urine
- pelvic and abdominal pain
If left untreated, it can lead to cardiac events and death.
So can dogs go vegan and live long and happy on a vegetarian diet? There is still no clear answer, but there are definitely pros and cons to feeding our dogs meat-less diets. Perhaps the best option is to keep variety in your Fido's feeding patterns, and bring the best of both worlds?
Either way, if you are considering a vegetarian diet for your dog, do not forget to consult with your veterinarian first as this kind of a change is not something to be entered into lightly. Once you make the switch, make sure you set up more frequent veterinary appointments to check blood work.
Very few vets can objectively answer your question of “can dogs go vegan?” but ultimately, your vet will want to keep an eye on your dog’s blood work to check for vitamin deficiencies and any other anomalies should you choose to try this approach. Check frequently with your veterinary nutritionist and keep an eye on all the changes.
Your dog's nutritionist can check over your homemade vegetarian diet and make any necessary recommendations for a more balanced diet. Working in tandem and cooperating with your veterinarian from the get-go will ensure that your beloved fur baby is set up for success for the rest of his life.