One of the thornier questions in veganism is to ask can dogs be vegan too? Can dogs survive on a vegan diet? While some consider it tantamount to animal abuse to make your dog vegan, this article will tell you the best vegan dog food, why your dog can indeed safely transition your dog to a vegan diet, and why it is ethical to do so.
- Are dogs carnivores?
- Are vegan dogs healthy?
- Can Dogs Survive on a Vegan Diet?
- Is feeding a dog a vegan diet ethical?
- “Yeah but it’s not natural to make a dog vegan though.”
- Health risks and benefits of a vegan dog diet
- “What do vegans feed their dogs then, lettuce!?”
- How to Transition to Vegan Dog Food
Are dogs carnivores?
Dogs are weird. Not just in a “I’ll say hello by smelling your genitalia” weird, but in a biological sense too. We know that we’ve been living with wolf-dogs for at least 33,000 yearshttps://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120123152528.htm and for a lot of us, we can’t really imagine life without them. Here in the UK, if you were to say to someone “I’m not a dog person” you’d be greeted with a look of immediate suspicion. And rightly so, for dogs are the best.
As I write this, my dog Luna is lying by me on her back, her belly exposed, legs everywhere, she trusts me not to disembowel her while she sleeps, which, being a vegan, I won’t do. Instead, I will rub her belly, and occasionally blow raspberries on it when no one is watching.
Dogs and Wolves
Usually, when I let Luna out into the yard, she will bolt past me and charge full-pelt to the very top of the garden before resuming her doggy business of smelling things and stuff. Occasionally however I will catch her slinking her way up the garden as quietly as she can, she’s in predator mode. It’s at this point I step outside and clap my hands and scare away the pigeon or squirrel that she’s trying her hardest to catch. Sorry Luna.
Because, ultimately, hard-wired into that little skull of hers is the behavior patterns of a predator, the wolf. Dogs do indeed belong to the order of Carnivora, the classification of animals that capture prey and eat flesh. They have front-facing eyes, canines, and a relatively short digestive tract that indicates a carnivorous history.
So it seems to make sense that because dogs are basically just friendlier wolves we’ve bred into different shapes and sizes, that they’d still have the same diet as their ancestors. Right?
Dogs, Amylase and Carbohydrates
Wrong. The digestive capabilities of dogs differs quite significantly from that of wolves.
It seems that since the beginning, we’ve been sneaking dinner table scraps to our furry friends. In doing so, we began to slowly alter the digestive system of dogs. They began to adapt to our own diets. Over the period of their domestication, dogs gained the ability to metabolize carbohydrates. This allowed them to digest starchy plant foods.
This is due to the enzyme amylase, which is found in the pancreas of dogs, but also the saliva of humanshttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/235375792_The_genomic_signature_of_dog_domestication_reveals_adaptation_to_a_starch-rich_diet.
Amylase enables the breakdown of starch molecules (called maltose) into glucose. This glucose can then be easily absorbed easily by the intestines.
Dogs are genetically different from wolves, then, in regards to their digestion. Specifically, they differ when it comes to the gene responsible for amylase production, AMY2B, which is 28x more active in dogs than in wolveshttps://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsos.160449.
Early wolf-dogs that had more active AMY2B genes could thrive better living alongside us than the wolf-dogs that didn’t. This ability to derive nourishment from carbohydrates, allowed them to survive leaner times when animal protein was scarce and plant foods were used as sustenance.
In being domesticated, the wolf became biologically omnivorous. Incidentally, this is now the excuse I use when I sneak Luna some food I know she definitely shouldn’t be having and get caught by my wife.
Are vegan dogs healthy?
Even though dog biology seems to show they are indeed omnivores, it’s a separate question to ask if a dog can eat vegan and still be healthy. So, is a vegan diet healthy for dogs?
To answer this we need to look at the reasons why people choose to feed their dog a vegan diet. The most being:
- Allergies to animal-based food, particularly skin problems
- Concerns over the high level of carcinogens and quality of animal-based dog food
- Ethical concerns over the welfare and use of animals used as ingredients in dog food
Dog Food and 4D Meat
For many people, the second reason is a serious concern, namely, the quality of the food is simply bad. Most of the popular commercial dog foods will describe the animal content as “meat derivative” or “by-product”. This is an immediate red flag for anyone concerned with what they are feeding their dog. These terms try to mask the low quality of the animal ingredients.
Most dog food is what is left after an animal has been stripped of the parts that we consider edible. These leftovers, the “waste”, are then heavily processed and become commercial feedPet Allergies, Alfred Plechner 1986. A lot of the meat that goes into commercial dog food is condemned as unfit for human consumption and some of it is classed as “4D meat” by the animal industry.
4D meat is that from animals that are diseased, dying, dead or disabled and are immediately processed for use as dog food or other non-human consumptionhttp://www.webcitation.org/6ipEL5YVR.
A lot of dog owners are, therefore, rightly concerned over feeding their pet such low-quality animal protein.
A Vegan Dog Study
Most significantly however is the ethical aspect. In a 2014 studySemp P.-G. Master’s Thesis. Veterinary University of Vienna; Vienna, Austria: 2014. Vegan Nutrition of Dogs and Cats, of 233 owners who fed their pet a vegan diet, 90% of them said they did so due to ethical reasons concerning the welfare and exploitation of animals. The study randomly selected 20 vegan dogs from 174 to be examined by a vet and have blood samples taken. All the dogs had been fed vegan diets for at least six months with an average of nearly 3 years. The study found no health abnormalities in any of the dogs and all were deemed healthy. The dogs showed no deficiency in serum proteins, iron, or b12. Good dogs.
Can Dogs Survive on a Vegan Diet?
Another study in 2009https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19480731 established proof that a dog’s nutritional requirements are met on a plant-based diet even when highly active. Out of 12 Siberian huskies bred for sled racing, 6 of them were fed commercial dog food, and the other 6 fed plant-based dog food. The dogs were fed this for 16 weeks and underwent 10 weeks of their usual racing. In a blind test, a vet found that all the dogs were in fact healthy and no issues were found in blood tests.
PETA’s study, conducted way back in 1994People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Dog health survey. Unpublished. 1994, concluded pretty much the same thing. PETA took a survey of 300 vegetarian and vegan dogs from all over the US and Canada. 65% of the survey were vegan dogs and had been kept on a vegan diet for anywhere from less than 2 years to over 9 years, the average being 5.7 years. The study concluded that 80% of the dogs who had a predominantly vegan diet were deemed to be in good to excellent health which is well within the normal range. The study also found some other interesting bits of info, for example, the less soy a dog ate, the healthier it appeared to be. The data from the study also suggested that the longer a dog is vegan or vegetarian, the better the health of the dog.
Is feeding a dog a vegan diet ethical?
While it should be clear by now that dogs are actually closer to dietary omnivores and they can in fact be healthy on a vegan diet, the question remains, is it right to make your dog vegan?
The problem here is an old one. David Hume the Scottish philosopher identified it as the is-ought problem “A Treatise of Human Nature, by David Hume – Project Gutenberg.” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4705/4705-h/4705-h.htm. That is, it doesn’t necessarily follow (as a matter of pure logic) from the way things are to what they ought to be.
Let me try and focus this on veganism. We know dogs are omnivores. We also know that they’re okay living on vegan diets. So, can you make your dog vegan? Yes. It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that they should be vegan. While, to a vegan, it may seem obvious that if a dog can be vegan, it should be, there are other things we need to consider.
Do dogs need meat?
An important thing to consider is that the dogs are not the ones making this decision, we are, their owners/doggo-parents. We are ultimately changing their diet to align with our ethical code as vegans. I think this is what causes a lot of the resistance you find in the non-vegan community.
Some even consider it animal abuse, which is understandable if you consider most people mistakenly think of dogs as obligate carnivores.
A good distinction we can make here is the “needs” and the “wants” of animals.
A “need” I consider to be interests that are necessary for the survival, health, and quality of an animal’s life. I consider “wants” to be interests that are desirable but by no means necessary for the animal.
Applying this to puppers, we can say that dogs need food, water, and shelter. They also need physical and mental stimulation for quality of life and to thrive. That bit’s easy.
But, do dogs want meat?
What dogs want however is a little harder to define. Dogs can certainly eat vegan food, no problem. But do they want meat? This is a tricky question to answer. The difficulty is compounded by each breed having different temperaments and behaviors.
For example, Luna’s breed, the Plummer Terrier, was originally bred to root out rats in barns and farms, shake the daylights out of them and then bring them to master for a pat on the head. This behaviour manifests itself in her play. She will shake her toys viciously and loves nothing more than to retrieve her ball for me. She takes pleasure in fulfilling this behavior, her “wants” are met.
But do dogs “want” meat? Do dogs feel like they’re missing out by not it? The truth is, I’m not sure, and I don’t think anyone can say for definite. What we can perhaps say though is that the distinction between animal products and plant-based food is probably not a concept dogs fully understand. A dog is unconcerned with the welfare of livestock animals and likewise is probably unconcerned with the biological nature of its dinner, so long as it is tasty.
If a dog enjoys vegan dog food and the food satisfies the nutritional needs of a dog, it’s hard to see how any secondary want is being frustrated.
“Yeah but it’s not natural to make a dog vegan though.”
Another concern some have is that making a dog vegan is not natural. Here, we should examine the concept of “natural” more closely.
I personally feel the concept is a vague one that is difficult to nail down. When we look closely at it, it seems we don’t really know what we mean by the word. The distinction between artificial and natural is more of a continuum than a hard line.
Nonetheless, we all kind of know what we mean by “natural”, as long as we don’t look too closely. Naturalness, however, is not a good hallmark of how “good” something is. There are countless examples of natural things that we would prevent if we could and would prefer not to happen, such as natural disasters or diseases.
Dogs are not “natural” anyway
Let’s just take “natural” in this case to mean that the ancestors of dogs were wild animals and survived by capturing and eating prey. That, to go against this is wrong, in some way.
The problem here is that, as we’ve discussed, dogs are simply no longer wolves and their biology reflects this. The diet of a dog has been dependent on our own for a long time and it’s hard to distinguish where the natural diet begins and ends.
We also don’t seem to be concerned about how natural other aspects of a dog’s life are. For instance, there are many breeds of dog that are in no way “natural”, due to breeding. These breeds wouldn’t survive five minutes in the wild. And yet, we love the great variety of shapes and sizes dogs come in (unhealthy breeds notwithstanding).
It’s also not natural, in the sense we’ve been using, for a dog to enjoy the creature comforts and benefits of domesticity like central heating or a gas fire. It’s not natural for dogs to herd sheep without the intention to attack them or lead the blind around town. It’s also not natural to give a dog a bath, medication, or use a leash.
We have no issue tolerating unnaturalness in these cases because there are benefits to the dog and ourselves. If we want to say it’s wrong for an owner to have a vegan dog on grounds of “naturalness” then we also need to consider many other accepted practices as wrong too.
Health risks and benefits of a vegan dog diet
Hopefully, by now, I’ve convinced you that dogs are fine on vegan diets. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be cautious however.
When transitioning a dog to a vegan diet it is important to monitor their wee for a while. This is because dogs have acidic urine and any change to this may indicate that something is wrong. If a dog’s urine becomes too alkaline it could lead to urinary stones. Ouch.
It’s important to point out here that this is not common. Urinary stones and urinary tract infections are common in certain breeds regardless of diet. However, you can help prevent any issues with 3 steps:
- Encourage your dog to drink plenty of water
- Buy some PH Strips and ensure your dog’s urine is between 5-7. Higher than 7 indicates your dog’s urine has become too alkaline.
- If your dog’s urine is higher than 7, add some UroMAXX to their food to bring it into a normal range. If the problem persists, see your vet.
A benefit of vegan dog food, however, is that it is commonly given to dogs who suffer from skin allergies. Dogs who lick, scratch, and bite can often find relief by switching to vegan dog food. This is because sometimes the dog is actually allergic to the chicken, beef, or other animal protein in their commercial mix.
Anecdotally, vegan dog owners often report their pups to have shinier coats, less arthritic pain, reports of diabetes regression, better weight control, and fewer occurrences of lice and fleas. It’s important to keep level-headed however and understand none of these reports have yet to be proven scientifically. It shouldn’t be doubted though that vegan dogs can, and do, thrive on a plant-based diet.
“What do vegans feed their dogs then, lettuce!?”
A good vegan diet for dogs will be nutrient complete. I recommend first trying your dog on V-Dog vegan dog food which is a kibble. Luna will eat this like it’s going out of fashion. And while she will indeed eat pretty much anything put in front of her, she really does enjoy this which is important. Dogs should enjoy their food.
V-Dog meets all the AAFCO nutritional guidelineshttps://www.aafco.org/ and doesn’t contain any GMO products, soy, wheat, or corn, which some dogs have allergies to. It also contains taurine and l-carnitine which promotes a healthy heart and energy in dogshttps://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/carnitinehttps://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/taurine.
How to Transition to Vegan Dog Food
It is recommended to start your dog on ⅓ vegan dog food transitioning over 10 days to solely vegan kibble. This will allow your dog’s gut flora and digestive system to adapt to the increased fiber.
As for treats, it’s worth trying a few out. Dog’s love sweet potato treats seem to be a safe bet.
Note: While some choose to feed their dog a homemade vegan diet, it is recommended by veterinary experts to use a pre-made vegan kibble or wet-food that meets standards such as the AAFCO’s. This is simply to ensure the dog is getting everything they need to be happy and healthy.
It’s clear from a growing amount of studies that dogs can be vegan. Not only can dogs survive on a vegan diet, but they can thrive on a vegan diet. While they do descent from the wolf, a natural carnivore, they have developed pancreatic amylase in order to benefit from living alongside us and sharing in our plant-based diet. In doing so they have split themselves off from their natural origins and have become omnivorous. In choosing to give your dog vegan dog food you open yourself up to criticism but I hope I have shown the concerns people have are often unfounded and can be answered rationally.
|↑4||Pet Allergies, Alfred Plechner 1986|
|↑6||Semp P.-G. Master’s Thesis. Veterinary University of Vienna; Vienna, Austria: 2014. Vegan Nutrition of Dogs and Cats|
|↑8||People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Dog health survey. Unpublished. 1994|
|↑9||“A Treatise of Human Nature, by David Hume – Project Gutenberg.” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4705/4705-h/4705-h.htm|