Can Dogs Be Vegan?
For many dog owners, eating meat is a no-no. As such, many of these very same dog owners wish to feed their dogs a vegetarian, or even vegan, diet.
In the recent decades, as both vegetarianism and veganism have become more widespread, many have wondered if dogs can survive and even thrive on a similar diet. While many may find it to be ethically unsound to supply a meat-free diet to our canine companions, it may not be as taboo as one might thing.
The latest trends in human nutrition are often reflected in the marketing of dog and cat foods. This is probably due to the tendency of many pet owners to anthropomorphize their pets, and to the fact that pet foods must have “human appeal” to induce a dog owner to purchase them. Additionally, the increasing availability of vegan pet foods is likely due to the same ethical reason that these dog owners themselves are vegan.
As such, the increased popularity of veganism among the human populace offers a likely explanation for the increasing popularity of vegan pet foods.
A Vegan Diet For Dogs
There is no doubt that a carefully balanced diet that doesn’t contain an ounce of meat can meet the nutritional requirements of dogs. However, proof of these claims of nutritional adequacy is often lacking. None of the currently available meat-free diets for dogs or cats base their claims of nutritional adequacy on recognized feeding protocols, such as those of the Association of American Feed Control Officials. As such, it is difficult to quantify the vegan diet for a dog.
The domestic dog, or Canis familiaris, is of the class Mammalia, order Carnivora, superfamily Canoidea. As a member of this Carnivora order, many often assume that the dog is carnivorous. Unlike cats, dogs have evolved biologically as omnivores, meaning their systems can derive nutrients from a wide variety of sources, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
"The important thing is that you use a diet that has been shown to be nutritionally adequate for whatever stage of life you're feeding, and it is absolutely possible to find a good quality commercial pet food that doesn't have animal products in it," says veterinarian Kathryn E. Michel, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine.
Getting Protein With Vegan Dog Food
Dogs require a significantly higher daily protein requirement than humans. A vegan diet relies solely on plant protein sources that some people argue have less biologic value than meat protein. Under a vegan nutritional approach, finding protein sources that provide an adequate amount of nutrients such as amino acids in the sufficient ratio can be quite difficult to meet with vegan dog food (but not impossible).
In order to fill nutritional gaps and increase the overall protein level to those that supply all of the essential amino acids, many vegan dog foods require the addition of synthetic amino acids. Overall, it is much, much easier and reliable to supply a dog’s essential nutrients in a food containing both plants and meat. This is not to say that it is not entirely possible, however.
Anita Matheu, dog nutritionist and owner of Mexico City-based Good Boy Dog Food, makes an entirely vegan dog food product as part of her more complete, all-natural lineup of pet foods. While at first skeptical about the feasibility of selling such a product, she has come to find that a dog’s entire spectrum of nutritional needs can indeed be satisfied by a completely vegan diet.
“Many people believe that dogs are true carnivores, and that they absolutely need animal products to have a healthy diet,” says Matheu. “While meat is an easy and plentiful source of protein, there are many ways to replace these sources with plant-based ingredients.”
These results are hardly surprising, when we consider that animals need specific nutrients, not ingredients. “There is no scientific reason why a diet comprised only of plant, mineral, and synthetically-based ingredients cannot be formulated to meet all of the palatability, nutritional, and bioavailability needs of the species for which it is intended,” writes Andrew Knight, a veterinary specialist in animal welfare science, ethics, and law, and a professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Winchester.
“However,” Knight continues, “use of a nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced commercial diet, or a nutritional supplement added to a home-made diet, is essential to avoid nutritional deficiency, and eventually, subsequent disease.”
While most individual dogs and some breeds of dogs will eat most food they are presented with, the palatability of diets devoid of animal ingredients can become an issue with many dogs with more discriminating palates. Notably, many companies promoting veganism in dogs also advertise supplements including flavor enhancers that encourage dogs to eat.
Additionally, also advertised are enzyme powders also advertised to increase the absorption of vital nutrients. The availability of these products implies that palatability and nutrient digestibility can potentially be problems with vegan diets.
“While dogs certainly love the taste of meat, they also go wild for certain all-natural products such as peanuts and coconut oil,” says Matheu. “Beyond improving taste, coconut oil aids in digestion, softens a dog’s coat, and helps lower the risk of many types of skin infections as well as cancer.”
More Reasons For A Vegan Diet For Dogs
Another, if not the most important, reason people choose to feed their dogs an all-vegan diet is the prevalence of artificial and chemical additives in many popular dog food brands. Pet food is not covered by the same labelling requirements as food for humans. "EC permitted additives" covers a multitude of terrible food additions, including 4,000 chemicals and artificial colors banned for human consumption. "Meat and animal derivatives" can cover anything scraped off the slaughterhouse floor, while "derivatives of vegetable origin" is so broad as to include charcoal! No matter one’s belief on vegan pet food, one certainly does not want to feed their pets these ingredients.
Beyond animal rights, there exists another motivation to reduce your pets' meat intake: the wider environmental impact. Last year saw a flurry of headlines following a book which claimed that owning a dog could have twice the environmental impact of driving an SUV. But pets are not the problem – a meat diet is. Today, greenhouse gases from livestock outweigh those from the entire global transport system.
Vegan Dog Diet Conclusion
Overall, the nutritional adequacy of a diet, vegan or otherwise, should be based on the ability of the diet to meet nutritional requirements. Now, more and more numbers of dog owners are feeding their pets vegan diets, and as such, there is a small but steadily growing niche market for vegan pet foods. There are plenty of resources for one to educate oneself on transferring a dog to a vegan diet, and should the trend continue, there will be a vast amount of options to consider when choosing vegan dog food.