Vegan Dog Food: Everything You Want To Know

By Jennifer Dempsey / August 7, 2018

Can My Dog Be a Vegan?

Veganism has been around for decades and individuals who have adopted the lifestyle for themselves have often wondered if Fido could also benefit from a meat-free diet.

In short, yes. With a proper, regulated diet and a few added supplements (for home cooked diets), your dog can be vegan and reap the benefits of veganism. In fact, one of the world’s longest-living dogs, Bramble, lived to a healthy 27 years old. She stayed active throughout her entire life and yes, she was a vegan dog.

With that being said, there are quite a few things that pet owners must be aware of before adopting a vegan diet for Fido. It’s certainly not as simple as avoiding meat and calling it a day. Your dog’s body needs an ample amount of nutrients and it is imperative to make sure that they receive the necessary vitamins and support to live a long, healthy life. The transition period alone can be quite extensive. However, if you want your pup to be vegan, it is possible, and we hope to inform our readers exactly how it should be done. Let’s get started!

vegetarian dog food

Differences Between Vegetarian & Vegan Diet

It is important for dog owners to be aware of several facts and details before switching pet food. For some reason, a quick Google search will lead to several articles that use vegetarian dog food and vegan diets interchangeably. While vegetarian diets and vegan diets do have similarities, they also have important differences.

Vegetarian and vegan dog foods both lack meat. However, vegetarian diets can still have animal products such as eggs and milk whereas vegan diets cannot include any animal products. You can see why adopting any plant-based diet but particularly a vegan diet can be challenging… to say the least.

Vegan Dog Food

Luckily, there are quite a lot of vegan-friendly foods that are safe for Fido to enjoy on a vegan diet.

Some of these foods include:

  • Dark, leafy greens (such as spinach)
  • Lentils
  • Rice
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Quinoa
  • Certain types of beans (note: beans can cause flatulence in dogs- use beans sparingly)

dog friendly vegetables

There are commercially prepared vegan dog foods that state they contain all of the necessary nutrients and appropriate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (specifically L-carnitine and taurine) that Fido needs. With that being said, we encourage our readers to make sure they read and understand the labels. It is important to consult with your veterinarian regarding whether or not additional supplements will need to be added to Fido’s vegan food.

Furthermore, it is even more important to consult with your vet if your dog has any pre-existing health conditions. Again, we completely understand that you want what’s best for your dog and switching to a vegan diet may be apart of that want. However, it is imperative that owners make the transition knowing all there is to know about their dog’s dietary needs and how to fulfill them prior to switching from a meat-based diet.

Homemade Vegan Dog Food

If you prefer to prepare homemade vegan dog food there are also a few important details to note. First, always consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to help formulate a complete and balanced homemade diet for your pet, instead of relying on recipes found on the internet. They can also assist with any additional supplements or vitamins that need to be added to the diet.  

Pet owners should make sure that at least 1/3 of the meal consists of high-quality, plant-based protein sources. This is also referred to as the base of the meal. For example, healthy base foods include lentils, oats, sweet potatoes, and soybeans. With that being said, you’ll want to make sure that your dog doesn’t have any allergies to any of the base meals. For example, many dogs have soy allergies that can lead to additional problems down the road.

Meal Base

Many pet owners choose pinto beans as the base of their dog’s vegan diet. Pinto beans are considered to be one of the most non-allergic foods for dogs on a vegan diet. Keeping that in mind, you’ll need to make sure that the beans are cooked completely until they are very soft. The next step is mashing the beans and then adding them to the other vegan ingredients before serving the dish to your dog.

The Remainder of a Homemade Vegan Diet

The remainder of your dog’s vegan diet is just as important as the meal base and should consist of cooked and raw vegetables, whole grains, and additional necessary supplements such as amino and fatty acids. Another beneficial supplement to consider is sea vegetable flakes such as dulse or kelp. Pet owners can sprinkle the supplement on top of their dog’s food for added benefits and nutrients.

Dogs can also benefit from fruits such as bananas, apples, watermelon, and oranges (among others). However, keep in mind that adding fruits can cause digestive upset when added to a high protein meal due to sugar and the different enzymes fruit contains, so it is important to do so slowly and monitor any changes in your dog’s normal digestion.

can dogs eat sweet potatoes

Benefits of Veganism

Comparable to people, dogs can certainly reap the benefits of veganism so long as their diets have an appropriate balance of nutrients and supplements. While dogs are widely perceived as carnivores, they are in fact omnivores. In other words, it is possible for their dietary needs to be met with a plant-based diet.

In fact, the following benefits have been known to accompany a vegan diet:

  • Reduction in allergies
  • Decreased skin issues
  • Weight management 
  • Improving bad breath

Again, these benefits only come if the vegan diet is balanced and fits the dog’s individual needs.

Vegan Food For Dogs: Myth Busting and Fact Checking

There are many myths and misconceptions about veganism. The fact is, veganism itself isn’t “bad” or unhealthy. There is, however, a lack of knowledge about the diet and an overall health concern when it comes to not knowing how to prepare a well-balanced, nutritionally complete vegan diet. Let’s take a quick look at some of these myths and explain why certain thinking may not be entirely accurate.

Dogs Need Meat to Survive

This actually isn’t exactly the case. The media does a fair job of convincing us that wolves and dogs are closely related, however, this doesn’t mean their similarities are identical. Dogs have been evolving for over 10,000 years. Domesticated dogs have changed enough and have adopted a different genetic component that has allowed them to make good nutritional use of plant-based foods.

Note: Cats are strict carnivores and require meat in their diets, so vegan or vegetarian diets are not recommended in our feline friends.

Meat = Protein

It is true that dogs need protein for survival. However, the protein source does not need to come from meat. In fact, there are many food sources that are safe for our four-legged friends that contain no meat at all. For example, pinto beans and peas contain high protein levels.

A Vegan Dog Isn’t a Healthy Dog

This is potentially one of the largest misconceptions about the vegan diet. Vegan dogs can be just as healthy as meat-eating dogs so long as their nutrient intake is closely monitored. Just because you’re feeding your dog a meat-based diet doesn’t ensure their health, just like feeding Fido plant-based foods doesn’t mean their health will decline. A well-balanced, nutritionally sound diet is imperative regardless of what diet you implement.

Vets Believe Vegan Diets are Unhealthy

This is also a myth. Veterinarians have opinions. Of course, their opinions involve medical studies and observations. Just as doctors will have their own opinions about whether their patients should choose certain lifestyle habits, veterinarians can also have varying opinions. If your vet doesn’t agree with a vegan diet, it doesn’t mean veganism is bad. However, hear them out on why they wouldn’t choose a vegan diet for your dog. Does your dog have health issues? Are they underweight or have pre-existing ailments? We hate to sound like a broken record, but do your homework! Understand why your vet may have a certain opinion and then proceed accordingly.

Veganism is Animal Cruelty

We really don’t understand why this is such a talked about topic. However, it is, so we feel we must discuss it. Veganism is in no way, shape, or form animal cruelty. Many pet owners adopt a vegan lifestyle for their own specific reason, be it cultural, religious, etc. These individuals are certainly not being evil pet owners and we need to work to get rid of that unfortunate misconception.  

vegan dog

Risks of Veganism for Dogs

We’ve touched on the fact that there are risks that come with both a vegan and vegetarian diet. Anytime Fido isn’t receiving the nutritional requirements their body needs, things can get scary… quickly. Here are a few risks that pet owners should be aware of.

Inadequate Total Protein Intake

Dogs who receive less than the 25 grams of protein per 1,000 calories recommended are considered to have an inadequate total protein intake. This is of particular concern in home cooked diets. 

Imbalance of the certain amino and fatty acids

Vegan diets can be deficient in fatty acids and amino acids, particularly taurine and L-carnitine.

Vitamin Deficiency

Particularly vitamins such as:

  • B vitamins
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Iron

These vitamins are typically obtained through meat or other animal products. Therefore, if your dog is vegetarian or vegan, it is common for them to lack these nutrients.

The largest concern about deficiencies in the dog’s diet is the irreversible health effects that they can have on the pet. Dietary problems can directly lead to very serious medical issues. For example, taurine deficiencies can lead to taurine-related dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that involves an enlarged heart with weak contractions and poor pumping ability. Additionally, low taurine levels can cause reproductive problems and failures, growth failures, and eye conditions.

For this reason (among many others) it is incredibly important to consult with a veterinarian and ensure that your pup is getting the necessary nutrition from their vegan diet. Again, nutritional deficiencies can cause many irreversible effects.

Vegan Dog Guidelines

According to experts in the field, the following are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to integrating a vegan diet.

  • DON’T feed vegan or vegetarian diets to puppies. Also, do not feed vegan or vegetarian diets to dogs you plan to breed. These animals need the full nutritional support of a species-appropriate, meat diet.
  • ONLY feed commercial vegan and vegetarian diets that have gone through feeding trials. These diets must meet the requirements for AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) compliance.
  • DO consult with a veterinary nutritionist in order to make sure that the vegan or vegetarian diet fulfills the necessary requirements for your dog’s lifestyle.
  • DO schedule more frequent visits to your veterinarian for blood exams and physicals to ensure that your pup is staying strong and healthy.

Stay Alert and Aware of Changes

Honestly, this might be one of the most important rules in our guideline book. It is so critical to know your dog’s “normal” and act appropriately if that normal changes. Be aware of things like their overall energy levels and demeanor. Dogs are notorious for hiding pain. It is imperative for pet owners to be hyper aware in order to recognize when something might be off with Fido, particularly when making a big lifestyle change.

How to Begin a Vegan Dog Food Diet

First and foremost, if you want your dog to adopt a vegan diet, it’s best and easiest to begin early on in their life. With that being said, newborn puppies should not have a vegan diet as they need their mother’s milk and proteins to develop healthy immune support. When you choose to adopt a vegan diet, be sure that your dog is getting enough non-meat protein, l-carnitine, and taurine in their diet. You may have to purchase l-carnitine and taurine in supplement form at the health food store and mix it into their food source. It is also imperative for pet owners to do their homework on foods that dogs can and cannot eat. The last thing you want to do is accidentally harm your pup in the process of trying to improve their health.

Slow and Steady

Additionally, anytime you change your dog’s diet you’ll want to do so slowly. Rushing the process can lead to a very upset stomach and resistance to the new food. Switching to a vegan diet is no different. Patience is key. Slowly begin integrating the vegan food into your dog’s current meat-based food. Again, there is no reason to rush the process. If you switch food sources too quickly it will likely lead to vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Trust us. This is not the encouragement that your four-legged friends need. Slowly but surely replace your dog’s current food with the new vegan food until there is no meat left in their food (this should typically take a few weeks).

Luckily, most dogs will eat just about anything (even things they shouldn’t), but if your dog is resistant to the new food, you can try adding olive oil, nutritional yeast, soy milk, baby food without meat, and powdered kelp. Also, warming the food up can make the new meal even more enticing.

Additional Supplements

Again, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are unfortunately common when it comes to vegan diets. It is imperative that pet owners ensure their dog is receiving the necessary nutrients that their bodies need. Many times this will mean implementing additional supplements such as amino acids, L-carnitine and taurine, and others when necessary. Consult with your vet regarding what your individual pup needs in order to ensure their health and well-being.

Vegan Dog Food: The Bottom Line

Pet parents may choose a vegan or vegetarian diet for their dogs for a number of reasons. From varying beliefs and backgrounds, health choices, or political, environmental, cultural, and religious ideals, whatever you choose for your individual pup is entirely your decision.

With that being said, if you decide to switch your dog’s food to a plant-based diet, it’s important to be sure that is nutritionally whole and complete and also includes the right supplements. Remember, while vegan diets can drastically improve your dog’s energy levels, health, and temperament, it is also easier for your dog to not receive all of the necessary nutrients that they absolutely need.

As always, we encourage our readers to do their research and always consult with a veterinarian to ensure that Fido’s diet isn’t lacking in any way. A vegan diet has the potential to do a world of good for your dog but can also end up harming them if not executed very, very carefully.

Sources

https://simplewag.com/vegan-dog-food/

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/people-foods-avoid-feeding-your-pets

https://www.peta.org/living/companion-animals/vegetarian-cats-dogs/

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/vegetarian-dog-lives-to-189-years.html

 

About the author

Jennifer Dempsey

Dr. Jennifer Dempsey is a small animal veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Central Florida and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida (Go Gators!) She has resided in the Orlando area since graduation and has gained years of experience helping cats and dogs live happier and longer lives. As a general practitioner, she has found client education to be one of the most important aspects of day to day life in veterinary medicine. Medical writing has helped her to connect with a larger audience and make sure that pet owners are fully aware of their loved one’s medical condition. She currently shares her home with two rescued mixed breed dogs named Primo and Morgan.


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