Dogs and vegan diets: can it work?

Written by: Louise Calderwood | April 27, 2023

Pets, animal feed

A few years ago, I was out for a walk with my dog ​​Sherman on a late summer day along a quiet road and came across a friend repairing the fortress-like fence around her vegetable garden.

“Groundhog again after the greens?” I asked. “NO!” she replied, clearly agitated: “The damned dog ate my carrots, it’s the second planting I’ve missed this year.”

Are dogs willing to eat vegetables? It turns out that many dogs steal veggies and berries straight from the gardens and can thrive on vegetarian or even vegan diets. This got me thinking: what are the benefits of vegan diets for dogs and what considerations should be made in formulating the diet?

Domestic dogs began their divergence from wolves between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, probably as they began eating more vegetation and adapting to eating morsels from the diets of their human cohorts. Genetic testing of the gut microbiome of dogs that lived about 3,500 years ago in Solarero, Italy, suggests they ate starchy diets. Proteins in the bones of dogs at an archaeological site near Barcelona, ​​Spain, suggest that many were fed grain-based diets, such as millet. Even modern wolves, which clearly prefer animal-based diets, eat some plant materials as they consume the digestive tracts of their prey.

But a vegan diet? It can be done? How can dogs adapt to eating foods so far removed from their preferred meat diet?

While dogs’ dietary requirements of 18% protein and 5% fat can most easily be met by a diet rich in meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products, these basic requirements can also be met by using fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains. In some cases, vets may suggest feeding vegan diets to support dogs suffering from health issues, such as pancreatitis or diagnosed food allergies such as dairy or eggs. Careful supplementation can ensure that the required mix of amino acids, vitamins and minerals is included in the diet to ensure dogs maintain long and active lives.

Since dogs have evolved to eat nutrient-rich diets of animal origin, special care must be taken when formulating vegan diets. In particular, there is a concern about vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin D3, which is required to support a healthy coat and skin and is found only in animal sources. Vegan diets also require careful formulation to avoid deficiencies in the B vitamins, phosphorus, iron, calcium and some essential amino acids, such as taurine and l-carnitine.

The biggest risk of a vegan diet is that it may not provide enough nutrients for healthy dogs.

If owners choose to feed vegan diets to their pets, it is best to do so in close consultation with a veterinarian, as there is currently a lack of reliable data mapping the health consequences of vegan diets fed to many dogs over multiple years. While proponents of vegan diets claim benefits, such as anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve joint pain and reduced calories to promote weight management, there are risks associated with key nutrient deficiencies. Extra monitoring is recommended if diets are being fed to growing puppies or pregnant or lactating dogs.

Pet owners should weigh the environmental benefits of feeding vegan dog foods. Most of the animal-derived ingredients found in dog foods are healthy and nutritious portions of livestock, poultry and fish not normally found on dinner plates in the United States. By using these quality ingredients in pet foods, the total environmental footprint of meat foods is significantly reduced. The water, land and carbon footprint of growing and transporting large quantities of perishable fruit and vegetables has a much larger environmental impact than commonly acknowledged.

In other words, using these animal-derived ingredients in dog diets helps ensure proper nutrition and reduce food waste – a win-win!

As I concluded my visit with my neighbor, I shared that I had a similar problem with Sherman tending my chickens. We laughed at the memory of Sherm “transplanting” some angry chickens back in his feisty puppy days. As I walked away, it occurred to me that I’d never had to fence a dog off a garden plot. Rather, the decidedly carnivorous Sherman keeps the vermin stealing vegetables in my house in check.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *