So I get asked this question so much, and I figured it was time to write a post on this topic. As you might know by now, I have two pets. One dog and one cat. Every time I post a picture of my boxer dog on Instagram I get an overwhelming amount of comments asking me if I feed my dog a vegan diet, and if I can write a bit more about it since they are considering getting a dog themselves.
When a person is following a vegan diet for ethical reasons it is only natural that they do not wish to support the dog food companies, as they are closely related to the meat industry. The same goes to those who those who question whether or not processed dog food is even healthy at all (I will explain this in a bit)!
But to answer your question, no I am currently not feeding my dog a vegan diet. The only reason for this is because she is not exclusively my dog, so it is not my decision to make! Keep in mind that I just turned 17 years old, and though I sometimes feel like I am a lot older than my age, I still live at home with my parents and sister. We got our dog 3 years ago and since my family is not vegan, they just fed her regular dog food all the time. I am however in the process of convincing my parents to allow me to try out a trial period of about a month, to see if it works well on her. I will add in updates on the bottom of this post when I have seen the result she has had. My reasons for wanting her to eat a vegan diet will be explained throughout this post, and if you have any questions you are free to leave it as a comment below. I am however completely sure that whenever I move out and get my own dog (I will probably get one of my current dog’s puppy), I will certainly feed her a vegan diet.
Dogs have in common with humans that they can thrive on a vegan diet. Even though they are still scientifically classified as an carnivore, the domestic dog is considered to be more of an omnivore. They are not reliant on meat in order to survive. As long as their nutritional needs are met, and they are not under-fed, there should never be any issues with it. This was proven by a popular study, conducted by ARMIDALE scientist Wendy Brown, where they fed two groups of 6 sprint-racing Siberian Huskies a plant vs. meat-based diet.They concluded that hard-working dogs can perform just as well on a meat-free diet as they do on a meat-rich diet.Their results, published earlier this year in the British Journal of Nutrition (Vol 102, pp 1318-1323), add to the evidence that dogs fed an exclusively vegan diet can be just as healthy and happy as their meat-eating opposites.
“But dogs are related to wolves, right?”
Yes they are, but that does not mean that they have the same eating patters. Wolves are predators and carnivores, and they will catch their own prey. You do not see them needing the help of humans in order to feed themselves. When was the last time you saw a dog chase down a elk and devour it raw? I am guessing that is not a normally occurring scenario.
The Ethical Reasons for a Plant Based Dog Diet
In nature I do not find it unethical that a lion kills and eats a gazelle, nor if a dog eats a prey that he has caught himself. Animals do not have that sense of right and wrong, like we humans do. However, as a vegan myself, I find it unethical to support the meat-industry by buying processed dog food that the dogs do not need. I am an opposer of breeding and exploiting animals for food, and buying dog food would go against my beliefs.
By no means am I “pushing” my beliefs onto other species, nor am I trying to “go against nature”. Domestically owned pets have become so far away form nature as humanly possible. They are pampered with medical care, often kept indoors, and even fed human-prepared food! In a way, even keeping a pet at all is going against nature in that sense…
The Health Aspect for a Vegan Dog Diet
The health of your dog is by far the most important factor when changing their diet. One of the main reasons I wish to put my dog on a vegan diet is because her chronic ear and paw infections. She has struggled with severe allergies her entire life and she is always on medication. Often she has to wear a plastic collar, otherwise she will start chewing on her paws or scratching the insides of her ears. We are obviously incredibly concerned for her, and after having exhausted all of our options I am hoping that a diet change will help. I have read several articles and blog posts of people who had the same problems with their dog, and a vegan diet resolved that.
Do not forget that the diets of domesticated cats and dogs are a far cry from the what their ancestors ate. Health problems that our pets today face (which is associated with diet) include:
- Urinary tract disease. Plugs, crystals, and stones are more common in cats eating dry diets, due to the chronic dehydration and highly concentrated urine they cause. “Struvite” stones used to be the most common type in cats, but another more dangerous type, calcium oxalate, has increased and is now tied with struvite. Manipulation of manufactured cat food formulas to increase the acidity of urine has caused the switch. Dogs can also form stones as a result of their diet.
- Kidney disease. Chronic dehydration associated with dry diets may also be a contributing factor in the development of kidney disease and chronic renal failure in older cats. Cats have a low thirst drive; in the wild they would get most of their water from their prey. Cats eating dry food do not drink enough water to make up for the lack of moisture in the food. Cats on dry food diets drink more water, but the total water intake of a cat eating canned food is twice as great.7
- Dental disease. Contrary to the myth propagated by pet food companies, dry food is not good for teeth. Given that the vast majority of pets eat dry food, yet the most common health problem in pets is dental disease, this should be obvious. Humans do not floss with crackers, and dry food does not clean the teeth.
- Obesity. Feeding recommendations or instructions on the packaging are sometimes inflated so that the consumer will end up feeding — and purchasing — more food. Overweight pets are more prone to arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Dry cat food is now considered the cause of feline diabetes; prevention and treatment include switching to a high protein, high moisture, low-carb diet.
- Chronic digestive problems. Chronic vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease are among the most frequent illnesses treated. These are often the result of an allergy or intolerance to pet food ingredients. The market for “limited antigen” or “novel protein” diets is now a multi-million dollar business. These diets were formulated to address the increasing intolerance to commercial foods that pets have developed. Even so, an animal that tends to develop allergies can develop allergies to the new ingredients, too. One twist is the truly “hypoallergenic” food that has had all its proteins artificially chopped into pieces smaller than can be recognized and reacted to by the immune system. Yet there are documented cases of animals becoming allergic to this food, too. It is important to change brands, flavors, and protein sources every few months to prevent problems.
- Bloat. Feeding only one meal per day can cause the irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid, and appears to be associated with gastric dilitation and volvulus (canine bloat). Feeding two or more smaller meals is better.
- Heart disease. An often-fatal heart disease in cats and some dogs is now known to be caused by a deficiency of the amino acid taurine. Blindness is another symptom of taurine deficiency. This deficiency was due to inadequate amounts of taurine in cat food formulas, which in turn had occurred due to decreased amounts of animal proteins and increased reliance on carbohydrates. Cat foods are now supplemented with taurine. New research suggests that some dog breeds are susceptible to the same condition. Supplementing taurine may also be helpful for dogs, but as yet few manufacturers are adding extra taurine to dog food.
- Hyperthyroidism. There is also evidence that hyperthyroidism in cats may be related to diet. This is a relatively new disease that first surfaced in the 1970s. Some experts theorize that excess iodine in commercial cat food is a factor. New research also points to a link between the disease and pop-top cans, and flavors including fish or “giblets.” This is a serious disease, and treatment is expensive.
What does store-bought dog food actually contain?
Usually not meat! Regular dog food mainly contains waste products from the meat industry, which us humans cannot/do not want to eat. Some is even dangerous for humans to consume, which begs the question if it is healthy for our pets at all? Canned dog food can sit on the shelves for months and dried dog food is completely dehydrated, which means that the dogs need to drink a lot of water on the side to meet their needed water intake.
Let me just specify what I mean by waste products or by-products from the meat industry. When cattle, swine, chickens, lambs, or other animals are slaughtered, lean muscle tissue is trimmed away from the carcass for human consumption, along with the few organs that people like to eat, such as tongues and tripe.
However, about 50% of every food animal does not get used in human foods. Whatever remains of the carcass — heads, feet, bones, blood, intestines, lungs, spleens, livers, ligaments, fat trimmings, unborn babies (wtf??), and other parts not generally consumed by humans — is used in pet food.Not to mention the amount of preservatives added, such as:
- Anticaking agents
- Antigelling agents
- Antimicrobial agents
- Color additives
- Curing agents
- Drying agents
- Essential oils
- Flavor enhancers
- Flavoring agents
- Grinding agents
- Leavening agents
- Pelleting agents and binders
- Petroleum derivatives
- pH control agents
If this does not convince you of why you should not be feeding your dog store-bought dog food, I do not know what will!
What dogs can and cannot eat + recipes!
Though my dog currently do not exclusively eat vegan, she often eats left overs and she loves it. She seems to love almost any kind of vegetable, bean and fruit I give her, but some favorites include:
beans (any kind), peas, lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, brown rice, apples, kale, spinach, oatmeal (she is addicted to this stuff).
Basically just try out a lot of different things, and see what your pet prefers. Just make sure to avoid feeding them:
raisins (or other dried fruits), avocado, nutmeg, grapes, garlic, mushrooms, onions, coffee, chocolate (whatever you do, do NOT feed your dog this, they can die).
Just like humans, dogs can have a large bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Perhaps add in a little bit of apples, or chopped vegetables such as cucumber. When making homemade food, the dog should be fed twice a day. One really easy way to feed dogs a vegan diet is to dish up some pinto beans, brown rice, sweet potatoes and vegetables. Make sure they are properly cooked, and that they are chopped up properly. Feed the dog this twice a day, along with some veg-e-dog nutritional powder (better safe than sorry). It might sound like a lot of work, making this twice a day, but in reality this are the kinds of foods that can be made up to a week in advance. Set off a few hours on Sunday to steam up an entire bag of rice, lots of potatoes and beans, and pack it in separate airtight containers in the fridge. The vegetables should be as fresh as possible, and limit the amount of fruit you give them. In case of emergency, always have canned beans at your disposal. This will keep you set at least until next weekend!
I highly recommend using he Veg-E-Dog powdered supplement when making vegan food for your pet. Just like regular dog food is enriched with vitamins and minerals, it is a good suggestion to add this in. The best thing about the powder? Along with it you get a lot of awesome recipes and detailed instructions.
If you want, it is possible to buy commercial vegan dog food and there are several brands that offer this. To mention a few; Nature’s Balance, Evolution Diet, V-dog, Avo Derm, etc.).
I hope that this post has made you consider changing your dog’s diet into a plant-based one, or perhaps given you some ideas when feeding your already vegan pet. If you plan to do so, I recommend you follow this post’s advice! It is written by a veterinarian and she goes over how to change your dog to a vegan diet.
Just as a disclaimer I wanted to mention that cats and dogs are two very different animals, and feeding your cat a vegan diet will be a lot more challenging (but not impossible). They can by all means thrive being fed vegan by you, but catch their own meat on the side. I have not researched vegan cat options as extensively, but you can check out this link. Perhaps I will write a post like this for cats in the future as well!