Is it OK to make your dog a vegan? That’s what more celebrities and other people are wondering as they embrace a vegan lifestyle for religious, political, health, or other reasons. Some of them want to include their furbabies in specialized food regimens.
If you’re planning to drop animal products from your eating habits, you may be asking, “Can my dog eat this type of diet? After all, aren’t dogs descendants of wolves...don’t they require meat?”
To answer these questions, let’s take a look at 5 facts about vegan dogs you probably didn’t know:
#1 Dogs Can Be Vegan Because They’re Omnivores
You’ve probably seen commercials telling you that dogs are descendants of wolves and need to eat meat. While pooches are closely related to wolves (they’re actually a subspecies of the wolf), they have adapted to domestic life in some important ways.
- Their molars have flat surfaces that allow for grinding both bones and plant fibers.
- They produce more amylase than wolves which makes them more efficient starch digesters.
- Their guts have bacteria that can break down plant material and convert it to essential fatty acids that pups would normally get from meat.
These modifications are part of what lets canines live as omnivores. They can get many vital nutrients from the right combination of vegan-friendly foods. For most pups, it’s still best to provide animal-based proteins, but if your pal requires a plant-based diet for health reasons, talk to your veterinarian about replacement foods.
#2 Vegan Dogs Get Enough Protein From Non-Animal Sources
Dogs require more protein in their diets than humans, and many canines rely on animal products to meet their nutritional requirements. Even on a restricted protein diet, a pup will need at least 10-15% of their daily calories to come from a protein source. That doesn’t mean that Fido can’t be vegan, however. Like their owners, canine companions can use non-animal protein sources like tofu, cooked legumes/beans, and garbanzo beans. The key is to make sure you provide a well-balanced, nutritionally complete diet. Reviews published in Animals and the British Journal of Nutrition support the idea that dogs can be vegans as long as the diet meets all their nutritional needs.
#3 Vegan Dogs May Have Fewer Allergy Problems
Scientists are learning that plant-based diets are not just possible for canines. Pups can experience positive health benefits on these foods. Take allergies, for example. According to Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts, the top food allergens for dogs come from animal proteins like chicken, dairy, egg, and beef. Grain and plant-based food allergies are not as common. This fact is one reason that some people turn to a vegan diet for their pooches. While food allergies can sometimes cause minor rashes and digestive upset, they can also compromise your pup’s immune system over the long haul. Switching to a plant-based diet could help your furry friend find relief from symptoms like itchy skin, rashes, diarrhea, and vomiting.
#4 Vegan Dogs Experience Anti-inflammatory Benefits
Another potential health benefit from vegan diets is reduced inflammation. Like their humans, dogs can suffer from diseases like arthritis as they age. One way to help combat the pain and swelling is to eat foods that can help to reduce inflammation. Plant-based diets score high for anti-inflammatory properties according to the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII). This index is based on a review of 1,900 scientific studies that compared the potential for different foods or food components to cause systemic inflammation. Some items that have a high anti-inflammatory score include:
- Beta carotene - found in orange vegetables like pumpkins, winter squash, Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), and turmeric for dogs
- Flavones - found in red-purple vegetables like eggplant
- Isoflavones - found in the legume soy
- Flavonols - found in some fruits and vegetables like apples, berries, and broccoli
- Vitamin C - found in kiwi, strawberries, citrus fruits, and potatoes
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids - found in flax and chia seeds
#5 Vegan Dogs Can Thrive As Athletes
Early studies on vegetable-based diets in exercising dogs suggested that vegan canines develop severe anemia over time. These studies left concerns about the adequacy of vegan diets in dogs. However, more recent evidence shows that a nutritionally balanced diet will support an athletic pooch. Brown et. al. compared the effects of a balanced plant-based diet with a meat-based diet in a team of racing Siberian Huskies. They found no significant differences in bloodwork between the animals based on their food regimen, and all dogs remained in excellent health. These results suggest that a meat-free diet can provide for the nutritional needs of a performance dog if it’s well-balanced.
Making The Switch
If you’re thinking about switching your pooch to a vegan diet, talk to your veterinarian first. Fido’s doctor can evaluate your pooch and determine if a plant-based regimen is suitable for him. They can also monitor your pal’s health over time. In addition to speaking with your regular vet, we recommend you consult with a veterinary nutritionist. These professionals can help you find a well-balanced diet to satisfy all of your pup’s needs.
About the author:
Dr. Guise, a veterinarian advisor for FluentWoof.com . After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.