In the News: Is There Such a Thing as a Vegan Dog?

| 3/10/2011 2:07:33 PM

L.HoltMaybe you enjoy the occasional vegan or vegetarian meal. Perhaps it’s Meatless Monday, or maybe you’re “vegetarian before 6.” Flexitarian, fully vegetarian, vegan, allergy-prone or simply appreciative of the tastes and textures of a meatless meal, everyone has different reasons for choosing not to consume meat and animal products. But can your canine friends make the same choice? It turns out they can.

While cats have evolved to be almost exclusively carnivorous, dogs, like humans, are omnivores. There’s continuing debate on whether it’s appropriate or healthy for dogs to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, but the science indicates that some dogs are actually healthier on a diet of plants. In 2002 a 27-year-old vegan border collie was a contender for the title of world’s oldest living dog, and many dog owners have found their companions to have shinier coats, be more energetic and generally suffer through fewer ailments when on a vegan diet. (On the other hand, the Guinness World Records list the longest-ever-living-dog as 29-year-old Bluey, who lived on a diet of kangaroo and emu.)

Most veterinarians will not recommend a vegan diet for the majority of dogs, but for dogs with food allergies (one cause behind recurring skin allergies) it can be highly beneficial. Without such a medical cause, the vegan-dog diet is generally adopted by vegan and vegetarian dog owners who wish to share their ideology with their canine companions. Beyond the objection to factory farming and slaughterhouse practices, one reason to choose the vegan diet is that, whether you make vegan dog meals at home or purchase vegan dog food products, you are probably giving your furry friend more wholesome, identifiable food than they might otherwise receive. Commercial dog food is often composed of slaughterhouse rejects that are deemed unfit for human consumption—lower-grade meat and meat-byproducts (like beaks, spinal tissue and intestinal tracts) that contain fewer nutrients and are more likely carry disease. Some veterinarians have proposed a link between increased rates of degenerative diseases in domestic animals and the poor quality of meat-based food they receive

Homemade food, like these maple-cinnamon mini-muffins,
can be great vegan treats for your favorite canines.
Photo by Smite Me/ Courtesy

It is important to note that a vegan diet requires extra attention to ensure that all of your dog’s nutritional needs are being met. Supplements added to the food are often necessary to make up for nutrients a dog would usually consume in meat. Additionally, it can be difficult to find or make a vegan or vegetarian meal that a dog will enjoy eating. Several vegan dog owners who have shared their experiences state that their canine companions rejected their first homemade meals. Some adapted new recipes that their dogs now enjoy while others began buying vegan and vegetarian pet foods. (Be wary of pet foods whose primary ingredient is wheat—many dogs have difficulty digesting it.) Kathryn E. Michel, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, “recommends using only commercial pet food that has gone through Association of American Feed Control Officials feeding trials. Or, if you prefer to cook meals from scratch, consult a credentialed expert in dog nutrition to ensure a proper balance of essential nutrients.” 

If you are considering introducing your dog to a meat-free diet, please consult your veterinarian to ensure that you can do so in a healthy manner, and be sure to monitor your dog’s health and happiness closely. If you’re concerned about your dog’s diet but don’t think vegan is the answer, consult your veterinarian and check out The Herb Companion’s Pet Corner for meat-based homemade dog food and treat recipes, as well as herbal help for canine ailments. Some herbs can be a nutritional boost for dogs as well, including parsley, garlic and caraway seeds.

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