Are vegan diets healthy for dogs? Everyone knows that proper nutrition is essential to a dog's well-being. Choosing a dog food can be overwhelming, especially when we have to worry about commercial dog food recalls. In fact, many owners choose to feed home-prepared diets so they know exactly what is in the dog food. For some, this means feeding a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Why Feed Your Dog Vegan Food?
You may wish to feed your dog a vegan diet because of your personal ethics. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then you may struggle with the morality of handling animal products for your dog and want to find an alternative.
Your dog may have food allergies that are difficult to manage. Animal protein allergies are relatively common in dogs. You may wish to eliminate meat or even all animal proteins to manage your dog's food allergies.
Many vegans and vegetarians enjoy the health benefits of their diets and want to see if their dogs can benefit too. While dogs do not necessarily experience improvements in health due to vegan or vegetarian diets, they can still thrive on carefully prepared vegan dog food or vegetarian dog food.
Are Vegan Diets Safe for Dogs?
There is much controversy revolving around vegan or diets for dogs. Evolution shows that dogs are related to wolves, and we all know that wolves are carnivores. However, despite the similarity in their DNA, dogs are very different from wolves. Dogs are part of the order Carnivora, but they evolved to become omnivores. Dogs are often called opportunistic scavengers; they can survive on all kinds of foods. Dogs are able to digest and absorb nutrients from plants far better than wolves.
While we know that most dogs thrive on diets consisting of animal proteins, it is still possible to keep your dog healthy on a vegan diet. Vegetarian dog foods are easier to come by and can provide accessible protein from non-meat sources like eggs. Vegan diets are a bit more challenging, but it can be done.
It is important to know that feeding your dog an incomplete, unbalanced diet can lead to malnutrition and life-threatening conditions. Meat-based diets offer many nutrients with minimal effort. To create a complete and balanced vegan diet, it requires the help of an experienced professional.
How to Feed Your Dog a Vegan Diet
One of the biggest mistakes owners make when feeding a vegan or vegetarian diet is not making sure the diet is complete and balanced. Over time, your dog may develop significant health issues if you simply feed a variety of starches, fruits, and vegetables without actually paying attention to the content of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients in the diet. One cannot assume a dog is getting everything needed for health by feeding without a proper recipe.
When considering a vegan or vegetarian diet for your dog, it is essential that you first consult with your veterinarian. Your vet may be able to provide recipes that offer complete and balanced nutrition for your dog. Know that many vets will not recommend vegan diets due to the lack of research on the matter. If you feel strongly about trying a vegan diet and your vet is not open to it, seek out a veterinarian who is. Better yet, find a veterinary nutritionist experienced in vegan diets. It is essential that you find an expert to help you develop a complete and balanced diet that will truly benefit your dog.
If you are not willing or able to take the time to develop recipes and prepare vegan food at home, you may wish to look for a commercial vegan diet. A few websites sell dog food bases, vitamins, and supplements, most of which are free of animal products. This can make it easier to create simple recipes that contain the nutrients your dog needs to thrive.
While feeding your dog vegan food, make sure to visit your vet every six to 12 months for checkups. In the beginning, it might be best to visit the vet every three months for a health check. Your vet may notice subtle changes in your dog's weight and body condition that indicate how well he is doing on the vegan diet. A physical examination at the vet can reveal a lot to the experienced eye. This can allow you to make any necessary adjustments to your dog's diet before major health problems develop.
Cailin R. Heinze. Vegan Dogs – A Healthy Lifestyle Or Going Against Nature? Clinical Nutrition Service At Cummings School, 2020