Can dogs go vegan ?
Short answer, yes.
A vegan dog… but they descended from wolves, right? Many assume that dogs and wolves have similar metabolisms and that they are these carnivorous predators we managed to tame, using them to guard our cattle and our homes. Granted, dogs as we know them today are direct descendants of the grey wolf, a carnivorous species. However, dogs are omnivores like us: meaning they can thrive on either a vegan or meat-based diet.
Can plants provide sufficient protein for a dog ?
According to the AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials), the minimum dietary need for crude protein contained in dog food should be 18% for adult, non-pregnant dogs. To this day, there is no consensus on the maximum amount. However, much like in the human body, excess protein can’t be stored for later use and needs to be either transformed into something useful (like sugar or fat) or discarded through the urine. This effort of filtering excess protein can cause damage to the kidneys.
It is therefore recommended to pick dog food with a content of 18% to 25% protein to avoid health issues.
Protein sources and protein quality for vegan dogs
Great plant-based protein sources include lentils, beans, soybeans, chickpeas and potatoes. All of which (when cooked) are easily absorbed.
An important factor to take into consideration is the quality and bioavailability of the protein, meaning how much of it can actually be absorbed (and used) by the body. Plant-based protein sources are known to be of higher quality and display a better bioavailability than meat, fish and eggs.
The 10 essential amino acids dogs need to survive can be found in plants. Therefore, a vegan diet can easily provide the adequate amount of protein dogs need to thrive and live a long and healthy life.
Knowing the risks
One shouldn’t take the plunge on a whim and buy the first kibble labeled « vegan dog food » they come across. Prior research is mandatory to find the food that is right for your pet, and seeking the counsel of a trained professional like a veterinarian is highly recommended.
Apart from ready-made kibble, you can also cook vegan food for your dog yourself, however, this would imply having great knowledge on dog nutrition, as well as adding adequate supplements and understanding that no homemade recipe is directly approved by a veterinarian. This being said, many people have fed their vegan dogs homemade plant-based dog food for years and seen amazing results in relieving pain, allergies and slowing down or curing sickness.
However, after finding the right kibble or recipe that will fulfill all of your dog’s dietary needs and won’t present any risk, there is no reason your dog wouldn’t thrive on a plant-based diet. Little to no intolerance to vegan food has been found, apart from dogs not being able to handle large amounts of fibre, though these cases remain extremely rare.
The 3 main reasons you should try the vegan diet for your dog
1. The vegan diet is better for your dog’s health
Once again, the similarities between the way humans and dogs process plant-based foods are numerous, as a vegan diet will prove highly beneficial in terms of health for our four-legged friends. Animal products are known to be the main cause of allergy in dogs, causing indigestion, bloating or itchy skin. Depending on the quality of food you buy, the provenance and quality of the meat, fish and eggs used may vary drastically and you may end up feeding your dog really questionable things.
Meat and fish contain toxins and are carcinogenic, and just like in humans, they can cause severe health conditions like cancer or high cholesterol. An estimation by the Veterinary Cancer Society indicates 1 in 4 dogs will develop cancer at some point, and almost 50% of dogs over age 10 will develop cancer.
2. Saving our planet, one vegan dog food bowl at a time
It is no secret that the animal farming industry causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all of transportation combined, and is the n°1 cause of deforestation in the Amazonian rainforest.
With an estimated 417 million dogs kept as pets worldwide, the way we decide to feed them weighs heavily in the balance, as most of the meat-based dog food available on the market today contains very large amounts of animal by-products. As wonderful as having a dog can be, it shouldn’t mean contributing to global warming needlessly.
3. Friends, not food
There is no reason or justification for us to mandate the suffering and killing of other animals because of the ones we choose to live with. All animals feel and suffer from being exploited and tortured. Feeding your pet other animals is an example of what we call speciesism.
Speciesism: The belief in the intrinsic superiority of the human species over all others, often accompanied by an assumption that human beings are therefore justified in exploiting non-human animals for their own advantage.
We must show compassion to all animals equally, enjoy their presence when they allow us to and treat them like we do all our friends.
Find out what Speciesism actually is from Earthling Ed:
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Vegan for the animals, Milena is a certified vegan nutrition coach currently enjoying a slow and gentle life in France, trying to better understand ethics, behavior and compassion while helping others go vegan.