Can dogs be Vegan? What do scientists say?

This series of blogs looks at the scientific research into whether vegetarian and vegan dog food is healthy for your dog.

This article focuses on a discussion / review paper by W.Y. Brown published in the journal Recent Advances in Animal Nutrition, in 2009. You can download the paper here.

Summary

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The best way to judge a dogs diet is to ask:

  • Does it meet the animals nutritional needs?
  • Is it tasty?
  • Is the dog in good health.

Dogs are omnivorous: their nutritional needs can be met by a plant based diet.

Provided the food is made from good quality, digestible ingredients and the dog enjoys their food, then vegan dog food is a healthy option. Even for very active dogs!

Are dogs carnivores?

Many people assume that dogs are carnivores, that they require meat to live healthily. Many think that in the wild they would only eat meat, implying that vegan dog food would be unhealthy. This is actually not true.

Domestic dogs are part of the same family as the panda, bear, raccoon and weasel. These species range between herbivorous, omnivorous and carnivorous: some don’t eat any meat, some only eat meat and others, like many humans, eat both.

Close relatives to the domestic dog are jackals, which are omnivores. Then there are Coyotes, which are omnivores who are known to able to live solely on fruit and plants if needed.

The most closely related wild animal to dogs is the wolf.

Wolves only eat meat, right?

Due to habitat restriction, wild wolves today live primarily off meat.

However, where wolves are able they will also eat fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and grasses. For example, 28 wolves killed in Greece, over a two year period, found that:

  • 15% of them had eaten grasses and pears
  • 7% had eaten plums, figs and beechnuts
  • 4% had eaten corn and wheat.

wolves eat fruits, vegetables and grains

Also, the majority of animals the wolves ate were farm animals rather than wild animals! So, even with wild wolves, it’s hard to speculate what their diet would be like without habitat restriction and nearby farming.

However, it’s clear that wolves do eat plants as well as other animals.

So are Dogs omnivores?

Basically, yes. As we learned earlier, the family of animals that dogs are grouped with have quite diverse diets. Like wolves, dogs are opportunistic feeders: feral dogs will live predominantly off waste food, and there is little evidence of them “hunting”.

Additionally dogs have omnivore teeth, with big back molars for crushing and grinding: these are part of the mouth of an omnivore but absent from the mouth of an obligate carnivore.

dogs teeth show they are omnivores so vegan dog food is okay

The nutritional requirements of a dog are omnivorous too, for example, a dog can make its own vitamin A and has a lower protein requirement. Dog’s can also get all it’s taurine from plants, which is useful in formulating vegan dog food.

Which vegan sources of protien are suitable for dogs?

Soya, corn and wheat are generally understood to be the best vegan sources of protein for dogs. These are used in the vegan dog food that we sell, as well as most meat dog foods. However, whether or not a protein source is correct for a dog depends on a lot of factors. The most important being how digestible it is, how tasty it is, and the balance of amino acids.

Additionally, different breeds of dog react differently to different sorts of protein, and the quality of the ingredients is important.

Is a vegan diet suitable for active dogs?

Yes, a study with racing huskies has shown that a vegetarian diet is healthy even in dogs running 10km a day. You can read more about this here.

the racing huskies who ate vegan dog food and were still healthy

Are there any health benefits to vegan dog food?

Yes, for example Dalmatians may have a lower chance of urate urolithiasis when eating vegan dog food. This is because it has a lower purine content. The same applies to dogs with portal vascular anomalies.

Is it ethical to feed a dog vegan food?

The biggest issue many people have with feeding dogs a vegan diet is the concern that they are forcing an animal into something unnatural.

As we have seen this discussion, a vegetarian diet for a dog is not necessarily unnatural.

Additionally, the author points out that it is commonplace for farm animals to be fed on cheap and inappropriate food. We impose our belief system on animals all the time! Indeed one could argue that the habitat restriction of wolves amounts to the same thing.

The author states that the best way to judge a dogs diet is to ask if it meets the animals nutritional needs, is sufficiently tasty and check that animal in good health.

You can buy vegan dog food from our web-store!

4 thoughts on “Can dogs be Vegan? What do scientists say?”

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment – what do you consider to be “natural” food for dogs? Can you explain why you think this. Best, Anna

      1. I have read all the articles and find them very good and interesting.
        It would be amazing to reference the sources for some of the information, that you draw upon.
        I keep seeing a lot of dog owners be very dismissive of a vegan diet so any pointers you have would be amazing! My dog eats vegan dog food by the way and it’s been 2 years since she had a bad stomach now. Before it happened all the time and it was awful we went to the vets many times

        1. Hiya, thanks for your comment, I’m glad your doggies tummy is better! We always reference our sources, I agree it’s vital. Can you let me know specifically what you want referencing? In this blog, for example, the paper is linked at the top of the page and can be downloaded. Best, Anna x

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