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The Science and Research on Vegan Dog Food and Its Benefits

As more people embrace plant-based lifestyles for health and environmental reasons, a growing number of dog owners are exploring vegan diets for their furry friends. The question arises: can our canine companions thrive without meat? Recent research suggests that a nutritionally balanced vegan diet may not only be safe for dogs but could also offer significant health benefits. From enhanced longevity to improved digestive health, studies have shown that dogs on plant-based diets often fare better than their meat-eating counterparts. This article delves into the science of vegan dog diets, looking at their effects on health, nutrient absorption, and overall well-being, as well as typical questions about protein sources and palatability.

 

Can dogs be healthy on a vegan diet?

A 2022 study by Dr. Andrew Knight concluded that a meatless diet may be the healthiest choice for dogs. In his study, he compared the perceived health of dogs fed a plant-based diet to that of dogs fed a raw-meat or conventional meat diet. Vegan dogs seemed to fare better and need fewer vet visits than meat-eating dogs, and Dr. Knight stated: “The healthiest and least hazardous dietary choices for dogs are nutritionally sound vegan diets.”
Source: Vegan versus meat-based dog food: Guardian-reported indicators of health | PLOS ONE

Dogs on a vegan diet may also live longer than dogs who eat meat. In a study at the University of Guelph, the researchers found that dogs fed a plant-based diet had a mean lifespan of 14.1 years, while the mean for dogs who consumed meat was 12.6 years.
Source: New study finds vegan diet dogs may live longer | Vet Times

Another study tested if a meat-free diet could keep sled dogs healthy. Twelve Siberian huskies were fed either a meat-free or a meat-based diet for 16 weeks. Both diets were nutritionally balanced. The study found that dogs on the meat-free diet stayed healthy and did not develop anemia, showing that a carefully balanced meat-free diet can be suitable for active dogs.
Source: An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs | British Journal of Nutrition | Cambridge Core

Finally, a very recent study investigated if a commercial plant-based diet can keep dogs healthy over a year. It followed 15 dogs and monitored their clinical, nutritional, and blood health. The results showed that dogs maintained their health and did not experience negative effects while on the plant-based diet, similar to those on a meat-based diet.
Source: Domestic dogs maintain clinical, nutritional, and hematological health outcomes when fed a commercial plant-based diet for a year | PLOS ONE

 

Can dogs digest starches and grains and get all the necessary nutrients from plants?

Research shows that dogs have evolved into omnivores throughout centuries of domestication. They are now fully capable of digesting starches and getting all the nutrients they need from plant sources.
Source: The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet |Nature

A 2017 study Published in the Journal of Animal Science explored the digestion of minerals in dogs fed either animal-based or vegetable-based diets. It found that while both diet types allowed similar mineral absorption for some minerals, dogs consuming the vegetable-based diet showed better absorption of certain key minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and iron compared to those on the animal-based diet.
Source: 227 Apparent and true digestibility of minerals in animal and vegetable ingredient based adult maintenance dog food

In an article titled Plant-based diets for dogs, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, author Dr. Sarah Dodd said:
“Dogs have dietary requirements for energy and essential nutrients, but they do not have a recognized requirement for animal-derived ingredients per se. In accordance with the current understanding of pet nutrition, any diet that meets or exceeds the minimum nutrient requirements of a dog for a specific life stage would be considered nutritionally sufficient for that animal, regardless of ingredients.”
Source: (PDF) Plant-based diets for dogs

 

Are soy and legumes healthy for dogs?

In an article published in Your Dog from Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts veterinary nutritionist Cailin Heinze, VMD, DACVM, said:
“Some people think soy is being used in diets as a cheap, inferior replacement for meat, but that’s not the case. It’s not inferior. Soy is the best quality of the plant proteins […] While some animal proteins are more digestible and usable by dogs, other animal proteins aren’t as good as soy. So having soy protein in a diet doesn’t mean the protein quality is bad, and having meat or other animal protein in a diet doesn’t mean that the protein quality is good.”
Source: Concerns Over Soy in Dog Foods Cause Worry – TuftsYourDog

In December of 2022, the FDA closed an investigation opened in 2018, which was looking into a potential link between certain diets (pet foods that include ingredients like potatoes, peas, lentils, and other legumes) and DCM. This investigation was concluded due to a lack of evidence directly linking the reported cases of DCM to the pet foods consumed by the dogs involved. Additionally, there was a noticeable decline in the number of DCM cases being reported.
Source: FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

 

Is plant-based food good for dogs with allergies?

While humans frequently react to allergens such as gluten, peanuts, and soy, research shows that the most prevalent food allergies in dogs are to animal proteins. A study published in BMC Veterinary Research found that the most prevalent food allergies in dogs living in Australia, Europe, or North America are beef, dairy products, chicken, and wheat.
Source: Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats | BMC Veterinary Research

In another study, 174 companion animal owners completed a survey on their cats’ and dogs’ health after switching to a vegan diet. Thirty-eight of these owners observed their animals’ coats becoming shinier and healthier. Additionally, cats and dogs previously suffering from skin issues like oily or scaly coats showed significant dermatological improvement after adopting a vegan diet.
Source: Vegan Nutrition of Dogs and cats

 

Do dogs like the taste of plant-based food?

A 2021 study surveyed over 4,000 dog and cat owners to evaluate the palatability of vegan versus meat-based pet foods. The study found that vegan diets are generally at least as appealing to dogs and cats as conventional meat or raw meat diets, based on owner-reported behaviors during meal times. The study also concluded that vegan diets do not compromise the welfare of companion animals when their nutritional needs are adequately met.

Source: Vegan versus meat-based pet foods: Owner-reported palatability behaviours and implications for canine and feline welfare | PLOS ONE

 

Conclusion

To sum things up, the growing body of research highlights the potential benefits of vegan diets for dogs, including improved health, longevity, and reduced vet visits! By choosing nutritionally sound vegan options, dog owners can support their pets’ health while also contributing to animal welfare and environmental sustainability, and with advancements in vegan pet food, such as PawCo’s innovative GreenBites, LuxBites™, and InstaBites™, it’s easier than ever for pet owners to ensure their furry friends receive complete and balanced nutrition without animal products.

Embracing a plant-based diet could be a significant step toward a healthier, happier life for your canine companion. As always, remember that it’s important to consult with a veterinarian before any diet change to ensure it’s appropriate for your dog’s specific needs.

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