I am both a vegan and a dog nutrition author & specialist. I hope this article will go some way to fully explaining this subject and helping you decide what to do in terms of switching a dog to a vegan diet, as I know many of you already are considering.
Dogs have certain biological coping mechanisms that come into play to keep them healthy no matter what type of diet what they are fed (within reason).
Those traits could enabling some dogs to cope with, or appear to cope with, a vegan diet, for a certain amount of time.
But could the vegan diet really be recommended for a lifetime of a dog? Despite kind of wanting to find it, I have struggled to find evidence that puppies can be raised this way and live optimum, healthy, long lives in the same way a dog fed a real food diet, that includes meat, does.
However – this does not have to be the end of the road in terms of feeding a dog a vegan diet.
Many of us have heard about the vegan dog, Bramble, who lived until aged 25.
Unfortunately there are no sources to confirm that Bramble started off a vegan, only that she lived from a certain age as a vegan, it seems her organs were developed and she grew into an adult dog while eating meat proteins. However what I love about her mum is firstly that she had such intense faith in what she was doing (which I believe leads to greater success in anything), and secondly she home–cooked! The home–cooking side of things would have meant Bramble didn’t miss out on the majority of nutritional elements as even the meat-based kibble fed dogs still do. The faith would have meant that Bramble’s mum truly believed her dog would be healthy. The power of Intention and steadfast Belief is well documented as something able to control an outcome.
Are dogs Omnivores?
Whats interesting is that term Omnivore does not really exist for singular animals within a species. It is a term coined by nature biologists to describe whole species, such as Bears. For instance Polar bears are meat eaters, where as Panda bears or Koala bears are plant eaters – but they are both part of the same species. So Bears, as a species, are Omnivores.
The only animal in the Canid species that could be classed as an Omnivore (if biologists did use the term singularly), is a Red Maned Wolf. This tall legged, thin looking Canid has been observed and noted to eat 50 % meat and 50 % plants.
Of course aside from that fresh understanding on what the word omnivore actually means, if us vegans were to use the term Omnivore to define pet dogs diets, they would still need meat. Omnivore is not herbivore.
So where does that leave our us?
Dogs are essentially scavengers and so as mentioned at the beginning it is thought they may have developed a certain amount of biological, physiological capabilities that allow them to cope with not having true meat protein for a certain length of time. That length of time could never be a set rule either! It will always depend on each dog individually with many variables to be considered such as; how is the dogs health otherwise, do they have a strong level of digestive enzymes, or a good level of other nutrients in their body. Even the level of love and appreciation they experience in their lives will influence their health and wellbeing.
A dog’s health ultimately begins in the Gut.
If a dog’s gut system and digestive lining (the epithelial lining) is healthy, so the rest of their body will be. We know more hormones are made in the gut than the brain and even 95 % of the immune system is held in the gut lining. The balance of gut bacteria is paramount and is now a hotly researched topic for scientists, medics and professionals around the world.
There has even been a medically published study showing that adding fermented foods to a diet changes the gut bacteria so much the change challenges ailments better than the strongest antibiotic!
A healthy gut is key to ensuring longevity and health of any creature. As long as we get this right we are going a long way to providing what our pet dogs need, vegan or otherwise!
The two main requirements a creature needs for a healthy gut are; the appropriate food type for their individual gut systems length and biology, and (in my view) more experiences of love and peace in their life, than stressful feelings.
A lack of one of those can lead to digestive issues, gut lining and immune issues – a lack of both is of course worse.
My research and many years doing the work I do has shown me that, whatever diet you decide, your main aim should be for a healthy digestive system over a constantly balanced bowl of food.
You can always look to increase levels of appreciation, peace and love in the household and if you cannot feed the food types that match the dogs gut system, you can at least aim to improve their gut health in other ways.
The pet dog’s digestive biology.
Unlike us the dog has a relatively short digestive tract (4-5 times body length compared to our definitively plant based gut of 10-11 times our body length). Dogs do physically have a digestive tract that is far more like a carnivore. They also benefit from the kinds of bacteria produced when a meat based it is fed. Grain and sugars play total havoc with a dog’s digestive lining and bacteria balance. No matter what else they are fed – avoid those!
Let’s look at the feeding options that are available to dog owners.
Kibble or canned (processed) dog foods with a meat type in it.
This is often the preferred choice of vegans who want to feel like they are feeding the right thing but not look at the meat itself, or handle it.
The issues with this are the following:
> 90 % of kibbles and other processed dog foods globally are made by companies linked with or owned by Nestle or Mars – as vegans we do not want to support such companies!
> Kibbles and other processed dog foods are not Complete! The word complete is used as a labelling, packaging term, the guidelines for the term are weak and do not contain even the Essential Fatty Acids that an adult dog needs, let alone the other pivotal nutritional elements that nourish and secure the health of the dog and its digestive system. (such as probiotics, natural-form nutrients, vital energy source and so much more (as included in my books and webinars))
I believe we have a responsibility to feed everything our pets need for optimum health which goes way beyond simply the nutrients, it’s the elements that make those nutrients useful to the body that the dog really needs!
> Kibbles and other processed dog food use a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure they comply with the Complete packaging/labelling term – these are almost always created using synthetic vitamins and mostly only contain minerals that are rock based not plant based, and so are not useable for the dog once in their body, often not even digestible in the first place.
>The meat content (if you can call it that after the processing it goes through) comes from the same slaughter houses as the meat vegans avoid – but worse this is the waste! Why give these companies the chance to easily get rid of their waste! This helps them stay in profitable business!
Kibble or canned (processed) dog food labelled vegan or vegetarian.
All the above issues – except point 4, but 2 and 3 are often a lot worse in these products!
With this option the dog misses out on meat protein, the nutritional elements for gut health and natural nutrients all in one go.
No matter what food company representatives tell you, there is no way to preserve the things creatures need from nature, once a food is processed they are gone.
You cannot recreate nature.
Ready-made, frozen unprocessed dog food.
The company Natures Menu offer a raw meat style food that you feed simply by counting out frozen cubes. You then let them defrost in a bowl (with a lid on so you don’t have to watch it). Then you can even simply hand the bowl to the dog again without even looking at the contents if you don’t want to do so.
The chicken they use is also all free range (at least under UK guidelines for free range).
This is an option for those who want to do the best in terms of what the dog needs, and can differentiate between themselves and their dog’s needs.
It is also possible to add other things to this dinner, like oats or blended veggies, or even a supplement to boost nutrition. Even to cook it if you wanted to.
If that option doesn’t appeal to you then the next option is the best for you, well and your dog.
Ultimately dogs like any creatures need Real, Actual food – and even more so if the type of protein fed is not 100 % to their species type.
Processed food simply doesn’t make sense in terms of caring for an animal the way vegans aim to do.
Home cooked real food, including vegan proteins.
Using ingredients like quinoa and buckwheat means you can include complete proteins (that contain all 8 essential amino acids).
If you have the time and are prepared to you can create your dog’s diet using these ingredients. Buckwheat is not as easy to come by as quinoa but the dog will need some variety. You then add plants such as blended veggies, herbs and certain fruits.
Veggies must be blended as dogs do not have the cellulose break down enzymes the same way we humans do.
Then you add a supplement, If your based in the UK then Land of Holistic Pets has a fantastic supplements range, as well as Hilton Herbs, Vince the Vet and Diet-Dog UK.
I feel that an older dog you have taken on from a shelter, or other rescue capacity, could survive like this (just as Bramble did) and I also know that some of you will do this anyway, but just be aware that as this way of feeding is perhaps not optimum for a dog, you must be vigilant in making sure they do not suffer health wise as they grow older. Find ways to keep that gut lining healthy.
This day and age there are a vast amount of dogs on poor quality kibbles that in reality suffer a worse fate than home cooked vegan dog could.
As a vegan myself and a dog nutrition specialist I urge you, rather than simply feeding the easy option of processed foods like kibble, please prove to people than a proper complete-protein inclusive home-cooked vegan diet for an adult dog can work,
and show that you care about the animal in your household as much as the animals outside of it.
It is worth putting twice – Ultimately dogs like any creatures need Real, Actual food – and even more so if the type of protein fed is not 100% to their species type.
Processed food simply doesn’t make sense in terms of caring for and caring about an animal the way vegans aim to do.