The vegan diet may seem extreme to many people but it is not about deprivation, and not everyone chooses it for ethical reasons. I ended up vegan quite by accident when, after 40, it became harder and harder to maintain my weight. My mom challenged me to do a 3 day detox cleanse that just happened to be vegan. I felt better than I had in years, dropped 3 pounds and decided to keep going. The weight that had crept up on me all came off, my energy level soared, my skin looked brighter, and I was getting tons of compliments. The best part is, the food I’m eating is delicious and satisfying. I’m still in the early stages, so I’m not a born again, evangelical vegan, trying to convert the masses. I’m just learning, researching, and pinning lots of delicious sounding recipes. One thing that struck me was the question – can my dog be vegan too?
There is a lot of debate over whether dogs need meat to be their healthiest. Recent evidence suggests that as long as they get enough protein and amino acids from other sources, they will thrive on a vegan diet. In fact, dogs that have been placed on this diet on the advice of veterinarians for one reason, like chronic ear infections, have not only resolved the initial problem but also have better breath, a shinier coat, less shedding, and no more dandruff.
Dogs are classified in the order Carnivora, but they have evolved biologically as omnivores, probably because most dogs live on a diet of commercial food pellets, and canned food which is all made with a lot of grain as filler. Their digestive system is able to derive nutrients from many sources, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and animal products. Eliminating the animal products means that you have to make up for that loss of protein by substituting beans, soy, vegetables, and grains. Some vets suggest adding calcium and iron supplements, as well as taurine.
There are commercial pet foods on the market that don’t have animal products in the ingredients. They usually have some synthetic amino acids added and are higher in protein because not all of the protein may be bioavailable.
Other vets suggest that if I feel so strongly about having a vegan pet, I should get a rabbit. Dogs require a lot more protein than humans do, and their requirement also depends on their stage of life. It is a lot easier to provide a dog with all the essential nutrients with food that contains meat. There are some essential fatty acids that are only available in animal products. While some adult dogs do seem to thrive on carefully balanced vegan diets, it’s harder to provide young dogs that are still growing with all the nutrients they need.
Instead of trying to put your dog on a full time vegan diet, you could simply limit the amount of animal products, and make sure that the ones you do feed him are top quality, free range, and organic. It could be that the dogs who recover from health issues on a vegan diet, do so because the quality of the food they are getting is so much better, rather than from eliminating meat. Most commercial dog food is made with animal by-products, things not fit for human consumption. Many vets suspect that a lot of the cancers and degenerative diseases that are showing up more frequently in dogs are a result of poor quality food.
Emily Grant is a volunteer with the ASPCA and reviews training devices for canines, felines and birds. Emily loves to blog about pet health and the best ways to increase your dog’s longevity.