Among humans, the recent rise in veganism has been rapid, to say the least. There has been an estimated 600% increase in veganism over the last three years in the US, and other countries also show similar growth.
Many vegan pet owners want their dog to share their lifestyle choices – and this is a trend that’s not gone unnoticed by pet food entrepreneurs. The availability of commercial vegan pet foods has seen a similar spike in growth, making it easier than ever to keep a vegan dog.
But before you switch your dog to a diet free of animal products, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions:
Why are you considering a vegan diet for your dog?
1. Allergies or health issues
There are generally two main reasons that dogs end up on a vegan diet: 1) allergies and health issues, or 2) because of the ethics of their owners.
People may be surprised to hear that dogs can develop sensitivities to some meat proteins.
After fleas, food allergies are the biggest cause of skin allergies in dogs – with the top culprits being beef, dairy, and chicken. These food allergies can also cause serious stomach problems in dogs. Eliminating meat may also be recommended to help clear up a liver disease or kidney stones.
In these cases, a completely vegan diet may not be necessary for your dog. Instead, switching out problematic meats or swapping meat protein for eggs may give your dog a balanced diet.
Pet owners that want their dog to go vegan are usually vegan themselves, and it’s their unwillingness to harm animals that lead them to this decision. Others cite environmental concerns for looking to a vegan diet. The production of meat for pet food has a massive environmental impact and you could be wise to consider your pet’s carbon paw print. If going vegan is for ethical reasons, there options that may help you balance your conscience with your dog’s needs, such as swapping meat for fish, or sourcing sustainably produced pet food.
What do dogs need to thrive?
Unlike cats, who are carnivores, dogs fall into the omnivore category, meaning they can get their nutrients from both plant and animal proteins.
But wanting the best for your dog means you should want them to thrive, not just survive. By removing meat from their diet, you are removing a key source of these nutrients, which you will need to ensure are adequately provided for with plants.
For optimal health, dogs require:
Protein: Can be found in a variety of plant sources, but needs to make up 15-30% of your dog’s diet.
Taurine: An amino acid vital for function. It is found in protein, but not contained in all proteins, so choosing the right source is important.
Vitamin A: Only found in animal products, but dogs can create vitamin A from certain plant sources.
Vitamin D: Unlike humans, dogs do not efficiently create vitamin D from sunlight.
You also need to consider the emotional wellbeing of your dog. Chewing raw bones provides important mental stimulation for your dog – as well as exercising their jaws and improving their dental hygiene.
What are the problems of a vegan diet?
Switching your pet to a plant-based diet is not just as simple as replacing meats with vegetables. For starters, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that dogs shouldn’t eat such as avocado and grapes. And more importantly, your dog needs to consume enough of all the vital nutrients without overeating.
This is especially problematic if feeding your dog homemade food, but even commercial foods can lack the balance that your pup needs.
The key issues to look out for are:
- Inadequate protein
- Amino acid imbalance
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
A switch to a vegan diet should be done in consultation with your vet, who can advise you of any signs that might indicate your dog is not getting everything they need. In the case of a vitamin deficiency or amino acid imbalance, there are supplements that can support your dog’s diet.
Will you be using homemade or commercial dog food?
With more and more commercially-made vegan dog foods available, getting your dog a meat-free meal can be as simple as going to the store. However, you still need to ensure that the product you choose will have the right balance of nutrients and calories for your particular dog and that it complies with standards set by the governing bodies in your country, such as AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).
If you are considering homemade meals for your pooch, careful planning and preparation are key. Providing your dog with everything they need to stay healthy requires an in-depth knowledge of pet nutrition. A veterinary nutritionist can help you put together a meal plan that will help keep your dog in tip-top shape.
Is a vegan diet suitable for your particular dog?
It is generally advised to avoid a vegan diet with puppies, pregnant dogs or dogs that are intended to for breeding. These dogs are more sensitive to complications that may develop from improper nutrition.
Owners of small/toy breeds may also wish to reconsider a vegan diet for their dogs. These breeds have a much faster metabolism than larger dogs and can be prone to hypoglycemia.
Another thing to consider is if this change will fit in with your lifestyle, as there may be additional cost and effort providing a balanced meat-free diet. You will also need to be dedicated to getting regular health checks, including blood tests, to make sure you catch any deficiencies or health issues before they develop. But ultimately, as long as you make your dog’s health the number one priority, it is quite possible you can raise a healthy pet on a meat-free diet.