At Climate Pets, we’re all about exploring new ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our dogs and cats, but never compromising on their health. In a recent blog article, we discussed the merits of feeding dogs and cats on an insect-based diet. Today, we’re taking a look at another alternative – vegan dog food!
Why are we even talking about vegan dog food? As we’ve discussed in other posts, we need to take action for our planet – today! One of the most important ways of doing this is fixing a food system that puts huge pressure on the environment and ecosystem. The widespread use of factory farming and monocrop cultures in the recent past has taken its toll on our beautiful planet. It’s causing huge issues such as the erosion of topsoil, deforestation as huge swathes of land are used for pasture or growing animal feed, as well as mass suffering for billions of animals every year. What’s more, animals such as cows produce significant quantities of methane – an extremely dangerous greenhouse gas – that is quickening the rate of global warming.
But it’s not too late to change! Among the various forms of action we can all take is to reduce our reliance on animal based products, from meat to milk. But, can we do the same for our dear dogs? Is vegan dog food a possibility for our four-legged friends?
Is vegan dog food species-appropriate?
If you’re a conscientious dog owner, you likely have some pretty important questions. Very often, we hear questions such as: ‘Is a vegan or vegetarian diet is appropriate nutritionally for dogs?’ ‘Will their health suffer?’ ‘Is vegan dog food really natural or normal?’ These are all great questions!
Let’s start by taking a look back in time. As we know, dogs are descended from species of wolves which were domesticated over thousands of years by humans. Today, we still like to see the ‘wolf in the dog’ and this contributes to the sense that dogs must have a meat-heavy diet.
But it’s a common misconception popularised in folklore and stories that wolves are committed carnivores – always stealing the sheep from the flock! As it turns out, wolves didn’t just eat meat. They ate loads of berries, grains and nuts. In fact, nutritionists have calculated that about 40% of a wolf’s natural diet is plant-based.
And the dogs we live alongside today have changed further still. Over the course of this epic process of domestication, dogs have usually been fed omnivorous diets, and across most parts of the world, they continue to consume far less meat than is typically consumed today due to our sachet and canned pet food culture. In fact, even in the UK, you don’t have to go back more than a few decades to find that many dogs were just served whatever scraps were left at the end of a family meal.
It’s also worth mentioning that millions of dogs live outside of human care and homes. These dogs fend for themselves, surviving on what they can find. They’re not dining on the juiciest bones, but a whole mix of scraps found wherever possible. Though not necessarily the most nutritionally dense diet, dogs are resilient creatures and these scavenged suppers usually do the trick!
How healthy are dogs that are fed a purely plant-based diet?
Many dog owners are keen to feed their dogs less meat – or even swap to vegan dog – but are rightly cautious not to make any switch that might negatively affect their beloved animal’s health. That’s why addressing the health question is a priority.
So, is vegan dog food healthy for your dog? In short, the answer is yes. In fact, it may even be better for them! Let’s take a look at the science.
A study financed by Proveg International early in 2022 and published in Plos One Journal looked at the health of more than 2,639 dogs by assessing how often they had to visit the vet or take medication. 54% of the dogs were fed conventional food, 33% were fed raw meat and 13% were fed on vegan dog food. The results of the study showed that dogs fed on conventional food fared worst, with raw meat being the healthiest closely followed by those on vegan dog food.
Now, just before you swap over to a raw meat diet – let’s recall that we’re trying to reduce emissions and protect the planet. Meat production is highly resource intensive and not the direction we want to head in. It’s worth noting as well that the dogs fed raw meat were younger overall and this may account in part for their good performance. And, finally other studies have also shown that raw meat can increase the risk of malnutrition and the intake of other pathogens.
As a result, the experts in the study thus concluded that a balanced vegan diet is the healthiest and least dangerous for dogs.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that you should always consult a veterinary professional if you’re considering making a big change to your dog’s diet. We’re also keen to point out that vegan dog food remains controversial within the industry, despite its rise to prominence recently. There has only been limited research on vegan dog food though what exists is encouraging and expresses very few concerns from a medical perspective. As the Institute of Animal Nutrition at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Berlin states, “The studies so far indicate that the dog can also be supplied with all the necessary nutrients through a plant-based diet using certain additives. However, it is also more difficult to prepare a vegan diet and requires a lot of expertise to ensure that it meets all the necessary requirements.” We can’t wait to see what new studies have to say about vegan dog food, especially those which take a long-term approach.
So what about all these additives in vegan dog food?
As conscientious dog owners, we’re right in wanting to ensure that our dogs aren’t consuming any nasty additives. So what are these additives mentioned above found in vegan dog food? Well, the truth is that pretty much every ready-made dog food is enriched with additives. This is often to prevent any risk of nutritional deficiency. Even owners who choose to feed their dog the BARF (biologically appropriate raw foods) diet often add natural additives such as oils, lime and herbal powers to ensure their meals are whole. In this day and age, additives are a part of life!
Is vegan dog food actually better for the environment than standard food?
One of the reasons we love talking about vegan dog food is that it’s so much better for the environment. Traditional diets which are meat-heavy have a big carbon footprint. Rearing animals and producing the feed (often soya beans) for these animals requires huge amounts of land, food and water. It’s harmful to the environment, producing air and water pollution.
What’s particularly surprising is the proportion of the meat industry which exists to produce meat for our dogs and cats. Data shows that 39% of total meat production in the UK is for dog and cat food. In the USA and Italy, this figure is 31% and the European average is about 25%. And this just includes meat. That doesn’t count fish, which suffer increasingly from overfishing and often prompts the decline of many aquacultures.
So, how can I switch to a vegan diet for my dog?
If you’re considering trying out vegan dog food, we recommend a few key things:
- Start gradually: no need to rush straight in. Try a few different products, read up about their recipes and see which ones your dog likes. There are plenty out there to choose from!
- Speak to your local vet: whenever you make a big change in the life of your dog, it’s always good practice to speak to a veterinary professional. vegan.com even suggests doing a proper check-up after you’ve made the switch and conducting a urinalysis to ensure that there are no issues.
- Research and speak to others: there’s loads more information available on the internet, but perhaps you also know people in your community who feed their dogs vegan diets. Speak to them and find out what they’ve learnt. Whenever you pick a vegan dog brand, make sure to do a deep-dive into what they’re selling and check out their reviews.
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