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Have you ever heard of vegan food? Probably. How about vegan dog food? No? Some have, others haven’t, but an undeniable fact is that meat-free dog food options are slowly making their way into the dog food market, regardless of what one might think of it. There are different reasons why someone might consider feeding their dog a diet without meat, or at least meat-free treats, and there are even more opinions regarding whether it is right or wrong to do so. Some call it animal abuse and argue that a vegan diet is unnatural for a dog, while others point at new research possibly indicating that dogs might be omnivores. Who is right? Who is wrong? And the most important question: Can dogs eat vegan and still stay strong, happy and healthy?
What is Vegan Dog Food?
There is both vegetarian and vegan dog food, and in both cases, it is kibble or wet food that does not contain meat. Vegan dog food contains no animal derived products; such as egg and other dairy products and follows the same rules and standards as human vegan food. Going vegan is an option for Chihuahuas, Great Danes and any other breed, if they for some reason can’t eat dog foods with meat.
Vegan dog food is often made with carrots, broccoli, kale, black beans, lentils, spinach, quinoa, rice and more; carefully put together to create a content that will provide the dog with enough protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and calories. It is not as easy as to just star experimenting yourself, since you need to know what you are doing, or your dog could end up with severe nutritional deficiencies. A deficiency could lead to numerous health problems; such as hair loss, bad teeth, an upset stomach, heart- or kidney failure, itchy skin and more, making it important not to experiment with vegan dog food on your own unless you have the proper knowledge.
Vegan dog food is available in kibble form, as wet canned food, freeze-dried and raw, and you can find it in select pet stores and online. Feeding your dog vegan dog food is still a controversial subject, and availability might be somewhat limited; especially in smaller cities and rural areas. If this is something you feel might be right for you and your dog, however, the internet is a great place for finding what you are looking for.
Reasons for Putting Your Dog on a Vegan Diet
There are two common reasons for switching a dog over to a vegan diet, with one being prominent food allergies. Some dogs with sensitive stomachs may have trouble digesting some – or all – meats, and for you, as the owner, it might be easier to cut out meat altogether, rather than going through the lengthy (and possibly expensive) process of finding a meat type which your pup’s intestines can handle. If your dog is sensitive to animal protein, then having him or her go vegan might be more of a necessity than a choice, and it becomes important to choose a carefully crafted replacement diet.
The other reason for why someone might decide to feed their pup vegan dog food is due to the ethical believes of the owner. A vegan owner might feel tempted to cut meat from their everyday life completely, which means removing it from their dog’s or cat’s diet as well. This approach often receives criticism for being selfish, since domesticated dogs have always been believed to be meat eaters, and the counter-argument is that they might not need meat to live long and happy lives.
The main difference between these two reasons for feeding a vegan dog diet is that one is based on the individual needs of the dog, and the other on human ethics, and the opinions among both the yay-sayers and the nay-sayers are strong and varied.
The Dog – Carnivore or Omnivore?
So, is the domesticated dog a strict carnivore, or can they be fed an herbivore diet and still get all the nutrients they need? A carnivore animal is one that needs meat to live a healthy life, and an omnivore animal can eat either meat- or plant-based diet and thrive. While the dog – a wolf descendent – is usually assumed to be a carnivore, there are a few indicators that it might be able to thrive also on meat-free food, which comes as a surprise to many dog owners.
Cats, for example, are scientifically deemed strict carnivores, and therefore not apt for a vegan diet, but the lines are a bit fussier when it comes to dogs. Herbivores, like horses, have longer intestines since plant material is usually harder for the body to break down. The dog has intestines that are shorter than those of herbivores, but slightly longer than those of for example the cat, something that could be a sign that the dog is actually an omnivore (an animal that can eat either meat or plant-based food).
There is also evidence of wild wolves having eaten the occasional blueberry, grains, and of course the plant-based content of the stomachs of their pray, and since the dog been domesticated for hundreds of years, it is not too far-fetched to think that it might have evolved physically to adapt to an omnivore diet. A recent discovery shows that the domesticated dog has three genes the wolf does not have, and they are related to Glucose and starch digestion – another indicator of an increased ability to digest plants.
Science does not yet confirm or deny the dog being an omnivore or a strict carnivore, and there are indicators of both, as well as differentiating opinions among scientists and other experts. The National Research Council of the National Academics along with many leading dog food companies consider the domestic dog an omnivore, while many holistic veterinarians believe them to be strict carnivores.
Potential Downsides of a Vegan Dog Diet
Switching a dog over to a vegan diet, without consulting a veterinarian first, can be dangerous and put your favorite pup at risk. It is a complex science to find a vegan alternative to many of the nutrients dog usually get from meat, and it is not for every dog, and it is crucial to know what you are doing before giving it a go. Switching from meat-based dog food to a vegan option is a very big change for the dog’s metabolism and should not be taken lightly.
Feeding vegan to a dog is a very big responsibility for you as an owner, and it requires more effort and calculation to make sure your dog gets the nutrients he or she needs to thrive throughout all their life-stages. Failing to do proper research and purchasing quality vegan dog food products can have devastating consequences for your pup’s health, and leave them weak, lethargic and potentially ill due to a lack of vital nutrients. You might think it comes down to only replacing the meat with more vegetables but feeding a proper vegan diet is a lot more complex than that.
Ethics vs. The Dog’s Nutritional Needs
If the reason for weaning a dog off meat and instead of feeding a vegan dog food is because you yourself don’t feel comfortable with meat consumption, then perhaps it is time to think twice. Is it really what is best for your dog, or are you letting your own beliefs overshadow the dietary needs of your favorite fur friend? There are dog food brands that specialize in providing their animal protein from sustainable sources, and from situations where no animal cruelty has taken place, which means that you have the option of choosing a cruelty-free dog food even if feeding your dog meat.
You can also opt for making your own dog food (if willing to learn the necessary skills), using only meat from local farmers and small-scale businesses, if animal cruelty or environmental damage is your main reason for wanting to stop your dog from eating meat. It is admirable to want to make a difference in the world, but there is still no conclusive research showing that a dog can live a fulfilling life without eating meat, so the million-dollar question is how much you are willing to sacrifice for your ethical beliefs? A dog can definitely survive on vegan dog food, but whether it is ideal for them remains unproven.
If a vegan diet is important to you, perhaps it would be worth considering getting a herbivore pet (or a proven omnivore) instead of a potential carnivore, but if you still feel you would like your dog do go vegan – the choice is ultimately yours. Just keep in mind the great importance of choosing a quality vegan dog food where proper research has been done, so that your dog does not have to suffer a lack of essential nutrients in the attempt of making the world a better place. Your dog will probably eat whatever you end up serving him or her; making it your responsibility to make sure that whatever you put in their food bowl aids in keeping them happy and healthy – and setting them up for a long life by your side.