Is a Vegan Diet Damaging for Your Dog?

by Melissa Keen

Veganism has been increasing in popularity hugely over the past few years – in fact, it’s grown by 370% in the last 10 years. That’s over half a million people in the UK who have ditched meat, eggs and other animal-based products in favour of fruit and veg.

While veganism has many benefits in the human diet (when done properly), it’s far more difficult for canines to maintain a healthy vegan diet. Research shows that, technically, a dog can survive on a vegetarian diet as long as they receive all the vitamins and nutrients they require. While this is difficult, it isn’t impossible, and with the right information and advice, a vegetarian diet is possible – in theory.

A completely vegan diet, on the other hand, is a different ball game. Even nutritional experts are not sold on the idea of a vegan diet for dogs. Some argue that a dog can definitely survive on a vegan diet – but is survival really all we are aiming for here, or should we be aiming for a well-rounded, healthy and enjoyable diet for our beloved canines?

Just because it’s possible in theory, does that mean it should be done? And is it ethical to push our own beliefs onto another being which may affect its health?

Wolf VS Dog

Research into dogs and their health is further behind than you might expect. Only in 1997 did researchers realise their previous studies into the Grey Wolf (the closest living relative to dogs) was mostly incorrect. Now, with the invention of better GPS, researchers are able to track wild wolves and watch their activities in order to learn more about our friendly pups.

Part of this research in the US discovered that, as predicted, wolves eat lots of meat including small birds, rodents and invertebrates, as well as larger prey like deer or elk. But, surprisingly, they also discovered a large amount of plant matter (around 74%) in their faeces, mostly from grasses.

Does This Mean Pet Dogs Prefer Plants After All?

Well, to put it simply – no. While it’s proven that dogs do indeed have two enzymes (amylase and maltose) that enable them to eat starchy plants such as potatoes and legumes, as well as leafy greens, their bodies require more collagen, elastin and keratin proteins that are all found in meat. These proteins are essential for dog joint, skin and muscle health, so a diet deprived of these is definitely not good.

For those who are determined to look at all the options, you can find these essential proteins as supplements for dogs – though they come with a hefty price tag. And do you really want to be feeding your dog manufactured, synthetic supplements?

It’s also worth noting that ingesting and absorbing supplements are two different things – even human supplements have been debated (with some saying they just create “expensive urine”).

There’s also the issue of chews. Dogs love to chew – not only is it great for their teeth but it’s also a stimulating, enjoyable thing for them to do. Most chews are either made of raw bone or rawhide (skin), or they are at the very least meat-based. A vegan dog will not have the opportunity to chew on these, which could result in behavioural issues in the future. There are plastic and nylon alternatives, but do you want to be giving your dog unnatural plastics to chew on?

Is Veganism Healthy For Dogs?

The fact of the matter is that there isn’t much research done into vegan diets for dogs to be able to answer that question comprehensively. It’s advisable to have a long, detailed chat with your vet if you want to consider changing your dog’s diet to be meat-free. Ultimately, we should be striving to provide our pups with balanced, nutritional meals, and currently the best way to do this is to include some meats in their diet – at least until some more research is done on the matter. And with veganism continuing to grow in popularity, it’s likely more research will take place and a healthy vegan diet for dogs may be possible sooner rather than later.

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