Benefits of Vegan Dog Food

1 Oct 2018

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The ingredients used in V-dog’s products are whole food, plant-based. Source: V-dog

Let’s first take a look at some of the most recent studies exploring how plant-based diets affect dogs. A recent report in the British Journal of Nutrition involved feeding athletic Siberian huskies either meat-based commercial diets or meat-free nutritionally balanced diets for 16 weeks (including 10 weeks spent racing competitively). And while it’s often thought that meatless diets lead to iron and other deficiencies in the blood, this study revealed that all dogs, regardless of diet, had normal and healthy blood test results after the 16 weeks.

Another study in the American Veterinarian examining how dogs have adapted over the years from carnivorous to more plant-based diets, suggests that as dogs have become domesticated, human food scraps— which contributed to a more varied, plant-based diet— made up a larger and larger portion of their consumption. In other words, this means that nowadays, our dogs are more efficient at processing carbohydrates and require less protein— better enabling them to handle a plant-based diet in the first place.

A more comprehensive, analytical report in Animals in 2016 investigated a variety of studies that explored both the nutrients in plant-based diets designed for dogs in addition to direct health comparisons of dogs fed either a vegetarian or meat-based diet. Thorough reviews of these reports revealed that dogs can “thrive” on vegetarian diets, so long as they are “nutritionally complete” and “reasonably balanced.”

dogs with capes

Dogs are omnivores, thus they can thrive on a well-planned plant-based diet! Source: V-dog

But what does it mean for a dog’s diet to be nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced? As Dr. Armaiti May, DVM, describes, “animals have requirements for nutrients, but not necessarily ingredients,” meaning that what is most important is not that dogs are eating a specific food, but rather that dogs get specific nutrients like proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and certain fats. Importantly, these nutrient guidelines can be satisfied by both meat-based and meat-free meals. The question, then, becomes: what makes plant-based dog food better?

Kibble you wouldn’t nibble

It’s both the sourcing and the potential health effects of commercial dog food brands that make it inferior to meat-free options. It is first important to mention the fact that the majority of meat produced in factory farms comes from animals that both live in incredibly unsanitary, crowded conditions and that are injected with growth hormones and antibiotics. But perhaps the most concerning is that to create their pet food formula, commercial pet food companies primarily use what is known as 4D meatthat is, meat from animals that are either dead, dying, diseased, or disabled—in addition to expired supermarket meat, dogs and cats that have been euthanized in animal shelters (often still containing detectable levels of the euthanizing solution), old restaurant grease (which contains a large portion of free radicals and trans fatty acids), and damaged and spoiled fish (which contain potentially dangerous levels of mercury, PCBs, and other toxins). Not surprisingly, it is not uncommon for these meat-based mixtures to be recalled for contamination. While this of course does not apply to all commercialized pet food companies, using a plant-based formula is an effective, easy, and healthy way of reducing your pets’ exposure to these toxins. Needless to say, a good rule of thumb is that the lower your food is on the food chain, the fewer chemical contaminants and environmental pollutants it will contain.

The other intriguing aspect of meat-free dog food formulas is their health benefits. The most common food allergies among dogs are to chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs— notably, all animal proteins— that can result in a variety of symptoms ranging from irritating and itchy skin, rashes, loose stools, constipation, gas, vomiting, eye discharge, yeast infections, fur loss, to over time even weakening the immune response. A simple switch to a plant-based formula is a simple fix that avoids these allergen issues. Meat-free diets also have been shown to be gentler on digestion, helping to improve any digestive issues rather than exacerbating them— as meat-based diets can do with their acidifying and inflammatory effects. Other noted advantages of plant-based formulas include weight management, higher energy levels, softer and shinier coat, itch relief, less eye discharge, anti-inflammatory effects that both reduce joint pain and arthritis and improve mobility, strength, and endurance, as well as longer overall life. In fact, one of the oldest dogs in the world, Bramble the collie, lived to 27 (or 189 dog years) consuming an entirely vegan diet of rice, lentils, and other vegetables!

vegan border collie

One of the world’s oldest dogs was a vegan border collie!

There is also an increasing population of vets in support of plant-based diets. Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, for instance, began advocating for vegan diets for dogs after discovering notably high amounts of toxins from animal products that had accumulated in a number of his patients’ dogs. In his experience, he found that dogs could “noticeably improve in their condition” with a change in their diet alone. In her book Food Pets Die For, Ann N. Martin (2003) reveals how “despite industry claims that pets live long and healthy lives on commercial pet food, we veterinarians are routinely faced with contradictory evidence in the form of sick animals” with conditions such as “diarrhea, vomiting, and skin lesions” that are signs of “deteriorating health, diminished efficiency of bodily functions and organs, of kidneys failing in middle age due to excessive protein, of weakened immune systems and allergic reactions.” In her eyes, these are the cumulative effects of the many additives and toxins existing in the questionably sourced “natural” meat-based ingredients in commercial formulas.

Making the Transition

So now that we’ve seen the evidence — what’s the best way to help your pet transition from a meat-based to plant-based diet? First things first, be sure to choose a nutritionally complete and balanced formula that contains all the necessary nutrients. An easy way of doing this is to choose a plant-based formula that is approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (“AAFCO approved”). But what’s most important is that the change is gradual— start with 25% plant-based food and 75% meat-based food, and slowly build up the proportion of plant-based food over 5-10 days until you’ve reached 100%. This approach greatly reduces any potential risk of your dog experiencing gastrointestinal problems— which the different nutrient content and in particular, higher fiber content— could cause. It’s also important that your dog stays hydrated throughout the process. If you want to be extra safe, take your pet to the vet 2-3 weeks after the switch to get their urine analyzed in the unlikely chance that there are any irregularities such as struvite crystals, which have been identified in a very small portion of dogs that changed their diet. There also are certain dog breeds (doberman pinschers, boxers, and ‘giant breeds’ like Great Danes) that should be treated with extra care, as they are predisposed to a certain type of heart disease. As the condition is associated with insufficient levels of taurine and carnitine (amino acids that occur naturally in meats), in the case of these breeds, it is advised to use supplements containing taurine and carnitine if not already present in the new, meat-free formula. While these minor and unlikely risks in switching your dog from a meat-based to plant-based diet do exist, it is clear from the aforementioned studies, sourcing of commercialized pet food formulas, and noted health improvements in many vegan and vegetarian dogs, that the benefits far outweigh them.

shake paw doberman pinscher

Consult a vet before changing the diets for certain breeds of dogs, like Doberman Pinschers.

In terms of specific plant-based dog food formulas, there are a variety of up and coming products and companies on the market— and just like with human food, for every vegan pet food product review posted on abillionVeg, we’ll donate $1 to one of our animal welfare partners around the world. One of the most promising of these new vegan dog food companies is V-Dog. V-Dog offers a 100% plant-based and AAFCO approved formula that reduces both animal suffering and environmental impact while at the same time improving dog health— including better joint mobility, allergy relief, and digestion. It is one of the only complete vegan formulas on the market, and is both free from fillers, corn, soy, and wheat, and committed to using superfoods such as peas, lentils, and quinoa in their products. Not to mention the fact that it is a plant-based family-owned business! If you have any additional questions or interest in transitioning your dog food to a vegan diet, the V-Dog website is also an excellent source of information— from scientific research, to vet testimonials, and more. Use the code “ABILLION” to get $10 off + free shipping on your first kibble order at v-dog.com (US only).

Between the up and coming nutritional research, availability of information about the inner-workings of commercial pet industries, and companies like V-Dog, the switch from conventional to plant-based dog food is not only becoming more appealing and sensible, but also more possible. Together, both us and our furry friends can promote healthier living, support small businesses, and take a stand against animal cruelty. Most importantly, though, is that we (both us and our dogs) can do this by eating delicious, plant-based food— leaving a smaller environmental footprint—or paw print— in the process.

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@vikas profile image
vikas4 YEARS AGO
Our dog Walle has never been healthier than since he's been vegan. We give him a bunch of supplements including glucosamine for his joints and taurine and l-carnitine for his heart and cardiovascular system and its literally reversed the clock on him. He's 10 and looks like a puppy. Great article!
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@jbjumping profile image
jbjumping2 YEARS AGO
@vikas is there an alternative product in the UK? Or is v-dog available anywhere in the UK to your knowledge? Thank you
REPLY
@vikas profile image
vikas2 YEARS AGO
@jbjumping it looks like Fetch sells it online, and Veggiepets and also Amazon in the UK! Also check out another brand from The US called Wild Earth or Honest Kitchen. For Honest Kitchen buy their base mix which is vegan and you can add more protein if you want!
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@jbjumping profile image
jbjumping2 YEARS AGO
@vikas wow Vilkas that's very helpful, thank you.
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@lou profile image
lou4 YEARS AGO
i think cats might die if they became vegan, glad to see that dogs can somehow still survive and be healthy!
REPLY
@murumuru profile image
murumuru2 YEARS AGO
I am on the fence about vegan cats. I feel bad for buying meat for my cats, but there doesn't seem to be much objective information on cats that eat a plantbased diet.
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@oxie profile image
oxie1 YEAR AGO
so why do you value the life of a cat over the life of a calf?
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@murumuru profile image
murumuru1 YEAR AGO
I don't want to. But I also can't justify getting rid of my cats, I had them since before I went vegan. Hoping labgrown meat becomes available soon, especially in pet food.
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@bigfatnyancat profile image
bigfatnyancat4 YEARS AGO
i don't own a dog but it is really sad that some people would give their dogs kibble that contains dead pets :(
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@lindsay13rose profile image
lindsay13rose4 YEARS AGO
Thank you for this excellent article! My dogs are thriving on their v-dog diet with glowing vet checkups. Super cool that you donate $1 for pet food reviews, too!
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@vikas profile image
vikas4 YEARS AGO
Thanks Lindsay, yes we're delighted to donate to animal rescue for folks buying vegan and vegetarian pet food!
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@donoharm profile image
donoharm4 YEARS AGO
This is a great article, thanks for sharing! We've been wanting to make the switch for our dog for quite some time but weren't sure what food to try. Looking forward to trying V dog out, the coupon is super helpful!! Thank you🙏
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@vikas profile image
vikas2 YEARS AGO
@donoharm that’s awesome you’re welcome!
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@veganverist profile image
veganverist2 YEARS AGO
Great ad page for V-dog. 🙄 They're not the only commercial vegan dog food option. Also, some of your links are no good. You might have your website team take a look.
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@sofiferrer profile image
sofiferrer2 YEARS AGO
The Green Dog is an excellent option also. I recommend it since my five dogs started eating this pet food (since they were puppies)
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@oxie profile image
oxie1 YEAR AGO
I had a heated debates on FB with a froup of private dog shelters owners, who feed their saved dogs with canned food, giving the excuse that vegan dog food is expensive and it is not realistic to cook for a large number of dogs every day. Do you know any dog shelters with vegan rations?
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