Veterinarian, Jennifer Adolphe, answers the top 6 questions I get about Zak’s diet while he’s sprinting around like crazy at the dog park, or happily chasing us on our mountain bikes.
We all love our dogs, they’re a part of our families. Of course, we want to make sure we’re fuelling them with the best nutrition possible.
Our last dog, Derby, lived a great life up to 15 years old on a raw, meat-based diet. We adopted Zak a year ago and naturally, when we made the decision to transition him to a vegan diet, I needed to make sure we were making the right decision…not only for us and our values, but more importantly for him and his longevity, nutrition, quality of life and energy!
Well, research points out that dogs are actually omnivores (like us), and can get all the necessary nutrients they need from plants to thrive. This is great news for plant lovin’ parents who would rather not put more demand and dollars into the animal agriculture industries.
3 reasons to feed dogs a vegan diet:
- Minimize the demand for slaughtering more animals just to feed the animals we love
- Minimize the impact on the environment and it’s resources (one study estimated that U.S. cats and dogs eat 25 percent of all animal-derived calories in the country, rank fifth in global meat-consumption, and could release as much as 64 tons of greenhouse gasses)
- Reduce allergic reactions your dog may have to animal products (the top 2 allergens dogs have are from red meat and dairy)
- Dogs can thrive on a vegan diet, like 27 year old Bramble and these 100 happy pups!
Let’s hear all about it from a vet!
Top 6 Vegan Dog Nutrition Questions Answered:
- Is it safe for dogs to be on a vegan diet? Can they thrive on a vegan diet?
A vegan diet can be entirely safe for adult dogs, and it can be a great option for their humans and the environment as well. And yes, they can definitely thrive!
It’s a common misconception that dogs need to eat meat to get the protein they require. It’s fully possible for them to get their required protein from plant sources, as long as the recipe you are feeding is properly balanced. By providing the right mix of plant-based protein sources, it’s possible to formulate a complete and balanced vegan diet for dogs that provides sufficient levels of protein and all the essential amino acids.
Some dogs also have sensitivities to certain animal protein sources and can suffer from adverse reactions that may include itchy skin, sneezing, constant licking and a variety of other symptoms. In these instances, switching to a vegan diet can be a great option.
I do want to highlight that a vegan diet is only suitable for adult dogs. For puppies under one year, it is not recommended. This is because there are some nutrients that cannot be easily obtained from plant sources, which are essential to meet a growing puppy’s nutrient requirements.
2) What are the main nutrients or vitamins that we need to make sure we’re getting our pups if they’re on a vegan diet?
Plant proteins are often lower in one or more essential amino acid (limiting amino acid), when compared to animal sources, but this can easily be accounted for by eating complementary plant protein sources. For example, oats and peas have different amino acid profiles that together provide all of the essential amino acids.
Taurine is a particularly important amino acid for dogs. It plays a key role in retinal function, cardiac function, reproduction and growth. Dogs can make taurine from the amino acids cysteine and methionine, if they are provided in sufficient amounts. Therefore, it is important to balance the levels of methionine, cysteine, and taurine when formulating a vegan diet. Fortunately, these amino acids are readily available as supplements produced from non-animal sources, so they are fully compatible with a vegan diet.
There are also some important vitamins that need to be part of your dog’s vegan diet. The below vitamins are more commonly found in animal ingredients, but are all available from non-animal sources.
- Vitamin A plays a key role in maintaining healthy skin, eyes and the immune system.
- Vitamins D is important for keeping bones and teeth healthy, as well as supporting the function of muscles, nerves and the immune system.
- Vitamin B12 is important for normal blood cell and nerve function.
3) What is the best protein to base their vegan diet on, and what percentage of protein/fat/carbs is best for dogs?
Pulses, such as peas and lentils, are a great sources of protein to include in a vegan diet. Peas and lentils are nutrient-rich and provide most of the essential amino acids required by dogs. They also contain antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, and insoluble and soluble fibre, as well as resistant starch, which provide benefits for the digestive system. Peas can be complemented with organic barley and organic oats, which have different amino acid profiles than peas. Together, oats and peas balance one another and are fully capable of providing all essential amino acids that an adult dog requires to stay happy and healthy.
There is no “one size fits all” rule for what percentage of macronutrients is best, because the answer is different depending on breed, life stage, and activity level. Historically dog food has been around 22-26% protein. This level is more than adequate to supply essential amino acids for most dogs. There are a few cases where higher protein levels are needed, such as for performance animals or critically ill patients. Conversely, decreased levels of protein may be necessary for specific heath issues. It is important to remember that what is not utilized for tissue maintenance or energy production will be stored as fat and the products of protein metabolism will be excreted in the urine. Fat is the most energy dense nutrient, so for animals that need to shed a few pounds, a lower fat diet may be needed. Carbohydrates are an excellent, readily available energy source. In fact, some tissues in the body, including the brain, require carbohydrates for energy.
4) What recommendations do you have for transitioning dogs to a vegan diet?
Like any food transition, it’s important to do it gradually so that your dog’s body and immune system has time to adjust to the change. It should be at least 10 days, but can also take longer depending on your dog’s preferences and sensitivities. Some pets can experience digestive upset during this time, so if they experience any vomiting or diarrhea, it means you need to slow down the transition by reducing the amount of new food at their next feeding.
Here is an approximate guide to help with the transition plan, but it’s very important to be observant and watch for signs your dog might need more time:
- Day 1 & 2: Feed 80% of their old food with 20% of the new food
- Day 3 & 4: Feed 60% of their old food with 40% of the new food
- Day 5 & 6: Feed 40% of their old food with 60% of the new food
- Day 7, 8 & 9: Feed 20% of their old food with 80% of the new food
- Day 10 & Forever: Feed 100% new food
5) Aren’t dogs ‘meant’ to eat meat?
It’s a common misconception that dogs are carnivores like cats, but they are actually omnivores. This means that it is is entirely possible for adult dogs to live a happy and healthy life without consuming animal-based foods.
When people think of protein they typically think of meat, but there are many plant protein sources as well – including grains, seeds and pulses. It is the essential amino acids found in protein, rather than the protein itself, that is required by dogs. Protein and essential amino acid requirements can be met by animal sources, complementary plant sources, or a combination of both animal and plant sources. Complete and balanced vegan dog foods, such as Petcurean’s GATHER Endless Valley recipe for dogs, must contain all of the essential nutrients, including amino acids, in the amounts dogs require.
A study that examined the safety of a diet without animal proteins for dogs. It found that Siberian husky sled dogs fed a meat-free diet for 16 weeks, including 10 weeks of competitive racing, had normal blood values and were in excellent physical condition upon veterinary examination.
6) Do you have an inspirational story about a dog going vegan for health reasons, and benefiting or healing because of it?
One of my favourite stories involves a nine-year-old shih tzu named Mitzi. Mitzi had major belly issues, and her discomfort included licking the floor for hours, grinding teeth, constant sneezing, gurgling belly and a runny nose. Nothing seemed to help. After some research, Mitzi’s family decided to try a vegan diet, (they fed her vegan Gather Endless Valley). In the first week, her nose stopped running and the sneezing ceased. After the second month on the food, all the symptoms have gone away. Mitzi’s family is over the moon with this change.
Thanks to veterinarian Jennifer Adolphe for clearing all of these points up!
~Dr. Jennifer Adolphe graduated with her PhD in companion animal nutrition from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Her PhD research examined the effects of carbohydrates on metabolic and cardiovascular health in lean and obese dogs. Dr. Adolphe is the recipient of over 20 awards and scholarships for her academic work and has numerous peer-reviewed publications. Her work in the pet food industry has focused on product development and ingredient procurement. She is currently the Nutrition Manager at Petcurean Pet Nutrition.~
Would you try a vegan diet for your pup? I use the one Jennifer recommends: Gather Endless Valley by Petcurean. It’s based on peas and barely, and doesn’t have any common allergens. He loves it!
 Brown WY, Vanselow BA, Redman AJ, et al. An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs. Br J Nutr 2009;102:1318-1323.