Is Vegan Dog Food Healthy?

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Vegan dog food has become increasingly popular recently, from Ellen DeGeneres’ celebrity backed brand to LA dog shelters considering feeding their dogs a meat-free diet. While we understand the underlying desire to reduce the amount of death in the world, it does beg the question - is feeding your dog a diet that doesn’t contain meat healthy?

Most dog owners would instinctively say no way! A dog is a carnivore and needs to eat meat.

But the idea persists. 

The argument for vegan dog food goes like this: if a dog can get all the nutrition it needs to survive from plant sources, then that is better than killing other animals for it’s food. It doesn’t matter that a dog has not evolved to eat a diet based solely of plant matter, so long as the required nutrients are present. And lo and behold through the miracle of modern science (and synthetic nutrition), it’s now technically possible to make a processed vegan dog food which meets the minimum AAFCO nutrient values. 

In our opinion, this doesn’t make it right. Or even something that remotely resembles optimal nutrition. 

To explain why, lets looks at the two main reasons why dogs need fresh meat.

 

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Better Digestion

FACT: A dog’s digestive system is optimised to process meat. 

All dogs have long, sharp teeth (“canines”) that are basically scissors, designed to rip meat and muscle tissue. Dogs have a short and relatively simple digestive system which has a much lower pH than humans. This acidic environment is designed to digest meat, and that’s what it does best. 

That’s not to say that dogs can’t eat plants - some plant matter is able to be digested in small amounts. However, protein from plant sources is not assimilated as easily as from meat. Animal based protein is absorbed much more efficiently than plant based proteins. That’s the nature of a dogs digestive system. 

And this is the real issue here: digestibility. The difference in how animal and plant proteins are digested can not only put undue stress on the GI tract, it also makes it extremely difficult to calculate the nutrients which are being absorbed.  

All protein sources are not equal!

So while on paper the required nutrient levels might have been met, if they are not easily absorbed then they are pretty much pointless. And deficiencies can cause health issues down the line.

Not to mention that plant based proteins in commercial dog food are often come from industrial sources, including byproducts of ethanol and fructose production. Gross. 

 

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Better Source of Nutrition

FACT: Animal based proteins are nutritionally superior than plant based proteins. 

Meat provides the full spectrum of amino acids, including essential amino acids that are difficult to find in plant based sources. While it’s true that all of these amino acids can be sourced from plants, they are found at much lower levels and in combinations which aren’t beneficial to dogs. In order to make them suitable for dogs to eat, extensive processing is required. 

For example, in the wild a dog would get it’s daily requirement of the essential amino acid lysine from meat. Vegan dog food would instead use beans, potato and soy, which contain lysine in much lower amounts and requires industrial processing to extract. 

The other issue here is that the high heat processes used to produce dry dog food actually damage the lysine, making it unable to be absorbed by the dog’s body. That’s why studies have shown that many plant-only dog foods to be significantly under the nutrient requirements as defined by AAFCO.

 

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Nature Knows Best

We believe that feeding a species appropriate balanced diet is the best way to promote optimal health in your dog. We all want our dogs to live healthy, long lives! And regardless of whether it contains meat or not, feeding a massively processed diet is a long way from species appropriate nutrition. 

Lucky for dogs they are extremely resilient animals, so issues may not become immediately apparent. Unfortunately this resilience has been abused by the pet food industry for decades, including this new vegan dog food trend. Interestingly, the people who are advocating a commercial vegan diet are also the ones who are promoting massively processed dog food. The nature of extracting the required nutrition from plants is unnatural and a long way from what a dog would naturally eat.

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We’d like very much like to point out that if a person chooses not to eat animal derived foods, that is a right that needs to be respected. More power to you! 

However, a dog cannot choose what they eat, they have to eat what you give them. So depriving them of what they are biologically designed to eat - meat - is likely to cause them harm. 

We believe that following the diet that dogs have evolved to eat is the best way to ensure they live long, happy lives. And I think all dog lovers can agree on that.