Vegan Dogs: Research and Reasons
Updated: Feb 16
Our dog's health is just one of the reasons.
Chew on this - globally, pets consume about 20% of the world's meat and fish. Whaat?! In the UK alone, that equals 3M tonnes of fish used in manufacturing that country's pet food. In the USA, as much as a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production are tied to pet food, according to UCLA Geographer, Gregory Okin.
While fish has a lower carbon footprint than red meat, it still isn't as low as plant-based, and we have to ask... what is keeping you from switching to a plant-based diet for your pup? Let's look at the research and reasons that support this evolutionary change.
There's no way to sugarcoat this: these industries are completely unsustainable and causing danger to our lives, our planet and the (unnecessary) death of billions of factory-farmed animals. It's time for action. Real action. Starting with your dog is a rewarding (and life-changing) way to contribute to solutions.
Want to know more? Are our pets gobbling up the planet?
Now is the time to ensure our choices align with what is good for our dogs, good for our earth, and good for our hearts. We understand that it's crucial to research what is best for our pupper's overall health and happiness. That's why Virchew is taking extraordinary measures to create nutrition programs with partner veterinarians to produce the much-needed vegan dog nutrition data and research for all to benefit. However, for now, let's take a look at the top vegan dog studies available and what sharing these findings mean for you and your furry companion.
Plants: Can dogs really digest them?
We focused on 3-key studies to find out the answer to this pesky question that pops up all the time. First, researcher Erik Axelsson and his colleagues at Sweden's Uppsala University discovered that dogs can have anywhere from four to 30 copies of the AMY2B gene, which allows them to digest starchy (plant-based) foods. Incredible as the dog food industry hammers us with advertising that the dogs we share our homes with are descendants of wolves; they must eat meat to flourish. These studies show that typically wolves only have two copies. But, according to paleontological data, the duplication of this gene in dogs dates back at least 5,000 to 7,000 years.
These findings indicate that dogs adapted to relatively starch-rich diets early in their domestication, making a plant-based diet perfectly suitable.
Want to know more? Parallels in Dog and Human Evolution: How Agriculture Changed the Dog's Diet
Digestion: Can dogs digest starches and grains?
While we enjoy meals that include potatoes, corn, rice, barley, and wheat, it has been long thought that these starches and grains cause digestive problems in dogs. This thinking harkens to the long-held belief that dogs need meat to survive, and it is a mantra that meat-producing agricultural companies have been pushing through their pet-food partners for decades. But is it true?
In actuality, over 20-years ago in 1999, a study published by Murray et al, looked at the digestibility of corn, barley, potato, rice, sorghum, and wheat in dogs. What they found was that the digestibility for all was greater than 99%! Woofhoo! Subsequently, a study by Carciofi discovered similar results for rice, corn, sorghum, cassava, brewer's rice, peas, and lentils. The study confirmed starch digestibility to be greater than 98%.
As recently as 2017, researcher Cargo-Froom compared the digestibility of minerals in dogs on meat-based diets versus dogs on plant-based diets. Their results concluded that digestibility of endogenous minerals is similar or greater in dogs fed diets that are based largely on vegetables.
Based on long-time experts in canine nutrition this is not new information:
"However, dogs are in fact generally believed to be omnivores and are more correctly labeled as opportunistic feeders. In other words, they can and do consume and receive nourishment from a variety of foods of both animal and vegetable origin.
In relation to the dog's nutrition and/or nutrient requirements, the dog generally has the same essential nutrients as do other domestic animals including man.
Therefore, it is entirely possible to formulate a diet or feed for a dog of primarily or exclusively vegetable origin feedstuffs that could satisfy all the known essential nutrient requirements for the dog as defined by the National Research Council. "
– John Hilton: Canadian Vet J Volume 28, No. August 1987
Want to know more? Study Shows Plant-Based Dog Foods Excellent for Nutrient Absorption
"...the most frequently reported food allergens were associated with beef at a whopping 34%."
Allergies & Sensitivities: Is a vegan diet helpful?
A study by researcher Mueller in 2016 analyzed food allergies, including food intolerances and hypersensitivities, using a population of 297 dogs and discovered the most frequently reported food allergens were associated with beef at a whopping 34%. Beef was followed by dairy at 17%, chicken at 15%, wheat at 13%, and lamb at 5%. These findings indicate that most of the top food allergens for dogs are animal-based and that plant-based diets may provide relief for dogs with food allergies and sensitivities.
Want to know more? Study Shows Meat & Dairy are Most Common Allergens in Dogs
Bloodwork: What does it say about dogs on a vegan diet?
In 2009, a research team led by Brown studied sprint-racing huskies that were fed over 16-weeks (including 10-weeks of competitive racing), a nutritionally complete meatless diet. Subsequent blood tests found that the huskies' red blood cell counts and hemoglobin values were within the normal range throughout the study. The consulting veterinarian determined all participating dogs were in excellent physical condition - completely not a surprise to us at Virchew.
In a 2014 study, researcher Semp of Vienna Veterinary University undertook a study that hypothesized that dogs fed a complete vegan diet would exhibit deficiencies in iron and B12. However, but her conclusions completely contradicted her hypothesis! She found no significant deviations in levels from dogs fed a conventional meat-based diet and concluded that nutritionally complete plant-based diets could assure a healthy lifestyle in dogs. This is what we all want to know as advocates of plant diets for dogs.
Want to know more?
Can dogs really thrive on vegan diets?
UK veterinarian Dr. Andrew Knight analyzed four previous studies that assessed the nutritional soundness of plant-based diets for dogs. Based on a growing body of population studies, his data, and case reports surrounding this topic, Knight concluded that dogs could thrive on vegetarian diets, given that they are nutritionally complete, balanced, and may even experience a range of health benefits.
Want to know more?
In summary, although we all want more research for our dog's health, especially using sustainable plant-based ingredients, the reasons go far beyond what we see in their dinner bowl each day. Their foods, like our food choices, make a massive difference for our health, our precious planet and for the countless lives of other animals that are produced as a commodity.
Compassion over commodity: Good for our dogs, good for our earth, good for our hearts.
Want to know more? We also ask ONE question that many seem to avoid.