• Laura Simonson

Research & Reasons: Plant-Based Food for Dogs

Updated: 18 hours ago

UPDATE: New Vegan Dog Research and Studies - November 2022. See below.

Some suggest that a plant-based diet is extreme for dogs - even though dogs are actually considered omnivores like people. Yet, 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 alone, as much as a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production are tied to pet food, according to UCLA Geographer, Gregory Okin. Okin estimates that our four-legged best friends' consumption contributes to an estimated 64 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each and every year. That's equivalent to 13 million cars!

Now, assuming you would agree - those facts are extreme.

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Are our pets gobbling up the planet?

The research and reasons that support this evolutionary change

There's no way to sugarcoat this: Our dog's environmental impact begins with the billions of pounds of meat they eat every year. This enormous issue is completely unsustainable and is causing danger to our lives, our planet, and the (unnecessary) death of billions of factory-farmed animals. It's time for action. Real action.

Simply put, the life-changing solutions to your dog's health, our health, and our planet's health lay in an evolution to a global plant-based diet.

So, we have to ask...just as we had to ask ourselves, what is keeping you from switching to a plant-based diet for your pup? Need more reassurance or research? This will help.

Plants: Can dogs really digest them?

We focused on 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.

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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 believed 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%. Just the facts.

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 the experience of long-time professionals 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 (!)

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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.

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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, 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.

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Study Finds Sprint Racing Huskies Excel on Vegan Diet

Study Shows Normal Blood Tests in Vegan Pets

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, and balanced, and may even experience a range of health benefits.

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Study Finds Significant Health Improvements in Dogs Fed a Vegan Diet - Nov 2022

Veterinarian Publishes Study on Vegan Dogs

Study Finds Significant Health Improvements in Dogs Fed a Vegan Diet

November 2022: The most recent research is from the UK where a vegan kibble study showed promising results.

It was found that 100 dog guardians feeding UK-based Omni vegan dog food for three – 12 months participated in an online Likert Scale-type survey assessing their dog’s health status in a variety of areas.

After feeding Omni vegan dog food for 3 – 12 months, the guardians reported statistically significant improvements in their dogs’ health in a variety of areas, including:

  • Activity level

  • Fecal consistency

  • Frequency of defecation

  • Frequency of passing gas

  • Antisocial smell of flatulence (i.e., stinky farts )

  • Coat glossiness

  • Dandruff

  • Skin redness

  • Itchiness

  • Crusting of the external ear canals

  • Anxiety

  • Aggressive behavior

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Reported Health Benefits of a Vegan Dog Food – A Likert Scale-Type Survey of 100 Guardians

Here at Virchew, we have witnessed and received dozens of testimonials reflecting the same results. The most significant results we are seeing is in skin health, digestive and stool health, pancreatitis relief (or completely halted) and senior energy/mobility.

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, can make a massive difference for our health, lifespan, our precious planet, and for the countless lives of other animals that are produced as a commodity.

It's time to evolve to compassion over commodity. We hold the power to make a massive change. Will you and your dog be part of that change?

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We also ask ONE question that many seem to avoid.

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