Recently, more and more pet owners have been considering a plant-based diet for their dogs. It may come as a surprise that there are many benefits to this decision. A plant-based diet can help with weight control, increase energy levels, and decrease allergic reactions.
Furthermore, a plant-based diet can also prevent or even reverse some diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, and chronic inflammation. The key to success is consulting with your veterinarian often before starting a new way of eating.
But are these claims backed by science or are they just marketing tactics to push plant-based meat and vegan meat to dog owners?
What is a plant-based diet for dogs?
A plant-based diet is a diet that includes only plant foods and excludes animal products. This may include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and seeds. The idea of a plant-based diet dates back centuries to the days of Pythagoras, however, people are now only becoming more aware of its benefits.
In humans, there are many reasons to consider a plant-based diet (vegan and vegetarian), and the benefits of such a diet can be wide-reaching. It’s much easier to maintain a healthy weight, improve mood, have more energy, and even reduce the risk of chronic diseases when eating a plant-based diet. In addition to these health benefits, there is also environmental good that comes from following a plant-based diet.
But does it have the same effects on dogs?
Why let your dog eat plant-based vegetarian food?
According to Knight and Leitsberger (2016), there is a growing concern among pet owners on the consequences of animal farming, animal welfare, and the environment. They also worry about the link between degenerative health conditions and animal farming, which have health repercussions on companion animal like dogs.
In their study, they examined the “nutritional soundness of meat-based companion animal diets,” and found that health and ethical concerns about an all-meat consumption are making pet owners look for a vegetarian alternative.
Biological requirements of dogs
To understand whether a plant-based diet is suitable for dog, we must first understand the biological requirements of dogs. A dog needs food and water to survive day-to-day. Dogs also need sleep to function properly. They need exercise so their body can maintain weight, promote muscle growth, and keep the blood pumping through their system.
Dogs are carnivores and require a diet with high protein content. They also need a little fat in their diet for energy. Unlike humans who can eat many different types of food, dogs cannot make use of vegetable oils or carbohydrates in their diet. They require proteins to build muscle mass for appropriate weight control.
Athletic dogs need a well-balanced diet that is rich in protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. They need to eat more frequently than their average counterparts, which is about every four hours.
What nutrients do dogs need?
Dogs need a variety of nutrients in their diet, but the ones they need the most are protein, fat, fiber, minerals, water, amino acids, and vitamins. Protein should account for about 10-15% of the dog’s calories while fat should account for about 5% or less. Fiber can help to promote healthy immune system function while mineral deficiencies can cause neurological problems. Dogs also need adequate amounts of water to maintain healthy organ function.
So, are plant-based diets for dogs nutritionally balanced and healthy?
There is a growing number of evidence that indicate dogs (and even cats) can thrive on a plant-based diet. But it’s important to emphasize that it must be a nutritionally sound vegetarian or vegan diet, where all the required nutrients are provided by the combination of plants in correct dosage.
A study by Kanakubo et al. (2015) examined 24 dry and canned vegetarian pet foods that are sold in the United States. Concentrations of crude protein and amino acids were compared with the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles. (AAFCO Association of American Feed Control Officials is the governing body on policies pertaining to dog and cat food).
Based on the results, 23 of 24 diets meet the minimum crude protein concentrations, but only 6 of 24 diets met all amino acid minimum requirements. This suggests that not all plant-based pet foods are nutritionally adequate.
Another study done by Gray et al. (2004) found that two canned food brands for adult cats that were marketed as a complete diet were deficient in necessary nutrients including methionine, taurine, lysine, arginine, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorous, and protein.
In yet another study by Kienzle and Engelheard (2001), 86 vegetarian dogs and 8 vegetarian cats were studied in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. They investigated 12 prepared complete vegetarian dog foods and found that they have insufficient nutrients. Only 2 of 12 of the dog foods were adequate.
Based on these limited studies, it appears that plant-based dog foods are not complete in the required nutrients.
But this also suggests that with proper preparations and supplementations, commercially produced plant-based pet foods can be complete.
How to give plant-based food to dogs
Many people are switching to a plant-based diet for themselves, but what about their pets? Dogs in particular are carnivores, so it could be difficult to give them food that is not meat. However, there are plenty of plant-based dog foods available. These foods are formulated with exactly the right vitamins and minerals dogs need to stay healthy without any animal products or by-products. The best thing about these foods is that they are made with natural ingredients.
Veterinary experts advise that the best food for dogs is a plant-based diet with some meat mixed in. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. There are plenty of vegan dog foods on the market today to ensure your pup gets all the nutrients he needs.
Although there are vegan dog foods available, you should consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet. Vegetarianism for humans is often due to ethical or religious motivations, but for dogs, it is not necessarily the same. If you want to feed your dog a vegetarian diet, you must carefully research the ingredients and make sure they are meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs.