Vegan Diet for Dogs

Samoyed dog eating vegetables

A vegan lifestyle is a trend amongst humans – but it shouldn't be passed on to your pets without consideration.

Have you been following a vegan diet for some time and would like to now do the same for your dog too? Although vegan food for dogs is no longer a rarity, you shouldn't take this controversial topic lightly.

Meat vs. plants: What do dogs depend on?

Unlike cats, dogs aren't strict carnivores, but what are known as carni-omnivores. This means that dogs can digest plant-based components as well as animal food. However, this doesn't mean that dogs should eat meatless food with no restrictions.

Your dog's entire gastrointestinal tract, including its teeth, is primarily adapted to meat consumption. It is with good reason that dogs are able to crush a bone with their sharp fangs.

Compared to wolves, their ancestors, dogs can also digest plant-based carbohydrates (starch). This quality comes from certain enzymes that dogs have acquired over many years of evolution.

Nutrient deficiency: Is vegan food dangerous for dogs?

Unfortunately some nutrients that are essential for dogs (e.g. vitamin B12 or taurine) are hardly found in plant-based food or not at all. Even lower quality vegan dog food can be lacking in vital substances for your four-legged friend.

If your dog gets inadequate provision, this deficiency can damage the cells of important organs. Hence, the body may produce too few blood cells and your pet may suffer from debilitating anaemia. The nervous system may also have to endure damage from an ongoing lack of nutrients.

Current study on vegan diet for dogs

A study published in 2021 by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Leipzig examined four vegan (purely plant-based) complete feeds for adult dogs. It took a closer look at the following factors:

  • Declaration 
  • The manufacturer's feeding recommendation combined with the calculated feed quantity
  • Taurine and vitamin provision

Results of the study

The manufacturers mostly adhered to the mandatory information on the declaration according to Regulation (EC) No. 767/2009.

However, it was noticeable with regards to the feeding recommendations that two products did not correspond to the calculated actual requirements of an adult dog. For instance, one of the feeds covered just 64% of the feed requirement. Nevertheless, the other product covered 121% and therefore more than covered the normal requirements of an adult dog.

The study also reached striking conclusions in relation to the quantity of important bulk and trace elements, which were between 5.2 and 8.2 times higher than the corresponding recommendations of the European Pet Food Industry Federation.

Scientists also verified too low and/or too high content of crude protein, crude fat, phosphorous, zinc and copper.

Conclusion of the veterinary study

The study concluded that one of the investigated vegan foods met all of the recommended requirements of adult dogs (relating to energy and nutrients). Offering these vegan dog foods in the long run could thus cause deficiency in these dogs.

puppy bullmastiff eating a carrot
Although carrots, cucumbers and the like are often popular amongst dogs – a solely plant-based diet can be harmful to your dog.

Ethics: Should dogs be given a vegan diet for moral reasons?

Many dog owners follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons. There is no doubt that this is an individual decision and an important step towards protecting the environment.

But is it right to pass on your own dietary habits to your beloved pet? And from a critical perspective: Is a vegan canine diet actually animal cruelty?

The Animal Welfare Dogs Act in place since 1 January 2022 declares:

“[The caregiver] shall provide the dog with a species-appropriate food, in sufficient quantity and quality.” (§8, art. 1).

Considering this legal base and scientific knowledge, the above questions are answered from a veterinary perspective. Vegans who want their dogs to follow a vegan diet too need to urgently reconsider their stance. Anyone who follows a vegan diet for animal welfare reasons shouldn't overlook the welfare of their own dog. Otherwise this would be a massive contradiction, wouldn't it?

Conclusion: Is vegan dog food good for your dog?

Although the ulterior motive behind vegan dog food is genuinely well-intentioned, you should not feed your dog a purely vegan diet according to current scientific knowledge.

Several veterinary studies concluded that giving dogs a purely vegan diet can lead to bad consequences, including in particular a lack of essential nutrients. It cannot be ruled out that ongoing malnutrition can prove fatal for your dog in the long run.

Alternative contributions to animal welfare

If you would nevertheless like to make an important contribution to animal welfare and environmental protection, you can obtain information from welfare organisations such as WWF and Peta. They will give you simple and less risky tips on how to show your commitment to Mother Earth in day-to-day life.

If you want to give your dog a vegetarian (meat-free) diet, there are also some things you should pay attention to. Before introducing a change in diet, you should definitely contact your vet. Together with you, they can plan your dog's meals based on your moral ideas but without affecting your four-legged friend's state of health.

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