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Vegan Dog Food: Is a Plant-Based Canine Diet a Good Idea?

Curious about a plant-based diet for your canine? Here’s what pet owners need to consider before feeding vegan dog food to their pets.

Veganism has become far more popular in recent decades. This diet trend has many pet parents asking about vegan dog food and the viability and health of a vegan diet for dogs. Dogs are omnivores, which means they can consume and digest nutrition from both animal and plant sources. But is it okay to completely cut meat and animal products from your dog’s daily meals and treats? There are many factors to consider when making this decision. Read on to learn more about the implications of using vegan dog food.

Why Some Pet Parents Consider Vegan Dog Food

There are a few common reasons that dog parents come to veterinarians and pet nutritionists asking about a vegan dog food diet:

  • The parent has moral objections to eating meat
  • The dog has allergies to animal protein
  • It’s an effort to be more sustainable
  • The parent is worried about their dog’s weight

Some Pet Owners Consider Plant-Based Dog Food Because of Ethics

Perhaps the most common reason that a pet parent starts considering vegan dog food is because they are vegan themselves. People choose to follow a vegan diet – meaning they do not eat meat or any animal byproducts, such as eggs and milk – for a number of reasons, one of which is ethical. Vegans who do not believe animals should be used for food at all may be very eager to translate their vegan diet to their pets, as well.

Dogs Can Have Meat Protein Allergies

Another less common reason for considering vegan dog food is if your dog has an allergy to meat protein. This allergy is relatively rare and might present with vomiting, cramps, swelling, salivating, eye watering, runny nose, and skin issues like hives or itching. In the case of a serious allergic reaction to meat, your dog might experience anaphylactic shock and difficulty breathing.

Some pet parents who have a dog with a meat protein allergy try out pet foods made from other, more unusual types of meat that the dog likely hasn’t been exposed to (and is therefore less likely to be allergic to). These dog foods might be made from less common animal meat like kangaroo, alligator, or bison.

Another note about meat protein allergies in dogs: it’s possible that your dog is allergic to a very specific meat protein, and through the process of elimination you might be able to discover exactly what protein that is. One dog might have an allergy to meat meal or bone meal, while another dog is specifically allergic to poultry fats or fresh meat. Allergies are very curious and a pet nutritionist can help you investigate further if you suspect your dog has a meat protein allergy.

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Vegan and Vegetarian Diets Are Widely Accepted as Better for the Planet

Some dog parents are curious about using vegan dog food because the meat and animal byproduct industry is widely accepted as bad for the environment. Meat produced on a large, industrial level requires a lot of space and often creates a lot of pollution. A vegan diet that reduces the demand for these foods can have an impressive impact on your carbon footprint.

Some Pet Parents Hope Vegan Dog Food Can Help Their Pet Lose Weight

Another (somewhat misguided) reason that many pet parents consider a vegan diet for their dog is that they hope it will make their pet lose weight. If you have concerns about your pet’s weight gain or worry that they are overweight, switching to plant-based dog food is unlikely to be the best strategy for helping them shed pounds. Other techniques, like increasing your dog’s exercise, or limiting snacks and reducing portion sizes, are better places to start with to reduce your dog’s weight.

Risks of a Vegan Canine Diet

A vegan dog food diet should only be implemented under the supervision of a certified pet nutritionist because there are several risks to such a diet:

  • Protein deficiency
  • Amino acid imbalance
  • Lack of vitamins or minerals

A Vegan Diet May Not Provide Enough Protein for Your Dog

Animal meat and byproducts are extremely protein-rich, so trying to replace this important component of a dog’s diet can be challenging. Generally, dogs need a gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. This means a medium-sized dog at 40 pounds will need 40 grams of protein. Achieving such a high protein level without the help of animal meat can be very difficult. Only the best vegan dog foods will provide appropriate levels of protein for your pet.

Vegan Diets May Increase Your Dog’s Risk of Amino Acid Imbalance

Amino acids are important because, while your dog naturally produces some of these, there are others called “essential amino acids” because they must be delivered to your dog via their diet. These amino acids help your dog’s body build protein, and they can’t be accessed any other way than through food. Amino acids also help with the formation of collagen, healing, growth hormones, and synthesizing hemoglobin.

It is possible for a vegan dog food to provide a complete amino acid profile, including all of the 10 essential amino acids your dog needs. But plant-based diets are sometimes lacking in several of the important amino acids, which makes it all the more important for you to be selective when choosing a vegan pet food.

Meat Provides Vitamins and Minerals That May Be Missing in a Vegan Dog Diet

Plant-based dog foods will definitely be lacking in certain minerals and vitamins that your dog needs. Some of the minerals and vitamins your dog needs that aren’t found in plant foods include vitamin B12, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. This means that, should you choose to have your pet go vegan, you’ll need to find high-quality supplements to ensure they’re getting a complete nutritional profile each day.

Tips for a Vegan Dog Diet

If you are seriously considering a vegan dog food diet, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Consult a pet nutritionist
  • Your dog may need supplements in addition to vegan dog food
  • Only use AAFCO-approved dog foods
  • Consider alternatives if your motives are ethical

Pet Nutritionists Can Be a Vital Resource

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Pet nutritionists can be a vital resource for deciding on the proper diet for your pet. These individuals are highly trained in the specifics of animal wellness and nutritional needs, and they can address questions about diet changes like the introduction of plant-based dog food. While veterinarians have extensive knowledge of animal diet requirements, a pet nutritionist can have detailed knowledge and provide advice about your dog’s dietary needs. Your veterinarian might be able to recommend a local nutritionist, or you can search the directory of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Supplements Can Ensure Your Dog Stays Healthy

As we mentioned before, no plant-based dog diet will be complete without supplements. There are just some minerals and vitamins that cannot be provided by plant products. It’s crucial that you, in partnership with your animal’s veterinarian and pet nutritionist, figure out what minerals and vitamins your pet is missing and start using an appropriate selection of high-quality supplements to complete their daily diet.

AAFCO Approval Is Absolutely Necessary for Any Vegan Pet Food

When shopping for a vegan dog food, your first quality check will be looking for approval by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This regulating body ensures that a pet food offers complete nutrition for your pet’s needs. AAFCO-approved foods are the only choice if you are shopping for vegan dog food.

There Are Alternatives to Assuage Moral Concerns

It’s important to consider as many alternatives as you can before putting your canine on a plant-based diet, which is generally not recommended by the veterinary community. If your concerns are moral or environmental, try to seek out dog foods made with sustainably sourced ingredients such as free-range meat products. The world of dog food is expansive, with many different companies and recipes. It’s possible to find a food you feel good about without making your dog go vegan.

Your Veterinarian Probably Won’t Recommend a Vegan Dog Food

It’s unlikely your pet’s veterinarian will recommend vegan dog food for your pet, as the general consensus among veterinarians is that a dog should have animal protein in their diet. If you do choose to go vegan with your pet, you need to include crucial input from the experts to make sure your dog remains in good health. Don’t try to establish a vegan pet diet without consulting your pet’s doctor and a certified animal nutritionist.

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