Should dogs be vegan? That’s the wrong question.
Should dogs be vegan? Previously my position was that dogs are facultative carnivores, so they need some meat, but they don’t need everything to be meat (hence the vegan dog treats). However, Veganuary has made me think more about this question. Now I think that the answer is a lot more nuanced, and so here is what I now think.
It’s abuse not to give your dog a nutritionally-complete diet
Some people say “it’s abuse not to feed meat to your dog”. I think the thing that constitutes abuse is feeding them a diet that is not nutritionally complete. Both vegan diets and meat-based diets can fall into this category.
Some meat-based diets/mainstream pet food brands are nutritionally poor
Meat is incredibly nutrient-dense, and so it is easy for dogs to quickly get a lot of the nutrients they need from good quality meat. However, just because something includes “meat” in their composition, doesn’t make it nutritionally complete. Some mainstream brands have very little meat in, and are filled with rubbish. Similarly, high protein diets can be dangerous in themselves without the right carbohydrates.
Dogs can digest some carbohydrates, unlike wolves
Dogs may have descended from wolves, but they have clearly evolved to be able to digest some starch. They definitely don’t need to be fed a meat-only diet, and can get plenty of benefits from plant-based foods.
Dogs cannot digest carbohydrates like humans can
Dogs have much less amylase than humans, and they also don’t have any cellulase (both digestive enzymes). This means that they can’t break down vegetables like humans can (and hence it is the reason they are called facultative carnivores).
It is possible to synthetically break down plants into the nutrients that dogs need.
If you think about it, this is what you would expect from modern-day science. We can basically breakdown/manufacture whatever we want, and turn them into supplements. So if you add the right supplements to your dog’s diet, then it is possible to feed a dog a nutritionally complete vegan diet. Studies show that dogs can perform at the highest possible level on such diets, but you do need to check regularly for urinary acidity.
Studies that say “a plant-based diet is better/worse than a meat-based diet” are flawed.
Studies that say “vegan diet was better than meat-based diet” don’t use a nutritionally complete meat-based diet (and vice versa). Claims like this have usually taken the research study out of context to further their own gains. You should always look for the caveats in claims like this. As Andrew Knight (pro-vegan diet scientist) states in his review of the literature regarding vegetarian canine and feline diets “very few, if any, meet the standards of well-designed RCTs (Randomised Controlled Trials) that are considered the cornerstone of Evidence-Based Medicine”. He makes the same conclusion regarding studies on meat-based diets.
It is dangerous to prepare your dog’s vegan diet yourself, especially without supplements.
I believe it is much safer to buy a nutritionally complete vegan pet food, unless you are a pet nutritionist. Dogs can’t get all their nutrients from whole plants. I think claims that you can prepare vegan food for your dog at home are very dangerous. If you want to do it, get help from experts.
Dogs seem just as happy on a meat vs plant-based diet
I was convinced by this study that showed that dogs were just as happy behaviourally when eating a plant-based diet vs a meat-based diet (as long as it is nutritionally complete!). The funding was from “ProVeg”, so there is potentially some bias here, but the study seems pretty sound.
It’s up to you what you feed your dog. Just make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need and you will both be happy.
If you are going to prepare your dog’s food at home, then it is much better/safer to include meat. If you want to feed them a plant-based diet, then get some expert help to make sure it is nutritionally complete, and your dog will be happy too.
So what question should we ask instead?
Instead of asking “should dogs be vegan?”, ask “is your dog’s diet nutritionally complete?”. Whether or not you feed your dog meat does not automatically make their diet nutritionally complete. So focus on that.