Are Vegan Diets Healthy For Dogs?

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If you've adopted a plant-based diet for yourself, chances are, you've considered making the switch for your dog as well. Like any omnivorous animal, a dog can certainly survive by eating meat-free meals, but is it healthy? The answer to that question depends on what your dog's vegan diet consists of and her overall health.

What do dogs need?

Contrary to popular opinion, dogs are not carnivores, but omnivores. This evolutionary trait allows dogs to obtain nutrients from animal protein and plant protein, including vegetables and fruits. Like people, dogs need protein to support the healthy growth of muscles, tissues, and hair, and to keep immune systems functioning properly. Protein is made up of amino acids, and, according to PetMD, your adult dog needs 22 essential amino acids to build the proteins she needs to stay healthy.

Like anything in life, however, too much of a good thing can come with consequences. Feeding your dog too much protein can result in an overweight dog because unused and uneliminated protein gets stored in the body as fat. To keep your dog healthy, she will need a balanced diet that contains amino acids, as well as fats, vitamins, and minerals.

What’s in vegan dog food?

While your dog certainly needs his recommended daily amount of protein to stay healthy, he doesn't necessarily have to get it from meat sources. Foods like peanut butter, spinach, and quinoa are all wonderful places to start when researching vegan ingredients. They can also make for great cruelty-free snacks if you aren't quite ready to take the vegan plunge, as suggested by Rover.

To keep your dog healthy on a vegan diet, you will need to include foods that, when combined, create the amino acids needed for him to thrive. Most vegan dog diets include leafy greens like spinach, nutrient-rich vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes, and plant-based proteins like soybeans, chickpeas, or lentils.

Benefits of a vegan diet

A 2016 study showed that 90 percent of pet owners surveyed put their dogs on vegan diets for ethical reasons, but some had other motivations. Food allergies are a common reason people decide to put their dogs on vegan diets, specifically, when their dogs have allergies to animal proteins or by-products, like dairy. A recent New York Times article states that eliminating animal products from a dog food can result in improved digestive function and healthier skin for dogs who suffer from ailments in those areas. Some also suspect that the recent uptick in cancer and degenerative diseases in dogs may be the result of waste products that make their way from the slaughterhouse to your dog's bowl.

Is it healthy?

Keeping your dog on a vegan diet can be healthy, but it will only be as good as you make it. The key here is the balance of protein and carbohydrates. You'll want to be careful that your dog's diet isn't too high in either one, but a healthy mix of the two. Balance is the appeal of commercial kibble; knowing that — assuming it's a quality brand — your dog will enjoy a balanced meal at every meal. Luckily, several vegan dog food brands are now available for pet owners who are either curious about or determined to keep their dog on a plant-based diet. Companies like V Dog, Benevo, and Halo are all recommended by PETA as healthy alternatives to meat-based commercial foods.

Things to keep in mind

If you're thinking of putting your dog on a vegan diet, be sure to check with your veterinarian before you make major changes. Some dogs may benefit from veganism, but dogs with nutrient deficiencies, for example, may require special precautions to stay healthy, like adding supplements or vitamins to their meals. The truth is, there have not been enough long-term studies that prove or disprove whether vegan diets are bad for dogs. That said, every dog is different, so always be sure to keep your dog's specific needs and condition of health in mind when making any major nutritional decisions.