Is Vegan Dog Food Safe? [Review of Studies]

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Don’t dogs need meat?

That’s a completely reasonable question.

We think of dogs, who came from wolves, and it’s not a far stretch to assume that dogs are carnivorous (e.g. they have to eat meat to meet their nutritional requirements).

But as dogs became domesticated, they evolved to be omnivores (unlike cats who are obligate carnivores – we’re still not sure if cats can be vegan).

Dogs may prefer meat, but they can digest plant materials just fine.

There are 2 primary reasons to feed your dog vegan dog food:

  1. They are allergic to meat – To be precise, it’s more like a food sensitivity or intolerance. Some dogs get skin or gut issues because of certain types of animal products (could be beef, chicken, dairy, etc.) and do much better after avoiding them.
  2. You don’t want to harm other animals – Obviously this is a big concern for vegans. It’s hard to care about your furry little friend so much, and then have to kill other animals so your dog can eat. If there’s a plant-based alternative, that seems great.

Both reasons make perfect sense to me, but they leave one big question…

Is Vegan Dog Food Safe?

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All beings need certain nutrients to survive.

If you can digest those nutrients from your diet, you’ll thrive. If you’re missing any, your health will likely suffer. It’s no different for dogs.

Since they can fully digest plants, and can get all essential nutrients from plants, in theory, dog food should be safe. The only potential issue is vitamin B12 (like for human vegans), but that can easily be added to foods.

Enough speculation, let’s look at some research.

In a 2016 meta study (meaning they looked at how several studies fit together) that assessed the viability of vegan dog food, researcher found that dogs can thrive on a vegan diet.

Note the word “can” there. It is crucial that all essential nutrients for dogs are included in foods.

In one of the studies they reviewed, they found that 25% of commercial vegetarian dog foods (24 in total were tested) were deficient in amino acid requirements set by AAFCO.

So while 75% of vegan dog foods were complete, a decent portion were not. If a dog only ate one of those foods for an extended period, they would likely get sick.

Choose the Right Vegan Dog Food and Rotate Them

The science shows that feeding your dog vegan food is a realistic option, and most dogs can thrive on it.

However, if you go with a cheap, unreputable manufacturer, or make it yourself, there’s a relatively high risk that it will be deficient in one or more essential nutrient.

Yes, vegan dog food is more expensive (not by a huge amount though) usually, but you can’t afford to cheap out and risk your dog’s health.

Stick with reputable brands that thousands of dogs have eaten and done well on. I’ve put together a detailed guide to the best vegan dog food to help you choose one.

Finally, it’s a good idea to rotate the vegan dog foods around, or even giving your dog some of one, and some of another. This will provide a safety net in case one of the foods is deficient in a nutrient (the other food likely won’t be and will provide some cover).

Bottom line, dogs can survive on vegan food, and can even do better than they would from eating animal foods in cases of intolerance.

Still, if you’re worried, schedule a few extra vet visits and do some blood testing to make sure your dog stays healthy after the transition.

About the author

Dale C.

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance writer. Trying to do my small part in making the world better by writing about the wonderful world of veganism.

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