Can dogs eat a vegan diet? Perhaps they can.

Woman holding a white and brown French BulldogA vegan diet for my dog! He’ll disown me if I take away his meat! As you know, most dogs are used to eating a diet that includes varying amounts of meat. So, the questions is, can dogs eat a vegan diet?

In a previous post I reviewed 10 of the healthiest dog food brands. The main ingredient in each of these was meat. So, when I wrote that post I must admit I had a tinge of guilt. That’s because I’m vegetarian (for around 25 years) and am attempting to make the full transition to veganism.

In particular, I said that when you choose a healthy dog food the first ingredient should be meat. Well, that’s true if you choose to feed your dog a meat based diet as most people do. However, if you have strong convictions against eating meat, you may not have to.

I also said that dogs are “basically carnivores.” Well, that’s true to an extent. However, the label “omnivore” is more accurate as dogs can eat both animal and plant based food while maintaining good health.

Why would a dog go vegan?

My guess is that your dog won’t just come up to you one day and say “I want to go vegan.” So, you (not your dog) probably will consider veganism based on your (not your dog’s) personal ethics. Some of us, including myself, stand against the exploitation of animals and especially the abhorrent factory farming practices that produce most of the meat we and our dogs consume.

However, ethics may not always be the primary reason your dog goes vegan. The fact is, some dogs with food allergies are very sensitive to certain animal proteins.

Can dogs eat a vegan diet?

I will start with this little meat-free tidbit. Bramble, a vegan Border Collie, lived to the ripe old age of 27. I think that’s something like 160 in dog years. So, is that anomaly? Who knows? Anyway, the point is if done right, a dog can indeed live a healthy life with a vegan diet. However, one needs to proceed with much research and knowledge before diving in.

Veterinarian and former president of the US Humane Society, Dr. Michael Fox, states that dogs do adapt and thrive on a well-balanced vegan diet but most do best with at least some animal fat and protein.

Cailin AR.Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN says that most dogs can do quite well on a carefully designed vegan diet that meets all their nutritional needs.

She explains there are anti-vegan myths floating around out there. Notably, one of these says that a vegan diet puts an enormous strain on the pancreas. It asserts that the dog pancreas cannot secrete cellulase to split the cellulose into glucose molecules. Further, it says that dogs are not efficient at digesting and assimilating plant material as a source of protein.

Dr. Heinze goes on to say that there is no evidence to support this. As a matter of fact, in her observation, dogs do very well in breaking down starch from plants. Further, she states that no mammals make cellulase.

Another anti vegan myth is that since dogs share 99.8% of their mitochondrial DNA with wolves (carnivores) they have the same nutritional needs. But, Dr Heinze explains that this is not true. It so happens that recent research into this revealed that one of the genetic differences between wolves and dogs is in starch digestion. Thus, dogs have evolved to be able to digest starches (carbohydrates) better than wolves.

From a biological perspective, dogs lack most of the metabolic adaptations to a strict diet of animal flesh like a cat or ferret. Thus, compared to true carnivores, dogs produce more of the enzymes needed for starch digestion and can utilize vitamins A and D from plant sources.

As a final point, even Dr. Heinze says that a diet with some animal products might be a better choice.

What makes up a vegan dog diet?

Here are some of the vegan-friendly foods you can feed your dog:Retriever dog with a bunch of carrots in her mouth

  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Certain types of beans
  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale

In addition to these, pay close attention amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s absolutely essential that you consult a pet nutritionist to make your diet plan.

Possible problems for vegan dogs

As stated above, a dog parent needs to conduct careful research before making a full conversion to a vegan diet. Remember, dogs are omnivores and therefore are designed to eat both plant and animal. So, what could go wrong?

Well, the number one point most of us think of and accurately so, is protein deficiency. Depending on age and activity level, a dog’s diet should be 15%-30% protein.

Further, amino acid imbalance can cause heart problems and other illnesses.

Also, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can result (B vitamins, calcium, phosphorous and iron are most commonly found in meat)

You can obtain adequate protein levels with a vegan diet. However, this depends on your dog’s ability to digest plant-based alternatives like legumes and beans. But, the big challenge is amino acids so you need to supplement a vegan diet with these.

Dog Physiology as it relates to a vegan diet

Dog physiology points away from carnivore and toward omnivore. Here’s why:

  • Dogs have molars with relatively flat surfaces that are designed to grind not only bones, but also fibrous material.
  • The small intestine occupies about 23% of the gastrointestinal volume – this is consistent with other omnivores. True carnivores like cats have even smaller small intestines.
  • They have the ability to create vitamin A from beta carotene found in plants.

Vegan dog diets study

In 2014 there was a study in Austria, Germany and Switzerland where participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their experience feeding their dogs a vegan diet. Following this, there was a clinical examination and blood tests.

The examinations included assessments of general appearance, body condition, skin, coat, lymph nodes, vital signs, cardiovascular, respiratory systems, digestive systems, blood count, liver kidney and pancreatic functions. In addition, levels of magnesium, calcium, iron, protein, folic acid, vitamin B12 and carnitine were examined.

The dogs ate vegan diets for at least 6 months prior to the study. 39% of the participants used only commercially available products. 9% used homemade vegan dog food recipes and the remainder used a combination.

Here’s what they found. 38% of the dog owners reported that their dog displayed healthier and shinier coats. Some dogs who were previously prone to scaly or oily coats no longer showed signs of these problems. Some owners described improved odors of their pets. Others reported improved stool consistency.

No abnormalities were detected that were associated with the diet. Protein levels were within normal range. Furthermore, the levels of iron and vitamin B12 were fine.

The best vegan dog foods on the market

Be sure to look for the amino acidstaurine and l-carnitine in the ingredients. Here are four of the best vegan dog foods on the market. Two are dry and two are canned.

Natural Balance Vegetarian Dry Dog Food

28 lb. bag

Amazon Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars

  • Vegan Formula
  • Premium energy sources from brown rice, oatmeal and potatoes
  • Natural health support from green peas
  • Complete, balance nutrition

Price: $52.10 Buy Here

V-Dog Kinder Kibble Vegan Adult Dry Food

20 lb. bag

Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars

  • Pooch-tested and planet approved
  • 100% plant based formula
  • Human grade ingredients
  • No fillers
  • 24% protein

Price: $55.99 Buy Here

Natural Balance Ultra Premium Vegetarian Canned Dog Food

12 – 13oz cans

Amazon Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

  • A true vegan formula
  • Premium energy sources
  • Natural health support from green peas
  • Complete, balanced nutrition for all breeds of adult dogs
  • No artificial flavors or colors
  • No preservatives

Price: $25.16 Buy Here

AvoDerm Natural Canned Dog Food for All Life Stages

12 – 13oz cans

Amazon Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars

  • No animal proteins or fats
  • Omega-rich avocados and avocado oil
  • No artificial flavors or colors
  • No preservatives
  • Corn free, soy free, wheat free
  • Healthy, balanced nutrition
  • Vitamins, minerals and antioxidant nutrients

Price: $24.49 Buy Here

In Conclusion

Can dogs eat a vegan diet? My research says yes but with caveats. It takes careful planning and it seems that most experts, but not all, say that a least some animal product is necessary for enough amino acids and vitamins.

However, you will also see that some dogs have thrived eating a totally vegan diet. So, the decision is with you and your dog.

We love comments so be sure to leave yours and any experience you and your dog have had with a vegan diet.


2 comments on “Can dogs eat a vegan diet? Perhaps they can.

  1. Anita

    Am one firm believer that dogs are carnivorous and not even omnivorous so am for an all meat diet. I would like to try this vegan diet and see how my dog would react. Of course with help from the Vet. How would you recommend one to introduce this diet to the dog?

    1. Christopher Mitchell

      Hi Anita:

      Thank you for your message!

      Start with just a small amount of vegan and then introduce slowly by adding a little more vegan each time you feed your dog.


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