Can my dog be vegan?

If you read our previous post about being an eco-friendly dog owner,  you may remember that choosing which food to give to your dog is one of the key considerations when trying to reduce your dog’s carbon pawprint. But is it actually OK to transition your dog to a plant-based diet, how do you go about it and are there any benefits?

Jo Amit, co-founder of Hownd, an ethical pet care and vegan dog food brand, answers all these questions so you can make the best decision for your canine companion.

8 minutes to read

by / 21st January 2022

So, can my dog really be vegan?

It’s important to remember that any canine diet must be nutritionally complete and balanced, comprising of the recommended levels of fats, protein, carbohydrates and other macronutrients recommended by canine nutrition experts. And yes, these macronutrients can all be sourced exclusively from plants. Read on to find out more.

You might struggle to mask a grin as you conjure images of dogs preaching to their furry friends about the health benefits of veganism, the damaging impact of meat production on the environment, and the animal cruelty that permeates through the meat production industry. And we get that.

We too may well have had the same reaction a decade or two ago. Veganism is only just becoming more mainstream amongst humans. Advertising and marketing aimed at dog owners historically has conditioned us to believe that “dogs need meat”, so any cynicism is totally understandable.

a dog holding a piece of broccoli in its mouth

A more nutritional focus

However, over recent years there has been far more scientific focus on the nutritional needs of dogs and the potential health benefits of transitioning to plant-based diets, which has helped to promote a more balanced, positive and scientifically-informed dialogue among pet owners. Consequently, perceptions have started to shift, and people are finally starting to realise that the potential health benefits of transitioning their dogs to plant-based diets are very real. In fact, according to a number of leading nutritional scientists and experienced veterinarians, many of these benefits are now indisputable.

Before you start, we want to remind you that we’re not here to tell you what to do or to judge your choices. Everyone should only do what they feel comfortable doing, whether that’s feeding their dogs meat-only diets, plant-only diets, or something in between. Genuinely. We simply want to level the playing field by introducing some balance (and science) into the discussion, so that pet owners can at least understand that they perhaps have a greater range of options than they have traditionally been led to believe. No more smoke and mirrors. Only hard facts, backed up by science and leading industry experts.

Can a vegan diet for my dog help prevent disease?

Let’s start by looking at diseases among the canine population. Over recent years, several controlled studies have discovered a strong correlation between commercial canine meat-based diets and increased risks of kidney failure, liver disease, musculoskeletal disorders, neurological diseases, bleeding disorders and birth defects. Understandably, this has led many to shift from processed meat-based pet foods to raw meat diets, but doing so can be equally as hazardous for your furry companions. For example, a number of organisations (including the FDA and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association) have warned that raw meat diets can also cause foodborne illnesses by introducing disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella into pets’ digestive systems.

In his critically acclaimed book “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats”, Dr. Richard Pitcairn decided to promote plant-based diets after discovering first-hand the improvements in dogs’ conditions that stemmed from their transition away from meat-based diets.

Will a vegan diet help my dog live longer?

So what about lifespan? Of course, once we’ve built that unbreakable bond, we want our furry friends to remain with us – happy and healthy for as many years as possible. This means that we strive to do all we can to ensure our dogs live well beyond their life expectancy. Naturally, some of it comes down to luck, but nutrition can play a vital part. And there are now reasons to believe that plant-based diets can make all the difference.

In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, one of the longest-living dogs of all time, Bramble the Collie, was a fully-fledged vegan. Bramble actually lived to 25 which was almost double the life expectancy of a Collie and in case you thought this was a case of correlation rather than causation, five of Bramble’s vegan “siblings” also lived to beyond 19. The key differentiating factor in all cases? Their diet.

Does feeding my dog a vegan diet reduce the risk of obesity?

As well as an increased risk of disease and a shorter life expectancy, meat-based diets have also been strongly linked to obesity among pets. This has been recognised by a number of scientific studies, with vets now publicly acknowledging the issues posed by rising obesity levels among the canine population. To that end, its now estimated that one in three dogs in the United States is overweight or obese, and it’s likely that the statistics in the UK aren’t far off.

So why does this matter? Well, obesity has been linked to more than 20 disease conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and cancer. Obesity is also linked to shorter lifespans, with one sobering study of Labrador Retrievers finding that the life expectancy of even moderately overweight dogs can reduce by nearly two years.

Exercise plays a role of course, but when it comes to weight-management, nutrition is fundamental. It has even been shown that transitioning overweight dogs to a complete and balanced plant-based diet can often reverse the ill effects of meat consumption, enabling weight loss and improved weight maintenance, as well as improved mobility and energy levels.

How can this be the case? Well, fruits and vegetables provide highly-nutritious options, with far fewer calories than your traditional meat-based dishes. This might be why leading vet Dr. Lorelei Wakefield says she has yet to see an obese vegan dog! Moreover, a recent study published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has found that plant-based diets can improve insulin sensitivity and beta-cell function in overweight adults.

Can a vegan diet improve or prevent allergies and inflammatory conditions in dogs?

Some dogs also suffer from a variety of allergies, food sensitivities, and other inflammatory conditions, which can lead to diarrhoea, vomiting, digestive issues such as IBS, rashes and itchy skin, yeast infections, joint pain, arthritis, and a whole host of other unpleasant symptoms. And once again, it appears that meat-based pet food could have been been a significant contributor.

It has been found that dogs with allergies are most commonly reacting to animal proteins, not grains. One particular study even found thatanimal-based ingredientsincluding beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, eggs, pork, fish and rabbit were responsible for 236 cases of food allergies in dogs!

To that end, many vets and scientific studies now acknowledge that a plant-based diet can help to address many of the underlying causes of these conditions, by eliminating many of the allergens to which dogs have been repeatedly exposed. This is, in part, because vegan diets are easily digestible, hypoallergenic and naturally anti-inflammatory, which can bolster dogs’ immune systems, reduce the risk of infection and relieve our furry friends of the need to scratch and lick for hours on end.

Are there any other health benefits or considerations of a vegan doggy diet?

Yes! Research has shown a decrease in incidences of cancer and infections when dogs are fed a plant-based diet, as well as arthritis and diabetes regression, cataract improvement, healthier teeth and gums, reduced eye discharge, and other health benefits

Is having a vegan dog better for the environment?

Did you know that a quarter of the environmental impact of meat production comes from the pet food industry? Research from the University of Edinburgh shows that an area twice the size of the UK is used to produce dry pet food each year. Furthermore, it’s been found that the loss of natural habitats to factory farming provides a major threat to the existence of wildlife.

Carbon pawprint reduction: Transitioning a 32kg dog from a raw meat diet to a plant-based diet could save 10,000 litres of water, approximately sixty square feet of rainforest, around 41kg of grain, and the lives of two farm animals – every single day, say the authors of  ‘The Clean Pet Food Revolution’.

Is a vegan diet nutritionally sound for my dog?

Yes, it is, as long as you pick a nutritionally sound vegan dog food. But dogs don’t need meat to stay healthy. For centuries they’ve been man’s best friend, living on a varied mix of leftovers. It’s worth noting that they do require two amino acids, L-carnitine and taurine, which are usually added to vegan dog foods or can be added as supplements.

vegan dog food in a bowl surrounded by a selection of vegetables


Feeding your dog a vegan diet is kinder to other species

By feeding your dog a plant-based diet, you’re not contributing to the animals that suffer to produce pet food. 30% of intensively farmed animals are destined for our pets’ food bowls so by switching to plant-based, you’re helping loads of other species too.

Making the decision to transition your dog to a vegan diet

We want you to know that plant-based foods can provide all the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants that dogs need, whilst offering a clean, transparent and sustainable alternative to meat-based diets. After all, surely our dogs deserve to have as much care taken over their nutritional needs as we humans have.

In short, based on the evidence, a plant-based diet might well offer the best possible chance of enabling your dog to live a long, happy and healthy life.

About the Author

Jo Amit’s brand, Hownd, creates products that help keep dogs happy and healthy for life, while encouraging others to live a planet-kind, cruelty-free lifestyle. They believe the world would be a better place if more people embraced the power of plants.

Their products are kind to our precious planet and the animals that inhabit it. That’s why dogs and their humans love Hownd.

Hownd’s founders are convinced that dogs can thrive without compromising the welfare of other animals. Since day one, Hownd pet care has been certified by Cruelty-Free International and is accredited by The Vegetarian (Vegan) Society, PETA Cruelty-Free and The Ethical Company Organisation.

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