By Nathalie Sanderson |
Research shows that vegetarian and vegan diets are smart choices for health-conscious humans. They also minimize harm done to animals raised as fodder for supermarkets. But can a diet that is healthy and good for animals also be healthy for our pets?
Some people think so, and have begun to feed their dogs a vegan diet in a bid to promote health and ease the burden on the planet at the same time. The first reaction many people have to meat-less and dairy-free diets for dogs is indignation. Aren’t dogs carnivores? Isn’t it unhealthy, even cruel to feed carnivorous dogs an all-plant diet?
And yet, some vegan dogs seem to be thriving, at least those for whom the diet was approved by a veterinarian. Is it possible for our carnivorous canine companions to survive without flesh and bones? Can they thrive? Here, we address each question in turn; check it out.
Meeting Dogs’ Dietary Needs
A vegan diet is by definition one that does not contain any animal products. Vegans don’t eat meat or its byproducts, milk or eggs, for example. They do eat grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and fruits and vegetables. There’s no doubt that such a diet is acceptable for a human being, with proper supplementation. Humans are optimized primarily for plant consumption, although they can eat meat, too.
Dogs, on the other hand, seem to be primarily optimized for digesting meat. From tiny toy dogs all the way to the larger breeds – they all have powerful stomach acids, short digestive tracts and big, sharp teeth that seem optimized for meat consumption. But they also need complex carbohydrates to fuel their energy, so proteins can be used to sustain their muscles and tissues. As a result, we generally feed them a diet of plant— and animal-based protein to ensure they get a complete and balanced palate of nutrients.
But an omnivorous mix isn’t the only way to meet all their needs. It’s not the proteins that dogs require, as much as the constituent amino acids. A balance of plant and animal proteins usually provides a complete set of amino acids, which is why feeding a mix of meats and vegetables works. But if you provide the same set of amino acids through a carefully balanced and supplemented vegetative diet, your dog can still meet all their dietary requirements. The same goes for nutrients. Dogs need calcium which they often get from animal products, but bones and dairy aren’t the only ways to get it. They need phosphorus, too, but meat isn’t the only way to get that, either.
Dog By Dog
Designing a healthy vegan diet from scratch involves consideration of numerous details. You may avoid popular starches like soy carbohydrates, for instance, since dogs digest them poorly. You need to help Fido get his taurine. Today, however, there are vegan dog foods at some pet stores promising to take the guesswork out of the equation.
Some people consider canine veganism tantamount to cruelty. Others believe it could be a healthy alternative. The reality may be somewhere in between. Some dogs will benefit, others won’t, and many more will adapt to the specialized diet with little fanfare in either direction.
Keep in mind, there’s no proven health benefit associated with canine vegetarianism or veganism. However, it is possible for an individual dog to thrive on a vegan diet, depending on her unique health requirements. Should you switch your dog to a vegan diet? Only if your vet approves it!