Can dogs be vegan? A Complete Guide

Find food that fits your pet’s needs

Can dogs be vegan? Theres a lot of controversy surrounding this question. While some people may claim that their dogs thrive on a meat-free diet, many experts express concern that a vegan meal plan for dogs lacks the nutritional requirements for a truly healthy dog. So, which side is correct?

Bullmastiff puppy chewing on a carrotThe short answer is that yes, technically speaking, dogs can survive and even do well on a vegan or vegetarian regimen, says Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. While its commonly believed that dogs are carnivores like their wolf ancestors, meaning that they must eat meat to survive, this is incorrect. Although theyre members of the order Carnivora — which, it should be noted, also includes the giant panda, a species that eats almost exclusively bamboo plants — dogs are actually omnivores. Canine digestive systems are quite capable of digesting and deriving nutrients from fruits and vegetables.

Because of this, and the fact that some dogs are allergic to animal proteins, sometimes veterinarians and licensed pet nutritionists will prescribe specially designed meat-free diets to treat dogs with allergies and other types of health problems. With that said, Tufts University cautions that a dog food plan devoid of animal fats and proteins is potentially dangerous and should never be fed without the supervision of a professional.

Why a Vegan Regimen Is Dangerous for Dogs

Designing a meat-free food for dogs that contains all of the necessary nutrients for them to thrive is extremely difficult, even for licensed veterinary nutritionists, says Tufts. While the canine digestive system can get nutrition from plant matter, it has a much easier time processing animal matter. Fruits and vegetables are great for providing vitamins and antioxidants that can help your dog thrive, but they lack the necessary amounts of fat and protein. Proteins derived from animal products, like collagen, elastin and keratin — all of which are vital for healthy skin, muscles and joints — are difficult, if not impossible, to derive from a vegan diet. The bottom line is that, unless its done very carefully under the guidance and supervision of a licensed veterinary nutritionist, making your dog vegan could lead to severe health complications and malnutrition.

What vegetarian or vegan diets are commercially available?

There are more and more options when looking for a vegan or vegetarian dog food. Be sure that the product is labeled ‘complete’ if this is going to make up the majority of your dog’s diet to meet its nutritional needs. Vegan or vegetarian options include: Vetruus Solo Vegetal, Yarrah, Benevo, Ami and Lily’s Kitchen. These can be fed on their own or mixed into a meat based diet.

If you’re looking to reduce the environmental impact of your pets food, Yora and Green Petfood sell insect protein-based complete pet foods. Entec nutrition also has an insect based pet food in the pipeline, launching in 2021.

Can Dogs Be Vegan?

Countless vegan dogs thrive on their diets, and enjoy long and healthy lives. They rarely need the frequent veterinary tests that are required by vegan cats. What’s more, it’s usually easy to find vegan food your dog enjoys. Unlike cats, dogs rarely turn up their noses and walk away in disgust when you try to feed them something new. On the contrary, dogs cheerfully wolf down just about anything you set in front of them.

That said, some precautions are nevertheless appropriate when switching your dog to vegan food. This article will tell you the main things you need to know.

Never abruptly change your dog’s diet, as doing so commonly causes all sorts of digestive problems. Instead, mix in about 10 percent vegan food to your dog’s current diet, and step up this percentage by another 10 percent every couple of days.

It’s wise to bring your dog in for a checkup a couple weeks after completing the transition to vegan dog food, and annually thereafter. The dreaded struvite urinary crystals that commonly afflict vegan cats are unlikely to appear in dogs eating a proper diet. Despite that, these crystals still merit attention, since they can produce severe health problems.

At your dog’s checkup, ask for a urinalysis—this test will reveal if there are struvite crystals, or early signs of related problems. Purebreds are especially vulnerable, especially miniature schnauzers, shia tzus, bichon frises, miniature poodles, cocker spaniels, and lhasa apsos. Even if struvite crystals aren’t detected, a urinalysis may reveal your dog’s urine pH level is out of whack. If so, your veterinarian can recommend supplements to bring pH into a healthy range.

Several companies that make vegan dog food. Check out our Vegan Dog Food page for a list of popular brands of vegan dog food and treats. Whatever brand you buy, make sure the product meets the nutritional standards of the US Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Contact the manufacturer if the packaging fails to disclose this information.

For dogs who are likely to develop struvite crystals, the added liquid in canned foods can help to prevent these crystals from forming.

If you can’t afford canned food, you can add water to kibble just before serving. If struvite crystals are not a concern, kibble is probably the wisest choice. It’ll save you a lot of money over canned vegan food, plus better protect your dog’s dental health.

The cost per pound of kibble typically declines steeply as the size of the bag increases. Many retailers offer large bags that work out to under two dollars a pound. Your natural foods store may stock vegan dog food—if not, you can readily find what you want online.

Some dog breeds are prone to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). A switch to vegan food may upset your dog’s protein balance, and thereby cause this condition. The breeds most at risk of DCM are:

Your veterinarian can run blood tests to ensure that your dog’s new diet is not triggering physiological changes that can lead to DCM. If blood tests reveal a problem, there are protein supplements your veterinarian can recommend that should resolve the situation.

Given the susceptibility of some dog breeds to struvite crystals and DCM, now is a great time to suggest that your next dog be a rescued mutt. Mixed breeds are unlikely to develop struvite crystals or DCM. Plus, their hybrid vigor typically makes them less disposed to a variety of other maladies, from hip dysplasia to epilepsy. Mixed breeds consistently enjoy better health than purebreds, and consequently have far lower veterinary bills.

Despite all this, mixed breeds are often in urgent need of rescue. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that, in the United States alone, between three and four million unadopted cats and dogs are killed in shelters each year.

Because of their size, larger dogs can eat a great deal of meat over the course of a year. Since it’s comparatively cheap and easy to put dogs onto a meatless diet, vegan dog food is a terrific option for people who want to keep substantial amounts of flesh from entering their households.

One perk of putting your dog on a vegan diet is that pre-existing skin conditions may suddenly clear up. That’s because it turns out that many dogs have low-grade allergies to beef and chicken products. These allergies often cause hair loss or inflamed skin, and switching these animals to vegan food can cause a dramatic reversal to these conditions. If the switch to a vegan diet does not clear up these skin problems, or if skin problems suddenly appear on the new diet, check to see whether the ingredients contain soy—many dogs are also allergic to soy products.

As with cats, dogs can gain some substantial health advantages by being fed an exclusively vegan diet. Like cat food, most meat-based commercial dog food is made from the lowest quality animal flesh available. There is a legitimate worry that this food comes from diseased animals or derived from organs.

The switch to a vegan diet can allow your dog to enjoy a far cleaner and healthier diet. After all, even supposedly premium conventional dog foods can contain gruesome ingredients. And, as we’ve seen, the effort involved to put some dogs on a vegan diet can be trivial. Best of all, the cost of vegan dog kibble is comparable to premium conventional brands.