dog holding pet food bowl Dogs can experience a range of health benefits on a plant-based diet. - Media Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission.

Could A Vegan Diet Actually Be Better For Dogs Than Meat?

A growing number of people are adapting their dogs' diets to be plant-based. But is it safe? And what are the benefits?

By

11 Minutes Read

The day my border collie Levi celebrated his 9th birthday was the day I really started thinking about his age. Of course, most people fear the day their companion animals ‘go to live on a farm’ – you know, permanently. But it’s a thought you force back down for most of your pup’s life. 

But when Levi embarked (get it?) upon his ninth year of life, I couldn’t keep it down any longer. I knew he wasn’t in perfect health. He had early arthritis and was being treated for infections in both ears. He had less energy than he used to, and no longer jumped up into the car or onto the bed. 

I was doing my best to give him a great and healthy life. But I was aware that a lot of dogs don’t make it past 10-12. And I was eager (or desperate?) to find new ways to increase the likelihood of him living longer. 

Nights of research kept leading me back to a concept I’d always doubted and judged: a vegan diet for dogs. I’m vegan myself, but never considered forcing that onto Levi. Like most pet owners, I only want what’s best for him. But suddenly, I was reading about the health risks of feeding meat to your dog, not the other way around. 

I’m not here to convince you to change your dog’s diet to a plant-based one. What I will do though, is share some of the information I found useful when exploring this topic further.

Can dogs be vegan?

Whether dogs can be vegan is a contentious topic. At a first glance, it’s easy to mistake dogs for carnivores – the teeth, for starters, are misleading. But domestic dogs are actually omnivores, like humans, chimps, bears, and pigs (to name a few). 

An omnivore is an animal that can survive on both plant- and animal-based foods. For this reason, like many other omnivores, dogs can eat an entirely plant-based diet. 

Benefits of a plant-based diet for dogs

playful dog running through water energetically
Adobe. Do not use without permission. Many people report improvements in their dogs’ health after switching them to a plant-based diet.

It didn’t take long to see the improvements in Levi once he transitioned away from commercial meat-based kibble and toward a vegan formula. It’s been more than 2 years, and he is healthier than he’s ever been. He hasn’t had issues with infections since he was eating meat, and his arthritis symptoms have significantly improved – jumping into cars, onto beds, and all over people. At 11 years old, he gets mistaken for a young dog all the time.

It’s a story that I’ve heard many times, especially on a Facebook group called Vegan Dog Nutrition, which has more than 17,000 members. Of course, anecdotal evidence isn’t enough. But these testimonies are backed up by research, too.

Research published in 2016 concluded that companion dogs can ‘thrive’ on a meat-free diet. “Such diets have been associated with benefits such as improved coat condition, allergy control, weight control, increased overall health and vitality, arthritis regression, diabetes regression, cataract resolution,” the journal article reads

It also noted ‘decreased incidences of cancer, infections, hypothyroidism and ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice and mites)’.

It clarified that pets on a meat-free diet can still develop health problems. “However, such diseases are also prevalent within the normal domesticated companion animal population,” the research said.

A separate study, from 2009, looked at the diets of highly exercised dogs to determine whether they could remain in good health on a meat-free diet. The experiment involved sprint-racing Siberian huskies and lasted 16 weeks, including 10 weeks of competitive racing. The dogs on a plant-based diet remained in ‘excellent physical condition’. 

‘Tremendous results’

playful border collie dog
Adobe Plant-based diets can be healthier and more sustainable than meat-based ones.

Dr. Debra Voulgaris, who has a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), has used plant-based diets to help pet patients manage harmful health conditions. “As an ethical veterinarian, I have a responsibility to recommend foods for my patients that are balanced and healthy. As an ethical vegan, I have a responsibility to promote compassion to all animals, not just my patients. V-dog allows me to do both,” she says, referring to a plant-based dog food brand. 

V-dog has proven to be effective in helping many of my patients manage certain allergies, gastrointestinal issues and other systemic illnesses.”

Dr. Jena Questen, who has her own animal rescue and vet hospital, also advocates for meat-free dog diets. She has stated: “Why do I support a vegan diet for dogs? Because the science is clear: 1) Humans and dogs are both omnivores. 2) A plant based diet is the best diet for health and longevity for humans. And 3) I want my animals to live as long, and healthy, as possible, therefore a plant based diet is what I feed and recommend, with tremendous results!”

Bramble, the 25-year-old vegan dog

You can’t talk about vegan dogs without mentioning the iconic border collie, Bramble. Bramble lived to just over 25 years – the equivalent of 189 in dog years. She even held the Guinness World Record for being the world’s oldest dog at the time. 

Bramble’s owner, animal rights activist Anne Heritage, spoke with V-Dog about Bramble and her other pups.

“I’ve had seven dogs – three of them lived to 19 years old, one lived to 20 years old, and then Bramble lived to 25 years old,” she said. All of them were vegan.

“I was really able to enjoy my dogs much longer – we were able to enjoy each other – due to their plant-based diet. I believe you can extend your dog’s years given the right care plan and food,” she said. 

“[Bramble] walked over two hours daily. All of this activity really built up her muscles and endurance. Bramble’s vet also said she had the best teeth she’s ever seen. Her teeth were white and strong.” (Interestingly, many vets have said that about Levi’s teeth too, but I can’t say whether that’s due to his diet).

Dangers of feeding dogs meat

pug looking at food
Adobe. Do not use without permission. Meat-based dog food can contain harmful bacteria.

Learning about the (many) health implications of meat-based dog food was the catalyst for me to make the change for Levi. 

It’s also what motivated some plant-based pet food brands to launch. Take Wild Earth, for instance. The company launched, in part, due to concerns about contaminated dog food. 

“Most of the major brands have meat scraps from the ‘4D animals’—dead, dying, diseased, or disabled—so there could really be anything in there,” CEO and co-founder Ryan Bethencourt told Wall Street Journal. Raw 4-D meat, according to the FDA, ‘may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it’.

Bethencourt continued: “We’ve taken an easily accessible vegan product that we can easily scale through biotechnology, not factory farming.”

Another meat-free pet food brand, V-Dog, has similar concerns. On its website, it points to data from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, which shows that in February 2018 alone, 38 pet food products were recalled for contamination, mostly from pentobarbital (a euthanasia drug) and Salmonella contamination. 

Multiple popular dog food brands were among those recalled. These included ​​Ol’ Roy, Skippy, and Gravy Train, which is owned by $14.34 billion manufacturer Smucker’s.

Raw meat risks

Raw meat-based dog food can be even more damaging. A study published in July examined the health risks of raw meat-based dog food by testing samples for the bacteria Enterococci. Enterococci that spreads to the wrong areas of the body can cause serious infections, including abdominal, wound, oral, and urinary tract infections.

Researchers looked at 55 samples from 25 brands (most of which ship worldwide). More than half (54 percent) of samples contained the bacteria. And more than 40 percent were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

The findings posed risks, not just to the dogs consuming it but to humans, too. “The close contact of humans with dogs and the commercialisation of the studied brands in different countries poses an international public health risk,” said study researcher Dr Ana R. Freitas.

“European authorities must raise awareness about the potential health risks when feeding raw diets to pets and the manufacture of dog food, including ingredient selection and hygiene practices, must be reviewed.”

Plastic in dog food

Stepping away from bacterial concerns, there are other ways using animals for pet food can be harmful. Former employees in the pet food industry have revealed that plastic ear tags from livestock can be processed along with the meat and ultimately, end up in dogs’ bowls. Spoiled supermarket meat can also be used in batches, sometimes without removing the styrofoam packaging.

Some employees spoke to ABC about the issue. A former rendering plant operations manager revealed: “There would be plastic. Butchers would be getting rid of their material and they don’t care what they’re putting in the bin — plastic, cans, all those sorts of things you would see.”

Environmental impact of dog food

afghan dog walking on grass
Adobe. Do not use without permission. The meat used to make pet food causes a great deal of environmental damage.

One of the primary reasons I went vegan was due to concerns about the planet. If you’ve read the news lately, you’ll know that the climate crisis is taking its toll all over the world, manifesting as floods, droughts, and wildfires (read more about the climate crisis here).

Of course, a lot of variables are at play. But an undeniable one is diet. The production of meat, dairy, and eggs is a leading driver of deforestation, ocean dead zones, and rising sea levels. Animal products (especially beef) are huge generators of greenhouse gas emissions. And research has shown over and over again that plant-based foods have a lower impact on the planet.

In 2019, researchers from Oxford University analyzed the impact of the food system on the planet. The study was the most comprehensive of its kind to date. Joseph Poore, who led the study, concluded: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.”

“It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, since these avenues mostly target greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems. Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this.

Venezuelan surgeon and veterinarian Dr. Simon Fit believes it is our ‘duty’ to work toward minimizing our pets’ environmental impact.

He said: “I also think that it is a duty of all of us who love animals and the planet to minimize the suffering of others and reduce the environmental impact that we produce with our food. The food that our dogs and cats consume produces more than 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – that’s the equivalent of driving more than 13 million cars.”

Growing numbers of vegan dogs

dog sitting with a little girl on a field
Adobe. Do not use without permission. A rising number of people are raising their dogs on a meat-free diet.

Vegan dogs are a minority, but a growing one. 

In 2019, researchers from U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College conducted a survey to examine what foods people are feeding their pets. 

Just under six percent of participants were vegan. More than a quarter (27 percent) were feeding their dogs a plant-based diet, too. Among the rest of the vegan survey respondents, 78 percent were interested in adjusting their pets diet to be plant-based if it met their needs

Lead author Dr. Sarah Dodd commented: “That percentage, 27 percent, might sound like a small number, but when you think of the actual numbers of pets involved, that’s huge, and much higher than we expected.”

All up, 1.6 percent of dogs from the survey were plant-based. A further 10.4 percent of dogs were ‘intermittently fed vegetarian diets or plant-based foods’.

Moreover, 35 percent of pet owners whose companion animals currently ate meat were interested in switching their pets’ diet to a plant-based one. 

“People have been hearing about how vegan diets are linked to lowered risks of cancer and other health benefits in humans. There is also growing concern about the environmental impact of animal agriculture,” Dodd said.

“Previous studies have also shown that pet owners tend to offer the same kind of diets to their dogs and cats that they adopt for themselves. So, while only a small proportion of pet owners are currently feeding plant-based diets to their pets, it is safe to say that interest in the diets is likely to grow.”

If you’re interested in knowing more, see here for some information on vegan dog food brands

Millions around the world trust Plant Based News for content about navigating our changing planet & our role in it.

Our independent team of journalists and experts are committed to making an impact through a wide range of content—and you can help by supporting our work today.

heading/author

The Author

Jemima Webber

Jemima is the Head of Editorial of Plant Based News. Aside from writing about climate and animal rights issues, she studies psychology in Newcastle, Australia (where she was born).

More by Jemima Webber iconography/arrow-right

heading/comments

Leave a Comment

Plant Based News Comment Policy

In short:- If you act with maturity and consideration for other users, you should have no problems. Please read our Comment policy before commenting.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
28 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
kenfab
kenfab
10 months ago

My german shepherd is 7 years old and has been on a plant based diet since she was a pup. I chose this diet for her for ethical reasons, but also in the hope that she would live a longer life than my previous dog who ate fish also, but died age 7 from cancer. My dog is full of energy, her only health issue is recent eczema, so I am currently restricting certain foods in the hope of finding out what she has become allergic to. As an animal lover, I would not wish to keep a dog in the future if it meant that other animals would have to lay down their lives to satisfy my pleasure of owning a pet.

Darrell Sawczuk
Darrell Sawczuk
10 months ago
Reply to  kenfab

Thank you for your comment! Glad to hear your GS is thriving !

David Henry
David Henry
5 months ago
Reply to  kenfab

That is because your dog is missing the necessary amounts of fat and proteins they would normally get from animal products, like collagen, elastin and keratin — all of which are vital for healthy skin, muscles and joints. These proteins are hard to find in such diets and even harder to artificially reproduce. This is why it is highly recommended for such a diet to be given and supervised by a licensed veterinary nutritionist. Having a vegan dog isn’t cheap if you actually care enough to do it right. . . otherwise it could lead to severe health complications and malnutrition. These articles rarely mention the cost and/or potential downsides, as per the “my belief” unwritten code, lol.

the jolly llama
the jolly llama
5 months ago
Reply to  David Henry

Found the article on the corporate pet food website you copied some of this from.
But it said this, “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.”
It’s a company that had a pet food recall in 2019 for toxic levels of vitamin D in their premix vitamin additive. The company was censured by the FDA.

“the FDA wrote. “As a result of your failure to consistently implement your pre-requisite program, a systematic failure of your food safety plan occurred that resulted in the recall of canned dog food.” (one million cans)

The vitamin D levels in tested lots of recalled products were more than 33 times the recommended safe upper limit.

David Henry
David Henry
14 days ago

The “corporate pet food website” you mention must have gotten it from Dr. Cailin Heinze, VMD, who is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and assistant professor of nutrition at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Most of what I wrote comes from an interview she had about the good and bad that can come from a layman’s vegan diet for dogs. It in no way says you shouldn’t (it encourages it). . . just that you shouldn’t act like you are a master in the art of nutrition just because you’re a vegan and think every other living creature can/should eat EXACTLY what you do.

David Henry
David Henry
14 days ago

As a side note: I am not sure why you have taken some offense to an open, honest, and an otherwise good advice comment that is meant to help others understand that “doing it because it worked for you” isn’t always the best approach when it comes to pets. You connecting my comment to some dog food company’s failure just to try and one up me for whatever reason (probably fall into the ‘Karen’ category) makes it spiteful on top of already being irrelevant in the first place.

Tyrone Bigguns
Tyrone Bigguns
5 months ago
Reply to  kenfab

you literally killed your dog. you should be fined and banned from keeping animals. I can’t believe this type of thing is allowed. This article should be taken down and you should lose your journalism license for spreading false information.

John
John
10 months ago

No you idiots .

John
John
10 months ago

Idiots

shingo
shingo
7 months ago
Reply to  John

The only idiot here is JOHN!

Catherine Morgan
Catherine Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  shingo

I echo that

bvdf
bvdf
10 months ago

Do you not know what an omnivore is? It’s an animal that *NEEDS* BOTH plant and meat to sustain a proper life. Not giving your dogs meat is not healty because even tho they may be omnivores, their body depends highly on the proteins and vitamins that are only in meat. Just like humans. The only animals that can adapt to a vegan diet is humans because they can at least live without meat (not in a healty way.) If you just observe it, a long-term vegan diet causes brain to get older much faster which leads to a lot of mental problems like amnesia and possibly stupidty (with you vegans making articles like this, the second one seems to emerge just from the commitment).

If you failed biology at 5th grade, I’m not gonna blame you. It’s an hard subject. But why the hell do you think making up experiments and “facts” is a good idea? An omnivore simply cannot live a properly healty life without meat in their diet. Yeah plant based diets are healtier than meat based diets. But only IF you add some meat here or there to that plant based diet

Do your research PROPERLY before writing articles. You are literally going to make a lot of people lose their beloved pets. People like you who writes articles the way people want to hear it instead of the truth are just piece of shits and should be fired.

Josh
Josh
7 months ago
Reply to  bvdf

evolution would beg to differ

Catherine Morgan
Catherine Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  bvdf

Oh dear, I think you need to do your research before writing such rubbish. Also just as an interesting bit of information, a dog named Bramble was in Guiness Book of Records as living to the ripe old age of 25 … but more than that, he lived on a vegan diet!

Tyrone Bigguns
Tyrone Bigguns
5 months ago

My great grandmother lived till she was 104. She smoked till she was 70. ! dog does not account for all of the dogs that are literally dying because idiots like you think its healthy for a dog not to have meat. Dogs are Carnivores. I hope you get fined and your pets taken away for animal cruelty.

Holger L.
Holger L.
10 months ago

If the dog gets everything it needs from the food (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carnitine, carnosine, creatine etc.) then a vegan diet wouldn’t necessarily be a problem.

However, the notion that dogs are omnivores is vastly incorrect. While they can eat plant matter, such as fruit, and don’t need as much pure meat/protein in their diet as do cats, they still have a mostly carnivorous digestive tract and organism. So if you do feed them only plant matter, you have to make sure to fashion it after their natural, high-protein diet, or you risk making them sick.

Replacing animal protein with plant protein is something that is also seen in food for senior cats. The reason is that there is less phosphate in plant protein than in meat, and so it is believed to be better for the kidneys. But why should a cat or a dog have kidney problems? Well, that’s most likely because of the sugary additives in regular cat and dog food that are meant to make the animal addicted. This results in overweight and diabetic cats, and diabetes in turn damages the kidneys. So it’s not necessarily the meat itself that causes problems, but rather the amount of food consumed.

All in all, the macrocomposition of the food is important, but so is the weight of the animal. As such, a carnivore diet is not necessarily healthy for a dog if the animal gets overweight. At the same time, a vegan diet isn’t necessarily unhealthy, assuming that the animal will get all it needs, and not become overweight.

Sally
Sally
10 months ago

My dog nearly died because of his vegan diet! He was eating v-dog and had vitamin deficiencies, no gut bacteria, and constantly had bloody diarrhea. We switched him to locally sourced pasture raised all meat diet formulated by an animal nutritionist and he is super healthy now. Dogs are not meant to be vegan!

Josh
Josh
7 months ago
Reply to  Sally

Science: proves things
People: I refuse to believe these are true

Catherine Morgan
Catherine Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  Sally

Sorry, don’t believe you.

Tyrone Bigguns
Tyrone Bigguns
5 months ago

Sorry science proves they require meat. Dogs on vegan diets suffer from severe malnutrition.

Catherine Morgan
Catherine Morgan
6 months ago

My dogs have been vegan for 2 years now. Vet says they are perfectly healthy. They have shiny coats and no longer scratch all the time. They love their food.

Tyrone Bigguns
Tyrone Bigguns
5 months ago

You should be banned from keeping animals you can’t legitimately believe this is good for your dog. Scientifically proven that they cannot survive off plants. Please give your dog up for adoption for his/her health and don’t keep anymore animals you barbarian.

Bigot’s regret
Bigot’s regret
17 days ago
Reply to  Tyrone Bigguns

Why don’t you shut up Tyrone BIGOT. If there are dogs doing fine on their v-diet, just leave them be. It’s obvious there’s multiple responses and effects, it’s an article that STATES “ I’m not here to convince you to change your dog’s diet to a plant-based one. What I will do though, is share some of the information I found useful when exploring this topic further.” Consequences fall on those who are responsible. Do you have a degree in this area? Did you write your own article about this subject? Do you have enough money or voice to coerce everyone to do and agree with what you say? There is a right and wrong but if there’s a will, there is a way. I hope god will guide you in the right direction with your bigot mind. If you want, you can EDUCATE, not slander. No one cares for it. Take everything with a grain of salt, young one.

Last edited 17 days ago by Bigot’s regret
Let’s all be Bigots
Let’s all be Bigots
17 days ago
Reply to  Tyrone Bigguns

Why don’t you just shut up Tyrone Bigot. If there are dogs doing fine on their v-diet, just leave them be.
Obviously there’s multiple responses and effects, in an article that STATES
“ I’m not here to convince you to change your dog’s diet to a plant-based one. What I will do though, is SHARE some of the information I found useful when exploring this topic further.”
Consequences will fall on those who are responsible. Responsibility includes doing proper research and consulting with a veterinarian.
Do you have any education or degree in this area? Did you write your own article about this subject? Or do you just have enough “power” to coerce everyone to do and agree with what you say?
There is a right and wrong but if there’s a will, there is a way. Education, methods, and alternatives are always advancing, changing, and growing.
I pray God will guide your small bigot mind. If you want, you can EDUCATE, speak of your experience, ask questions with what you disagree on. Not spit slander or trash. No one cares for it. Take everything with a grain of salt, and grow, young bigot.

Busysuperhuman
Busysuperhuman
6 months ago

Its cruel to feed a carnivorous animal like a dog a load of gluten, cereals and other plant based foods the poor creature can’t get nutrients from. If you need to fortify a food with vitmains and minerals then the food is basically crap. A sheep is herbivore that is happy being vegan. I never normally comment on blogs but you really are an unscientific moron who clearly doesn’t understand biology if you are advocating this. Put meat and vegetables in front of a dog and see what it chooses. Stop enforcing your ideology on an animal that doesn’t have a choice in what you feed it. I’m more than happy to meet up with you in person to discuss your content.

Oscar
Oscar
1 month ago

Hi, why a plant based diet makes dogs to have less ectoparasites?

Kim White
Kim White
4 days ago

What kind of veggies can the pup eat?
Are Avocado, Garlic, Onions dangerous for the pups and the dogs??

Plant Based News Admin
Editor
Plant Based News Admin
3 days ago
Reply to  Kim White

In this post we are specifically talking about nutritionally complete pre-made dog food. Please speak to your vet about feeding any ‘human food’ to your pups.

buttons/scroll-to-top/scroll-to-top-small-active