This month, more people than ever are switching to vegetarian and vegan diets as they take part in Veganuary .
Driven by animal welfare concerns, the environmental impact of the meat industry, or simply to enjoy the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, these foodies are welcoming new products and meat alternatives into their diets.
If you’ve recently cut down your meat consumption or are already a long-term vegan, you may have some reservations about buying animal products for your pet dog.
Research is currently ongoing on whether canines can or should be fed vegan diets.
Leading pet healthcare specialist Bob Martin weighs into the debate and breaks down the facts.
Carnivore or omnivore?
Generally, dogs are seen as the archetypal carnivores. However, recent studies have found that canines are actually omnivorous, so can eat both plants and animals to survive.
Interestingly, it is actually cats who rely more on animal protein in their diet than dogs. With shorter intestinal tracts and their use throughout history as pest controllers, cats often still hunt and have departed less from their carnivorous diet than dogs.
Dogs can therefore transition to a plant-based diet much easier than our feline friends.
Much like when humans decide to go vegan or vegetarian, the main concern is how to get enough protein.
There is a risk of vegan diets not providing enough amino acids like taurine and L-carnitine, the building blocks of protein which are especially important for growing puppies and pregnant dogs.
A lack of sufficient protein, B-vitamins and folic acid – all found in meat – can also lead to heart conditions, weakened immunity and a lack of energy.
However, as more research goes into plant-based dog food, there are sophisticated alternatives increasingly coming onto the market.
Many use vegetarian sources of protein like peas, chickpeas, and lentils that our pets can digest easily and build bigger proteins from.
It’s also important to note that the quality of meat used in pet food is often very poor, and as a result, traditional meat varieties can have their own nutritional deficiencies.
If you are worried about a lack of nutrients, then adding a conditioning supplement with a selection of B-vitamins and minerals to your pet’s meat or plant-based diet can help to ensure they still receive a well-balanced diet.
Is a balanced plant-based diet?
Recent studies have suggested that a plant-based diet can in fact be healthy and adequate for dogs – so the answer is yes.
In some cases, such as with overweight dogs or those with kidney and digestive issues, transitioning them to a plant-based diet has even been seen to improve overall health.
However, owners should avoid attempting to make their dog fresh vegan or vegetarian food from home, as commercially produced dog food is carefully balanced and should be approved by bodies like the PFMA or the Veterinary Medicines Directorate ( SCV ).
All commercial dog food, be that vegetarian or traditionally meat-based, aims to be completely balanced for your adult dog or puppy, and these standards are virtually impossible to recreate at home.
Before making any drastic changes to your dog’s care, always consult your vet to ensure you find the right nutrition that is tailored to their age, breed and any pre-existing health issues they may have.