Should your dog go vegan?
Veganism and vegetarianism have become increasingly popular for New Zealanders, but what about their four-legged best friends?
The idea of giving dogs a vegan diet has remained controversial in the recent years. For vegan owners, it might be uncomfortable and against their values to feed pets with another animal. However, dissenters believe meat and bones are essential for dogs’ health and growth.
So what does science have to say in this matter?
In short, it is still inconclusive. According to Wanda McCormick, animal physiologist and senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, dogs may digest plant-based food more easily than their canine predecessors, thanks to extensive domestication. However, this also means that they are more vulnerable to tooth loss and decay due to lower exposure to bones.
“There’s also the fact that bones, raw hide and meat-based chews can offer significant behavioural benefits to dogs,” McCormick wrote on The Conversation. “Chewing can be an immensely satisfying and relaxing experience for dogs. And in a world where many pets experience long periods of time alone, such opportunities can be invaluable.”
Many other experts are also undecided. So far, there are no longitudinal studies on veganism in dogs. “Most of what we know about their nutrition is by trial and error,” Greg Aldrich, associate professor at Kansas State University specialising in pet food nutrition told Vox.
This might explain why some vets are more open to meat-free meal plan, while others are more reluctant. “Can I create a vegetarian diet for a dog? Yes, I can … We have to pay very, very, very special attention, though, because they do have tendencies toward a more carnivorous physiology,” said Aldrich.
“Only today, knowing all I know about nutrition and all of the analytical techniques, would I feel comfortable feeding a dog a vegetarian diet.”
Nevertheless, Aldrich said he still would not put his Labrador retriever on a vegetarian diet.
Brisbane pet nutritionist Ruth Hatten recommends a mixed diet to ensure that your dog gets all the nutrients it needs. “I still encourage including raw meaty bones, raw free-range eggs and fish. While not vegan, it allows reduction of meat while significantly reducing any health concerns that may arise from a vegan diet,” Hatten told news.com.au.
“I understand it can be challenging for vegans to feed their dog meat, but I believe that our primary obligation is to the animals in our care. Sometimes a dog won’t enjoy a vegan diet, and that is an important factor, too.”
If you are set on a vegan or vegetarian diet for your dog, vet Derek McNair advises taking gradual steps. “Take at least a month to allow time for gut bacteria to adjust,” McNair told news.com.au. “Have them checked every six months … After about two years, if everything is looking good with blood tests and so on, stretch it out to annually, which is what we recommend for every dog, regardless of diet.”