Written by Dr. Marybeth Minter, DVM
Nearly a decade ago, I routinely recommended grain-free, meat-based kibble and raw meat diets for both dogs and cats. As I became increasingly concerned with what climate science was revealing, and grew more aware of the dire state of the welfare of food animals, along with the prevalent chemical contamination of our food supply, I started to question the soundness of my dietary advice for the long-term health of my clients’ animals.
When my own beloved Border Collie passed, I began wondering how her meat-based diet affected her health and final condition. I listened to respected colleagues who were also looking at the industry focus on high-meat diets. I discovered that dogs were being fed more meat in the last 40 to 50 years than at probably any time in their long evolutionary history with humans. I questioned the assumption that dogs were “mini-wolves”, as the marketing narrative of many meat-based dog food brands claimed. Dogs are carnivorous in nature, but are considered omnivores, like humans. As they were domesticated over thousands of years, they developed more ability to digest starches. This speaks to their overall malleability and adaptability and how they could survive and thrive with humans who developed agrarian and herding lifestyles.
I began to more thoroughly understand bioaccumulation through diet, realizing its potential health effects in humans, dogs and cats, who are perched at the top of the food chain. Given the rise in chronic diseases and cancers that are often irresolvable with veterinary treatment, I was seeing that feeding highly concentrated animal-sourced diets could be a significant contributor.
As I began feeding plant-based diets to my own dog and helping interested clients, I started noticing many chronic inflammatory conditions (skin, digestive, urinary, and musculoskeletal) begin to improve. Obese animals became more fit and energetic. Chronic vomiting, constipation, and anal gland issues resolved. Anxiety-related behaviors often decreased.
Environmental impact of companion animal diets
A 2017 study found that the dietary footprint of dogs and cats in the US constitutes about 25% to 30% of the environmental impacts from animal production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides. Dog and cat animal product consumption is responsible for the release of up to 64 million tons of CO2-equivalent methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gases. The US is home to the most pet guardians in the world. As pet guardianship increases in some developing countries, especially China, and global pet food trends continue toward higher meat content and quality, pet guardianship will further compound the environmental impacts of human dietary choices.
Are vegan dogs healthy?
Many guardians of companion animals are interested in plant-based diets for their dogs and cats because of the environmental impacts and humane concerns discussed above. But can dogs and cats eat healthy plant-based diets, or at least significantly fewer animal protein sources? Current research indicates they can, and more studies are coming. A 2016 article comprehensively reviews the evidence of four studies that examined the nutritional adequacy of vegetarian diets for cats and dogs. To obtain additional information, they surveyed 12 pet food companies, and examined the nutritional soundness of meat-based companion animal diets, reviewing the evidence concerning the health status of vegetarian, carnivorous, and omnivorous companion animals. The authors concluded that both cats and dogs may thrive on vegetarian diets, but they must be nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced. They recommended that guardians should also regularly monitor urinary acidity and correct urinary alkalinization through appropriate dietary additives, if necessary.
Feeding your dog a fresh, homemade plant-based diet with the proper balance of vitamins, minerals and amino acids can be a game changer for their health and vitality. Not sure where to start? Grab a copy of our Guide to Home Cooking for Dogs and get a simple recipe, tips and healthy fruit/veggie snack ideas for your pup.
This blog post is an excerpt of an article written by Dr. Marybeth Minter, DVM published in the Innovative Veterinary Care Journal Winter 2021/2022 edition.