Vegan Diets for Dogs: Nutrition & Recommendations

It’s easy to put your dog on a vegan diet. Thousands of dogs have thrived, and lived long healthy lives on exclusively vegan food.

Unlike cats, dogs rarely turn up their noses and walk away in disgust when you try to feed them something new, and in fact dogs will cheerfully wolf down just about anything you set in front of them. What’s more, dogs generally thrive on a vegan diet, and rarely need the frequent veterinary tests that are required by vegan cats. That said, some precautions are nevertheless appropriate when switching your dog over to vegan food, and this article will tell you the main things you need to know.

Advice for Feeding Dogs

Dogs should not be abruptly switched to a vegan diet, as doing so can create 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 are so common among cats are unlikely to appear in dogs that are put on a proper diet, yet these crystals still merit attention. 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 that urine pH is at an unhealthy level. If so, your veterinarian can recommend supplements to bring pH into a healthy range. There are several companies that make vegan dog food. The two largest vegan dog food manufacturers are V-dog and Evolution.

Both of these brands are formulated to be nutritionally appropriate for dogs. If you buy a different brand, either check the packaging or contact the manufacturer to ensure that the product meets the nutritional standards of the US Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). 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 both for dental health and because canned vegan food can be quite expensive. 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.

There is one final serious concern when putting your dog on a vegan diet. Some 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 doberman pinschers, boxers, American cocker spaniels, and various giant breeds including Scottish deerhounds, Irish wolfhounds, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Afghan hounds. 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.

Having covered the susceptibility of some dog breeds to struvite crystals and DCM, this seems like an excellent time to make the plea that your next dog be a rescued mutt. Not only are mixed breeds unlikely to develop struvite crystals or DCM, their hybrid vigor typically makes them less disposed to a variety of other maladies, from hip dysplasia to epilepsy. On top of enjoying better health, mixed breeds are typically 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.

Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Even though dogs aren’t nearly as carnivorous as cats, they typically eat more meat than cats since they are often much bigger animals. 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, much of it diseased or derived from organs. The switch to a vegan diet can allow your dog to be eating a cleaner and healthier diet than is possible even through purchasing premium conventional dog foods. And, as we’ve seen, the effort involved to put your dog on a vegan diet can be trivial—and, best of all, the cost of vegan dog kibble is comparable to premium conventional brands.

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