Vegan Dogs: Nutrition and Precautions

Countless vegan dogs thrive on their diets, and enjoy long and healthy lives. They rarely need the frequent veterinary tests that are required by vegan cats. What’s more, it’s usually easy to find vegan food your dog enjoys. Unlike cats, dogs rarely turn up their noses and walk away in disgust when you try to feed them something new. On the contrary, dogs cheerfully wolf down just about anything you set in front of them.

That said, some precautions are nevertheless appropriate when switching your dog  to vegan food. This article will tell you the main things you need to know.

Advice for Feeding Dogs

Never abruptly change your dog’s diet, as doing so commonly causes 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 commonly afflict vegan cats are unlikely to appear in dogs eating a proper diet. Despite that, these crystals still merit attention, since they can produce severe health problems.

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 your dog’s urine pH level is out of whack. If so, your veterinarian can recommend supplements to bring pH into a healthy range.

Several companies that make vegan dog food. Whatever brand you buy, make sure the product meets the nutritional standards of the US Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Contact the manufacturer if the packaging fails to disclose this information.

Canned or Kibble Dog Food?

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. It’ll save you a lot of money over canned vegan food, plus better protect your dog’s dental health.

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.

Breeds Susceptible to Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Some dog 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
  • 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.

Given the susceptibility of some dog breeds to struvite crystals and DCM, now is a great time to suggest that your next dog be a rescued mutt. Mixed breeds are unlikely to develop struvite crystals or DCM. Plus, their hybrid vigor typically makes them less disposed to a variety of other maladies, from hip dysplasia to epilepsy. Mixed breeds consistently enjoy better health than purebreds, and consequently have far lower veterinary bills.

Despite all this, mixed breeds are often 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?

Because of their size, larger dogs can eat a great deal of meat over the course of a year. 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. There is a legitimate worry that this food comes from diseased animals or derived from organs.

The switch to a vegan diet can allow your dog to enjoy a far cleaner and healthier diet. After all, even supposedly premium conventional dog foods can contain gruesome ingredients. And, as we’ve seen, the effort involved to put some dogs on a vegan diet can be trivial. Best of all, the cost of vegan dog kibble is comparable to premium conventional brands.

For further reading: “Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals,” by Andrew Knight & Madelaine Leitsberger.


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