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Human’s relationship with dogs predates the last Ice Age, going back roughly 35,000 years. For most of these years, dogs ate any and all available leftovers . In today’s world, a dog usually goes vegan for one of two reasons. Either their owner is vegan (so for ethical reasons) or due to a dog’s allergies.
*Thank you Kayleigh from Wild Kind Photography for capturing this photos.
Aren’t dogs carnivores?
Dogs are part of the Carnivora family. Within the Carnivora family, there are animals who may look like carnivores and/or act like carnivores but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their diet is carnivorous. Many consume omnivorous diets and some even consume a 99% plant-based diet like pandas.
True carnivores have a fairly high nutritional demand for specific nutrients that are commonly found in animal protein such as arachidonic acid (a fatty acid), taurine (an amino acid), and specific vitamins including vitamin A, niacin, and pyridoxine. Dogs have lower needs for these nutrients than true carnivores do. In addition, dogs can synthesize arachidonic acid, taurine, vitamin A, and niacin .
A dog’s small intestine is consistent with that of an omnivore, occupying 23 percent of its total gastrointestinal volume, whereas a cat’s small intestine occupies only 15 percent . Dogs have the ability to digest and utilize carbohydrates, providing a good source of key nutrients . In addition, a dog’s saliva contains digestive enzymes whereas the saliva of carnivores does not. A dog’s saliva contains alpha-amylase which breaks down starch and glycogen, yielding glucose and maltose .
Does vegan dog food provide all the necessary nutrients for a healthy diet?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food labeling, identification of a product, net quantity statement, the proper listing of all ingredients based on weight (in order from most to least), and the name and place of the business manufacturer or distributor .
Additional labeling regulations are enforced in some states, and many of them are based on a model provided by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). “The AAFCO is a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies .” The AAFCO also has canine nutritional expert subcommittees that determine the nutrient requirements for dogs and have established minimum and maximum nutrient concentrations for dog foods .
So are dogs ‘designed’ to be vegan?
Based on the research I have done, no, they are not. Evaluating their digestive structure and capabilities, they do seem to be closer to omnivores than carnivores. Some might even call them ‘opportunivores.’ Meaning if there is a piece of food in front of them, they won’t discriminate. If there is a banana in front of them, they’ll eat it (my dog Amber Bear can even peel her own banana now).
Can dogs thrive on a vegan diet?
Yes, they can. Due to the United States’ regulations, all dog food has to meet the minimum and not exceed the maximum nutrition requirements. All commercially sold dog food has roughly the same amount of nutrients (within a range) whether it is vegan or not; the nutrients simply come from different sources.
Our dogs Amber Bear and Shadow switched to a fully vegan diet a few years ago now, and they love it! They love both v-dog and Wild Earth, and they seem even more excited than before for each bowl of kibble. Both dog foods are American made in California and use really clean ingredients. Wild Earth dog food contains 31% protein, mainly from eco-friendly yeast. Yeast is a complete protein, which is an added benefit. The second ingredient is chickpeas, which I am a personal fan of because it is a nutritional powerhouse. V-dog contains 24% protein mainly coming from peas. Both are a great plant-based vegan dog food option.
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I am not a veterinarian. All opinions shared above are my own. All research shared above is cited. Please consult with your vet regarding a vegan diet for your pup, v-dog has a great resource and PDF for doing so.