Many humans and other animals used to rely on meat to survive. Domestic dogs descended from wolves, which are renowned for their hunting abilities. While humans can survive without eating animal products, you might wonder, “Is a plant-based diet safe for my dog?” Here’s what to know.
How Dog Diets Evolved
There is debate over where the first domesticated dogs were. Some reports indicate that Chinese farmers tamed and bred wolves to manage livestock over 16,000 years ago. Others argue that dogs come from a small group of gray wolves in India between 12,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Regardless of where the wolves were, they exclusively ate meat. Wolves are and have always been carnivores. They rely on the nutrients from animal products to fuel their systems and avoid plants. So, if dogs come from wolves, they also should eat meat. Not exactly.
Evolution often comes from necessity, which seems to be what happened with early dogs. Evidence suggests that early pups had to adapt to sharing their human diet. Meat was expensive to source, so their bodies began accepting grains and vegetables. Eventually, dogs separated from their carnivorous ancestors, becoming omnivores–able to eat animal and plant products.
Can Dogs Eat a Plant-Based Diet?
While dogs adapted to digesting non-meat products, should they go without it altogether? It comes down to their nutritional needs. While ancient pups relied on protein and fat–abundant in meat- they now rely on diverse nutrients.
Domestic dogs need six core dietary needs to remain healthy.
Beef, chicken and other meat products can provide protein, fat and several essential vitamins and minerals. However, they also need carbohydrates from appropriate vegetables, fruits and grains.
While protein, vitamins and minerals can come from meat, they can get it from other products. Like humans, dogs can make up their protein intake through plant products like chickpeas, buckwheat, corn gluten meal and soy. They can get fat from chia seeds, coconut oil and rapeseed oil. They can make up vitamins and minerals by boosting their intake of quality fruits and vegetables.
With those substitutions, dogs can safely eat a completely plant-based diet, but should they?
The Argument for Raw Diets
Many dog food brands now tout having fully raw ingredients. These foods feature fresh or freeze-dried meat, organs and bones. Several social media videos show people preparing plates of various raw meats and organs on a plate for their furry pal. The belief is that since dogs come from a carnivorous diet, giving them those foods fuels their needs more completely than low or zero-animal-product diets.
There are pros and cons to raw diets. They’re not for every dog. The evolution of their diets means some breeds could miss out on essential nutrients not present in raw foods. The more variety in a raw diet, the better, but it’s important to examine your dog’s needs carefully.
Some dogs are healthier on a raw diet than an omnivore or plant-based one. Research shows that raw diets can help manage several health conditions, like a poor appetite, brittle coat and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Some owners report improvement in allergy symptoms by eliminating non-animal products.
Meat has a strong taste and smell, making it more palatable for many pups. Dogs often have an easier time digesting it than other foods. It’s essential to consult with your vet before making significant changes to your pup’s diet. Depending on the condition, meat could be necessary for a dog’s health and well-being.
While some dogs need meat to feel their best, others are better off without it. Research shows a well-balanced plant-based diet is safer and often healthier than meat. A study of over 2,600 pups found that eating a nutrient-dense vegan diet resulted in healthier dogs than omnivores and raw diets.
These findings have many potential reasons, including the risks meat poses to dogs. Feeding your pup raw meat or eggs puts them at risk of salmonella or e-coli exposure. Fat from raw or cooked animal products could increase your dog’s risk of pancreatitis. Fruits, vegetables and grains come with fewer of those risks.
Meat-based kibbles often suffer from poor-quality ingredients. The risks from the meat, fillers and other ingredients meant to bulk it up can lead to sensitive skin, gastrointestinal distress and obesity.
Since owners and manufacturers see plant-based diets as specialty foods, you will likely see better-quality food in that category.
When transitioning your dog to a plant-based diet, you should find a brand of food that caters to your dog’s breed, size and age. If you choose to make your pup’s food, avoid ingredients that could harm them. While dogs can eat fruits, vegetables and grains, it doesn’t mean they can eat all of them. Grapes, avocados and several other plants we can eat are toxic.
Brands that Sell Plant-Based Dog Food
While meat is still a key ingredient in many dog food brands, there are several that offer completely plant-based options. They include the following.
- Wild Earth
- Purina Veterinary Diets
Always check the back of the bag for ingredients to ensure it’s plant-based. Some brands offer both meat and meatless foods, so it’s always best to double-check.
Feeding Your Dog a Plant-Based Diet
Are plant-based diets safe for dogs? For most, yes! Whether you’re morally conflicted about feeding them meat or want to improve your dog’s health, most pups do just fine without animal products. Always consult with your veterinarian and closely monitor your dog to know what food is best for them.