Good Nutrition for Healthy Vegan Dogs
Many people are surprised to learn that not only can dogs enjoy vibrant health on a vegan diet, but just like people, their physical condition can actually improve as a result of eliminating animal foods.
By genus, dogs are classified as carnivorous, but metabolically, they are actually omnivorous. This means that their nutritional requirements can be adequately met with a plant-based diet, as they can source or synthesize all the nutrients they require from plant foods with supplementation.
“When we first found him on the streets of the Dominican Republic, Piggy was just a pup – he had no hair, he was skin hanging over a skeleton, and he could barely walk a couple of blocks,” Tod recalls. “After a few months recovering on his vegetarian diet, he literally tripled in size to 45 pounds, gained a foot in height, exploded with healthy, soft fur … and he runs for miles on his three legs.”
Still not sure? Consider this story from CNN, where six veterinarians agreed that the nutritional requirements of dogs can be adequately met with a vegan diet.
“The important thing is that you use a diet that has been shown to be nutritionally adequate for whatever stage of life you’re feeding, and it is absolutely possible to find a good quality commercial pet food that doesn’t have animal products in it,” states veterinarian Kathryn E. Michel, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Michel recommends using commercial pet food that has gone through The Association of American Feed Control Officials feeding trials. “Or, if you prefer to cook meals from scratch, consult a credentialed expert in dog nutrition to ensure a proper balance of essential nutrients.” (See resources at the end of this article for more information.)
Sandy Anderson, owner and founder of VeganPet in Australia, explains the philosophy behind the development of her products:
“The National Research Council Committee on Animal Nutrition (NRA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) have published guidelines of the minimum dietary requirements for dogs and cats… [Since 2005,] I have been working on making a dog and cat food using vegan alternatives. This food meets the NRC and AAFCO standards and, in some instances, exceeds them. The body’s basic building, energizing and replacing materials can come from a meat or chicken source or from a soybean and seaweed source. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the basic cellular structure is the same from either source. I have now found all the vegan alternatives and am able to produce nutritionally-balanced food for both cats and dogs.”
In addition, there is evidence demonstrating that vegan diets might actually offer benefits to dogs who suffer from various health problems. As stated on the Harbingers of a New Age website:
“Studies and numerous case reports have shown that nutritionally sound vegetarian companion animal diets appear to be associated with the following health benefits: increased overall health and vitality, decreased incidences of cancer, infections, hypothyroidism, ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice and mites), improved coat condition, allergy control, weight control, arthritis regression, diabetes regression and cataract resolution.”
Over decades of experience of caring for rescued dogs in Gentle World, we’ve learned a number of things along the way that we feel are important for caregivers to know about.
As stated in the CNN article, because a dog has certain important nutritional requirements that are different to our own, it is necessary to pay careful attention to their needs, as you are making their decisions for them. But with a well-supplemented, balanced diet that is based on whole-foods, your canine companions can easily thrive as vegans. The health and vitality of our four-legged friends has actually surprised a few conventional vets!
If your dog is currently eating an animal-based diet, it’s wise to be gentle and careful when switching to plant-based food, as any change in diet has the potential to cause digestive disorders. Many dogs (especially young dogs who don’t have ingrained carnivorous habits) will take to it right away, but for some, it may take a few days before they are even willing to try this new, meat-free fare.
During the transition time, it’s a good idea to offer them foods that they find particularly irresistible (read on for suggestions). Once they realize how delicious their new food can be, we find that they tend to adjust pretty easily!
There are some important differences to be aware of. Non-vegetarian dogs generally eat one meal a day, whereas vegan dogs should get two smaller meals daily, plus snacks. A healthy snack would be several dog biscuits or a handful or two (depending on the size of your dog) of dry kibble.
For those who want the convenience or reassurance of ready-made foods that are nutritionally complete, there are a number of 100% vegetarian dog foods and snacks that meet canine nutrient standards. But to make it more affordable, and to incorporate more whole foods, we usually mix in home-made foods (explained below), along with some of the pre-made kibble, canned food or VegeDog supplement to help meet nutritional requirements.
Other simple points to take note of:
- Meals should be served at room temperature or slightly warmed, along with a clean bowl of water.
- Dogs cannot process excess salt so be aware of giving them too much, especially if you’re adding some of your own dinner or leftovers to their meals.
- Taking your dog on daily walks in the sunshine is as important for their intake of Vitamin D as it is for the physical exercise.
There are some common human foods that cause toxic reactions in dogs. Onions, raw garlic, chocolate, nutmeg, raisins, and macadamia nuts are all known to be toxic to dogs. The ASPCA has a good list of foods that should remain “people foods”. (Not all items on the list are toxic – the links lead to further information about each one.)
At least a third to a half of your dog’s meal should consist of a quality protein source. The remaining portion can be made up of a variety of whole grains, raw and cooked vegetables, as well as certain supplemental items. The following article contains more specifics.
The Vegan Dog Nutrition Association recommends that the base of the meal be comprised of soybeans, lentils, rice, oats and sweet potatoes. Our favorite vegan vet tells us that pinto beans are the most non-allergenic food for vegan dogs, and that (along with sweet potatoes and carrots) they provide a good basis for the diet. Pinto beans and sweet potatoes can also be used exclusively for up to 6 to 8 weeks to determine whether your dog is suffering from food allergies.
All legumes should be well-cooked (until very soft) and preferably mashed or puréed in a food processor.
Adding a sprinkling of sea vegetable flakes such as kelp or dulse helps to ensure a dietary source of minerals.
Dogs can enjoy fruit in small amounts — if they will eat it. Our dogs have enjoyed a variety of fruits, ranging from bananas, apples and orange, to watermelon! Just make sure that you don’t feed your dog fruit too close to a high-protein meal. The enzymes are different and can cause digestive discomfort.
A dog’s protein requirements are greater than ours. To ensure that your dog gets enough, make sure that approximately a third to a half of their meal consists of a high-quality protein source (such as well-cooked legumes — pintos, chick peas, soy beans, lentils, and split peas are all good). Other high-protein foods include tempeh, tofu, TVP, hummus, sprouted lentils/garbanzo beans (ground/blended).
Unless your dog requires a grain-free diet for health reasons, well-cooked whole grains are good sources of both protein and carbohydrates, as well as other nutrients such as B vitamins. We’ve found that whole grains in moderation work really well for our dogs, including brown rice, quinoa, millet, polenta (corn grits) or blended fresh corn kernels, oats, barley, and buckwheat.
Seitan (wheat-meat) is a high-protein vegetarian ‘meat’ made from gluten flour. Dogs absolutely love it, and (just like with humans) seitan can be a great help when ‘veganizing’ a formerly carnivorous dog. But since wheat gluten should not be consumed to excess, seitan remains an occasional treat for our dogs, as it is for our people.
Plant-based meat alternatives sold in stores for humans are usually made from a combination of wheat gluten and soy, and are just as delectable to dogs as seitan is, but they tend to be more highly processed than home-made seitan. They’re nice for an occasional treat, or to win over a dog (or cat) who is used to the taste of meat, but they’re not very healthy to eat on a regular basis, for dogs or for humans.
Sweet potatoes, carrots and other orange-colored root vegetables are important sources of beta-carotene, and should be included on a regular basis (cut finely and/or mashed). Regular potatoes (in small pieces or mashed) are also fine to include on occasion, but they do not include this important nutrient. Dogs convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A, which is a necessary nutrient that is hard for them to get elsewhere in a plant-based diet.
Other vegetables (also cut finely and/or mashed) are good to include whenever possible, for the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fiber. The best choices are pumpkin, squash, yams, carrots, and also other small bits of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cooked cabbage, etc. Raw, grated carrot and/or beetroot is good, as well as sprouts, and/or raw, dark leafy greens, finely chopped and mixed in well with their meals.
Some authorities recommend adding digestive enzymes to a dog’s diet, though this is not something we’ve had reason to be concerned about. The company Harbingers of a New Age sells a product called Prozyme; a supplement for dogs that contains all of the enzymes they require.
There are also some excellent supplements available for dogs, cats and other companion animals that are made from dark green leafy vegetables and other highly nutritious plant foods. One such product (which also happens to contain all the essential digestive enzymes as well as a comprehensive probiotic mixture) is called Green Mush, produced by Health Force Nutritionals. Green Mush is a whole food, green plant based powder, that includes large amounts of CoQ10, which is a powerful antioxidant involved in energy production and longevity. The owners of Health Force state that the product can be helpful for dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, ferrets, squirrels, other mammals and human animals too! Health Force Nutritionals is an excellent resource for both human and nonhuman nutritional needs.
Vegetarian dog specialists and most companies that sell vegan dog food advise adding taurine and L-carnitine to the diets of vegan dogs. These are two amino acids that are naturally found in animal flesh, but do not naturally occur in plants. Dogs cannot synthesize these nutrients themselves. Deficiencies can be potentially serious, so a supplement is an important preventative measure. Both of these nutrients can be bought at your local health food store, and they are also included in many commercial vegan dog products.
Another supplement that we have included in our dogs’ diets is nutritional yeast; either Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula or Lotus Brands, both of which are rich in B vitamins, and are fortified with Vitamin B12. Whether or not you include nutritional yeast in your dog’s food, you should make sure that they receive an adequate source of B12.
Harbingers of a New Age makes a supplement called ‘VegeDog’, which provides all three of these: Vitamin B12, taurine and L-carnitine. One month’s supply of this fantastic product costs just $12.00. That’s only 40 cents per day to make sure that your dog is getting all of these important nutrients, as well as other important vitamins and minerals.
Dogs need a certain amount of oil in their diets, and if they’re lacking it, their coat will be a clear sign. A lusterless coat can transform after a few days of including a nutritious oil in the diet, such as flax. A dog’s oil requirements can also be met with 1-2 tablespoons of tahini (sesame seed butter), flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, or ground flax seeds. A teaspoon or two of organic sunflower, olive, or other food oil poured over their food will get them to eat anything! Flax and hemp have the added benefit of being Omega-rich.
There are many studies that confirm the powerful healing benefits of giving dogs flax seed oil or another fatty acid blend. To ensure your dogs are receiving the necessary essential fatty acids (omegas 3, 6, & 9), add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of vegan essential fatty acid oil. Mustard seed oil contains all the essential fatty acids. An alternative (though it’s not as complete), would be flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, or 1 teaspoon of ground or soaked flax seeds. (This is beneficial for vegan humans as well). ‘Total EFA’ oil also serves other purposes such as helping joint function and coat health. These oils are especially important for senior dogs.
Vega EFA Oil Blend is made from a combination of antioxidant and phytonutrient rich seed oils including green tea seed oil and blueberry seed oil. Deva and V-Pure are now producing vegan DHA, long chain fatty-acids from seaweed in a capsule for humans, which you can share with your companion animals.
Cranimals organic supplements contain vegan EFAs like DHA and ALA, as well as beta-carotene and a host of other valuable phytonutrients (urinary tract, dental and heart healthy antioxidants from berry extracts and vitamins and minerals from organic spirulina). The powdered and liquid Cranimals supplements for dogs and cats, as well as their Zendog biscuits, supply EFAs from algae, flax and cranberries.
Being a responsible guardian for any animal means making an effort to ensure that his or her diet is nutritionally complete, just as you would for yourself. The best thing you can do for your animal friends is to continue to keep yourself informed, as there is new research being released all the time. To feel secure in your decisions, we suggest that you do some personal research as to the nutritional requirements of your dog’s specific breed.
Having said that, we have found that most vegans agree that it’s easy to feed dogs a plant-based diet. Even dogs who turn their noses up at vegan food when it is initially offered will often change their mind the next day when they get hungry! And within days, they eat with gusto, as if they had always been vegan!
The change in temperament that occurs as a result is remarkable. As dogs lose their taste for flesh and blood, their desire to hunt and kill tends to lessen, making them less aggressive and more gentle. We’ve actually watched our dogs evolve from killing small animals to protecting and gently playing with our rescued rabbits!
Our dogs have all made remarkable transformations on the vegan diet, both in physical health and in temperament. And for the committed vegan, it’s a beautiful way to get even closer with your canine friends.
There are a number of ‘nearly vegan’ dog foods marketed internationally that contain one or two ingredients that are not actually vegan. For example, some include animal-derived vitamin D3 rather than plant-based vitamin D2. If you are not sure that the product is 100% vegan, we suggest you contact the company to find out.
- The Vegan Dog Nutrition Association has a free, downloadable book called Vegan Dogs: Compassionate Nutrition. The book includes recipes for nutritionally complete meals, as well as lots of information about dog nutrition.
- Harbingers of a New Age provides ‘VegeDog’ and other supplementation products to add to your home-cooked whole food meals for cats and dogs and is a source of lots of information. Owner James Peden was the first to sell vegan products for cats and dogs, and has authored a book entitled: Vegetarian Cats and Dogs.
- VegetarianDogs.com offers information on feeding dogs and a book entitled: Vegetarian Dogs: Toward a World Without Exploitation. The book offers recipes for dog food and a wealth of information about nutrition, supplements, exercise, care and ethics for dogs.
- Vegan Essentials, Pangea & Cosmos Vegan Shoppe are online stores that sell various vegan dog supplies.
- Vegan Pet Australia’s all-vegan pet food company. Dog and cat kibble made from human-grade ingredients. They are an excellent resource for information about feeding cats vegan. Product also available in New Zealand.
- V-Dog V-dog Crunchy Nuggets with Pasta, Rice and Vegetables is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for adult maintenance based on the product’s calorie content.
- Ami Vegan Dog Food and Vegan Cat Food is made in Italy, but available in the US and elsewhere.
- www.VeganCats.com offers a range of products for cats and dogs.
- Evolution Diet makes ONLY vegan dog and cat food.
- Boston Baked Bonz is a 100% vegan company that markets hand-made dog treats.
- Andean Dream makes gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free quinoa dog cookies with no added salt.
- Front Porch Pets markets ‘the original sweet potato dog chew’ as a highly nutritious vegan alternative that is excellent for your dog’s teeth and general health.
- Max and Ruffy’s makes a selection of vegan dog treats using 100% organic, non-GMO, human-grade ingredients.
- Beastie Biscuits are hand-rolled, hand cut biscuits made with wholesome organic ingredients.
- Bark for Peace markets vegan dog treats that are 100% human grade, almost 100% organic, and free of all major allergens.
- Apawthecary makes dog treats that double as healthy supplements. They use all vegan and organic human grade ingredients along with signature herbal blends.
- Happier Pets in Australia makes a range of healthy snacks for vegan dogs and cats.
- Dr Chew makes a 100% natural dog chew treat from cooked, sliced and air-dried sweet potato.
- Fruitables are dog treats made from organic fruits such as pumpkin, blueberry, cranberry and sweet potato.
- Lively Doggie Food is a Taiwanese company that produces vegan dog food and dog treats.
- Health Force Nutritionals makes a product called ‘Green Mush’, a whole-food supplement that includes all the essential digestive enzymes as well as a comprehensive probiotic mixture.
- Barley Dog & Barley Cat are green-powder supplements made from barley grass
- Cranimals are dog and cat supplements and treats made from certified organic cranberries and other plant-based ingredients. (Cranberries inhibit the growth of the bacteria responsible for 80-90% of urinary tract infections.)
NON-VEGAN COMPANIES THAT MARKET VEGAN OPTIONS
- Benevo Duo for readers in the UK, Benevo Duo is a wet food formulated to meet and exceed the Association of American Feed Control Officials guide for dogs in all life stages. (Other Benevo Products contain Vitamin D3, which may be animal-derived)
- Evangers Dog and Cat food Company offers a vegan canned dog and cat food called ALL FRESH VEGETARIAN DINNER with interesting fresh ingredients. (They used to use non-vegan vitamin D3, but have changed to the vegan version, D2.) Most of their other products are not vegan.
- BiOPet produces a 100% vegan formula sourced within Australia (they have a non-vegan formula also). The Vitamin D3 in their recipe is synthetic and not sourced from animals.
- Natural Life makes a dry food that is vegan, but most of their products are not.
- Pet Guard offers two vegan moist dog foods: Dog Vegetarian Feast and Organic Vegetarian Vegan Entree with the word VEGAN on the label! They also offer Mr. Barkey’s and Mr. Pugsley’s vegan dog biscuits (and many non-vegan products)
- Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Food vegan kibble called Natural Balance Vegetarian Formula which contains no soy products.
- Dr Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl is a grain-free dog food pre-mix made with nine different vegetables that when mixed with protein and oil makes a complete all-natural dog food for companion dogs.
- Yarrah Organic Vegetarian Dog Food is a 100% organic meal made with all vegetarian ingredients, that contains all the essential vitamins and minerals a dog needs. This vegan recipe is completely free from meat and meat by-products.
with M. Butterflies Katz
Gentle World is a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization, whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition. For more information, visit the Gentle World website and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.