There are plenty of studies out there that show plant-based diets can be beneficial for humans. Reducing meat can help lower the risk for heart disease and help you maintain a healthy weight. But do dogs get the same benefits from going green or is it just another fido food fad? Let’s take a look at the risks and benefits of a plant-based diet for dogs:
What do the Experts Say About Plant-Based Diets for Dogs?
Most experts agree that dogs are omnivores, just like us, which means they can get the nutrients they need from a combination of plants and meats. To understand why this is, we just have to look at the history of dogs.
In the past, before dogs were mostly domesticated, they hunted for their food. This means that their diets were mostly meat-based. Over time, as they became the furry companions we know them as today, their bodies changed to adapt to more human-like diets. Dogs are now able to digest more carbohydrates and plant-based protein than they were in their past.
But, does this mean they can survive on a fully vegan diet, just like we can? The verdict is still out, but most experts agree that the healthiest diet for dogs is one that contains meat and vegetables. The key is understanding that dogs require a very specific mixture of nutrients and vitamins to stay healthy. If this exact specification can be met through plants, then a vegan diet is safe for dogs. But getting that exact mixture can be tricky.
What Type of Nutrients Do Dogs Require?
According to Dr. Lisa M. Freeman, a veterinarian and nutritionist at Tufts University, dogs’ diets require a specific mixture of protein, amino acids, and vitamins. These nutritional requirements can be met with a mixture of meat and vegetables, but when you take meat out of the equation, it becomes more difficult to meet their needs.
That isn’t to say it’s impossible. In fact, many dogs appear to live healthier on a plant-based diet because of allergens found in meat-based food. A veterinarian in Richmond, Massachusetts, Dr. Micahel Roth says that he has seen dogs with allergies find relief in plant-based diets. But he warns to always consult your veterinarian about food changes and to test out products for at least 12 weeks to see if they will work for your dog.
Got an older dog? Find out what food is right for him.
Do Some Plants Have More Protein Than Meat?
Surprisingly, some plants do carry more protein than meat products. Manufacturers of plant-based dog food use wheat, soy, pea, and even protein from certain types of fungus to make sure their products meet the nutritional requirements required for a dog.
But protein isn’t the only thing dogs need to survive. And much of that protein is impossible to digest without amino acids. That’s where some experts find the biggest issue with plant-based dog foods. In order to get all the other required amino acids and vitamins, plant-based dog foods have synthetic ingredients added.
Katy Nelson, a veterinarian at Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria VA said this when asked about plant-based diets by Better Homes & Garden magazine: “It’s concerning to me that while we’re trying to get more holistic with our food, and we’re trying to get more organic, that by doing something like this [feeding our dogs plant-based diets], we’re actually having to bring in artificial sources…”
Before going too crazy with the fruits and veggies, make sure you know what food is unsafe for your pup.
What About Vegetarian Dog Food?
It turns out that vegetarian diets might be the safest bet for those pet parents who want their dogs to have a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Unlike vegan or solely plant-based dog food, vegetarian dog food does derive some of its nutrients from animal sources.
Since some amino acids can only be derived from meat, vegetarian dog food is more likely to have more digestible ingredients than a strictly vegan dog food. So, if you want to see if a plant-based diet will work for your pup, vegetarian might be the way to go.
As always, the most important thing you can do before changing your dog’s diet is to talk to your veterinarian. Tell them your concerns and why you want to switch diets for your dog. Nothing beats the advice of a professional who knows your dog’s health!