Can my dog be vegan?

Can my dog be vegan?

Well Nelo our Chocolate Labrador has been for the last 5 years and at 13 is only just showing signs of slowing down. Chocolate Labradors are renowned for not being as healthy as their yellow and black cousins and typically have a lifespan of about 10% less (10.7 years) so he is doing well. So can my dog be vegan? was a question I asked myself before changing his diet. Lets see what I discovered.

The world’s oldest dog

In 2002 “Bramble” a female Welsh border collie entered the Guinness book of records as the oldest recorded bitch having lived to the ripe old age of 25 fed only a vegan diet from birth. There is now a book about her life that documents her care regime and vegan diet. It also discusses how we should avoid much of the pet food industry and their products which contribute to greenhouse gasses and animal abuse via intensive farming.

But of course we can always find anecdotal evidence and stories to support most claims. In trying to find an answer to, can my dog be vegan? I wanted to look at the facts. So let’s put to one side the fact that on a vegan diet she lived to almost double her normal life expectancy, after all in human years that’s about 175!, and instead let’s look at what the science says.

domesticated vegan pet dogs

Domestication of dogs

Over the years the consensus has been that our friendly domesticated pet dog is a direct descendant of the grey wolf that is still found today in parts of Canada and the United States. The thought process has always been that domestication took place some 10,000 years ago, and that this likely occurred in one of two ways.

One is that it is possible humans may have gone out and taken puppies to domesticate them however, the more likely argument is that it was the dogs that began eating from the scrap heaps as modern agriculture started and became domesticated this way.

That argument is fine and still holds up to scrutiny but was that first domesticated dog a direct descendant of the grey wolf or did it have different lineage and thus gene pool making it easier to adapt to an omnivorous diet?

But dogs are wolves, aren’t they?

wild grey wolf

A very detailed genome study, published by PLOS Genetics in 2014 revealed that dogs do not hail from the same lineage as modern wolves but in fact share a common ancestor instead of a direct lineage. Its estimated this ancestor was living around 35,000 years ago but actually no one knows what kind of wolf gave rise to all the amazing dog breeds living today.

What we do know is that it had different genes to that of the grey wolf which made it able to adapt to the starch rich diet that it was able to feed on as modern agriculture started. Yes but that still means dogs share their DNA from a wolf lineage so they must be carnivores?

Even when we explain that domesticated dogs aren’t from the same lineage as the grey wolf we will still get the argument from those who don’t wish to look at the science that they must be carnivores. To put this in to some sort of perspective, we (by we I mean humans!) share 98-99% of our DNA with chimpanzees (whole genome, not just mitochondrial DNA).

Let’s look at the science

look at science vegan dogs

Yes, dogs definitely descended from a wolf of some kind, but that doesn’t mean that the carnivorous wolf we think of today and a dog have the same nutritional needs. In fact to further support the argument we can look a detailed study from 2013 when a group of researchers compared the genome of our domesticated dog to that of the wolf and found that there were two major differences.

The first were the genes that are responsible for behaviour traits, and the second and most important in our argument that of starch digestion. Yes correct our domesticated pet dog produces all the enzymes required to digest and obtain all the nutrients it requires from a starch rich diet.

Carnivore, omnivore – why not vegan?

So let’s get back to the question in hand, can my dog be vegan? First we need to look at the carnivore vs omnivore argument. One problem we have with this argument is that dogs are classified in the “Order Carnivora”. But then so are many more omnivorous animals including even the giant panda, which other than occasionally eating insects and fish is a herbivore.

From a biological perspective, dogs are actually missing the metabolic requirements to be able to survive on a strict diet of animal flesh that are seen in true carnivores such as cats or ferrets. As stated dogs produce all the enzymes required for starch digestion, have much lower protein requirements than carnivores, and can easily utilize vitamin A and D from plant sources, just as humans do.

Ok so can my dog be vegan?

can dog be vagan carrot

Well I hope you can see that the science shows quite clearly that dogs certainly aren’t carnivores, so we now come back to the question can my dog be vegan. The answer is of course yes, the caveat to that is of course exactly as it would be for humans, it has to be a healthy balanced diet.

Our local vet here that we work with is a veterinary nutritionist and regularly utilises meat free diets to help manage certain health problems. So what diet should you use? Well there are now an increasing number of commercial vegan dog foods available and of course not all of them are equivalent in quality. We will shortly be posting a review of some of those available and will link in to this article our results.

Until then, we suggest that you find out what is available in your area and look at the reviews, or of course do what we do which is actually cook fresh food. We combine his fresh food with Benevo which is an organic vegan food that we are able to source locally. You could also buy the book about Bramble “Bramble the dog that wanted to live forever” and find out what diet she had that helped her live to 25!

What’s the benefit?

vegan dog paw

So a final word on why? Hopefully you can see that your dog can thrive on a vegan diet. But now maybe you are asking yourself why? Well if you are vegan many of the reasons to change your dog to a vegan diet will of course be the same as those that pursueded you to be vegan in the first place.

It is also worth noting that the quality of the average dried dog food leaves much to be desired (we will be producing another article on this). Not only that but a diet that consists of the same feed on a daily basis without variation is also bad for health. As with humans a diverse diet is the way to ensure a healthy gut.

And finally what about the “paw print”? We mentioned in our article on pet cameras that pet food is estimated to now be responsible for 25% of the impact that animal agriculture has on the environment and this trend will only increase as does pet ownership. So hopefully we have at least given you “paws” for thought. Sorry couldn’t resits that! So can my dog be vegan, absolutely.

10 thoughts on “Can my dog be vegan?”

  • I’ve never tried full vegan diet for my dogs, I always feared the little they took will upset their system. This is eye opening that a dog survived on pure vegan diet for 25 years. Now I guess I can approach it with confidence now.. Thanks for sharing this enlightening post.

    • Your welcome. I would never recommend just changing your dogs diet all in one go, but certainly if you can vary their diet and reduce the amount of dry food you give them and replace it with natural products it will only be beneficial

  • It’s interesting how off-putting this concept seems to some.  You would think that, on top of still having a healthy pet that is vegan, that dog people would consider not only the cost of meat production but, also lowering their own costs of keeping their best friend thriving and healthy!  At the very least I too, urge people to consider all the facts, before making a decision.

    It’s not easy to switch a dogs diet or, any animal for that matter (I’ve rescued a lot in my day) but, it can be done!  I know that for a fact.  I applaud you for writing on this topic.  I know this information doesn’t always go down well with the general public.

    Even in the 70’s I was feeding my dogs apples, garlic etc.  I’m glad there are finally science studies being done that back up what you and I already know.

    I hope that dog lovers everywhere evolve in their knowledge and practices when caring for their fur babies! 

  • What an interesting article! I used to have a husky and his favorite fruits were bananas and apples. I do not know that dogs can be vegan that is great to know. In my family we rufused to give our dogs, dog food since they put a lot of chemicals init. We would feed them with only our home cooked food. What are the options that we can cook for our dogs for vegan? 

    • Hi Nuttanee, home cooked food is great although you should never just change your dogs diet without due consideration. Our Lab for example has lots of food that we eat such as lentils, quinoa, brown rice and most vegetables. Certainly the way forward is to start introducing this food in to your dogs diet to try and do away the the poor quality dry food that so many dogs are fed. Thanks again for your response and good luck.

  • Kevin, Hello! You created an interesting topic. Let’s see together: What is the age of a domesticated dog? How does a person domesticate a dog? Genetics and archaeologists continue to search for new facts. They have found the probable ancestor of dogs – megafaunal  wolf. 

    In the glacial and post-glacial period, this wolf was tamed because of the abundance of food waste at the sites of the ancient man. Gene studies confirm the presence of a gene in dogs – AMY2B, MGAMand SGLT1, which triggers secretion and allows digestion of starch and glycogen. This gene is absent in wolves, they can be fed only with raw meat. 

    Scientists have found that dog breeds that absorb starch began to develop in the countries of the Fertile Crescent, i.e. where originated agriculture centers.Interestingly, the dogs of the Far North of Russia do not have such a mutation – their food there is only meat. 

    With this addition, I support all sections of this article and the author’s rationale.I agree that our pets willingly share our taste traditions, taste preferences, our behavior and way of life. 

    Many thanks to the author for an unusually informative and professionally written article. My family appreciated her highly and I will show it to my friends. Mark.

  • This is truly something else. I had no idea even dogs could be vegans. I wonder if you have any ideas about cats. I have three at home and even though I am a Vegan I never tried to experiment with them . I guess I am too busy trying to turn my kids into vegans…..do you have any idea if cats would feel the same way?I am going to try it. !

    • Hi Barbara, thanks agian for keep visiting our site, we are so glad you find it useful. The truth is I have studied nutrition in humans and wanted to exlore further if our dog could be vegan and the answer was quite clearly yes. It is different for cats who are obligate carnivores so really do require meat for optimim health. Now I am aware that there are vegan cat foods that are fortified to replace the meat requiremnts but I’m afraid I dont have enough knowledge to feel comfortable recommending them

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