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.
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?
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
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?
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?
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.