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Story at-a-glance +

  • A hugely popular celebrity known for her animal advocacy work is creating a vegan dog food for the pet food company she co-owns.
  • Before you decide to turn your dog into a vegan, keep in mind that celebrities – even the animal-loving kind – don’t necessarily know what’s best for your pet.
  • Dogs are carnivores. They evolved to eat meat, which is evidenced by the design of their teeth, jaws and GI tract, their inability to process plant material efficiently, and their aversion to vegetable-based meals.
  • The decision to lead a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle is not a choice humans should force on their carnivorous pets.
  • Those who don’t wish to feed animal meat should consider herbivore pets (for example, rabbits or guinea pigs) who thrive on plant-based diets.
 

The Alarming New Vegan Pet Food Branded by Celebrity Ellen DeGeneres

January 19, 2012 | 138,269 views
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By Dr. Becker

As I discussed in this video and article, while many celebrities are tremendously talented at certain things, making species-appropriate pet food hasn't yet proved to be one of them.

Celebrity branding is a very popular and successful marketing tool.

But it's important to keep in mind that product such-and-so isn't necessarily of high quality just because a celebrity says it is.

In the case of Halo pet food, not only is Ellen DeGeneres its celebrity endorser, she's also a co-owner.

As DeGeneres' legions of fans are well aware, she seems to genuinely care for animals and is an influential advocate for pet-related causes.

That's why the recent reports that Ellen is developing a vegan line of pet food alarm me.

Not only is DeGeneres hugely popular as a comedian, actress, author and talk show host, she's also admired as an animal advocate.

As such, my concern is that her creation of a vegan dog food could persuade pet owners to remove animal protein from the diets of their carnivorous canine companions.

This move has the potential to compromise the health of countless dogs – precious pets who depend on their humans to provide the right kind of nutrition for their biological needs.

I Know I'm Repeating Myself, but … DOGS ARE CARNIVORES

As regular visitors to MercolaHealthyPets.com know, I discuss the subject of nutrition for dogs and cats in the vast majority of videos and articles here on the site.

The reason I bring up the subject so often and in such detail is because nutrition supplies the very foundation upon which the fundamentals of health, vigor, longevity and quality of life are built. The right nutrition provides a rock-solid foundation for every other aspect of an animal's existence.

Conversely, the wrong nutrition contributes to a weak, shaky foundation – one that at a minimum will not enhance your pet's vitality or lifespan. And one that worst case, can destroy a dog's or cat's well-being and quality of life, sometimes rapidly … sometimes in small, agonizing increments.

Both cats and dogs are carnivores. However, felines are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to sustain life.

Dogs are scavenging carnivores. In general terms this means they are primarily meat-eaters, but can survive on plant material alone if necessary. The key word here is 'survive.' To survive is not to thrive. To thrive is grow vigorously ... to flourish. To survive means simply to stay alive.

One of the arguments for feeding dogs vegetarian diets seems to be the distinction between obligate and scavenging carnivores. It's assumed, since dogs aren't strict carnivores like cats are, they can easily transition to a vegetarian diet (or in Halo's case, a vegan diet) at the whim of the humans who care for them.

In fact, I often see dogs referred to as omnivores rather than carnivores. I strongly disagree with this assumption. Just because dogs fed plant-based diets are able to stay alive doesn't make them omnivores.

It makes them carnivores with no choice but to eat a biologically inappropriate, suboptimal diet.

The Teeth of a Carnivore

Look into your dog's mouth.

Note the size and shape of his teeth. They're organized somewhat like scissors so he can quickly tear through the hide, meat and bone of prey animals. Those teeth are designed to rip, shred and shear animal meat. His molars are pointed, not flat.

teeth of a carnivore

Now look in your own mouth at your molars. See how large and flat they are? Humans are omnivores, and our teeth are designed more for grinding up plant matter.

Black bears, true omnivores, are another interesting example for comparison. They have both sharp, meat-tearing teeth and wide, flat molars. Dogs have no flat molars because nature didn't intend for them to eat plants.

The teeth of animals are specifically devised for the food they are born to eat.

The Jaws of a Carnivore

Your dog also has powerful jaw and neck muscles that aid in pulling down and consuming prey. The jaws open widely to accommodate large hunks of meat and bone.

Your dog's jaw is designed not to move laterally when prey is fighting against it. It allows only up and down movement designed for crushing.

In contrast, omnivores and herbivores have jaws that permit the lateral motion necessary for grinding plant material.

The Digestion of a Carnivore

Your dog has an expandable stomach which can hold large quantities of meat, organs, bone and animal hide.

Her stomach is short and simple in design, meant to move food through quickly.

Plant matter and veggies need more time to break down in the GI tract, which requires a different, more complex digestive design than your dog's body possesses. That's why whole vegetables tend to come out of your pet looking very much like they did going in.

Your dog's body also doesn't make the necessary enzymes in her saliva to begin to break down carbs and starches. Herbivores and omnivores make those enzymes, but not carnivores.

Because there are no salivary enzymes available to handle carbs and starches, it falls to the pancreas to produce enough enzymes to deal with the contents of plant matter. Over time, the extra strain on the pancreas can compromise its ability to function properly.

Your dog's pancreas is designed to produce only the amount of enzymes necessary to process fats and protein.

Dogs also don't produce the varieties of gut bacteria that break down cellulose and starch in plant matter. This means most of the nutrients in plants are useless in terms of nourishing your dog.

The Palate of a Carnivore

Most dogs don't care for the taste of vegetable-based dog foods, which is certainly more evidence of their carnivorous nature.

In order to make these foods more palatable, it is common for pet food manufacturers to add flavor enhancers like liver or other meat flavors, garlic, and fat.

There are also meat and poultry-flavored digests, made from animal byproducts, which can be added to non-meat diets to entice dogs to eat them. Of course, adding one of these digests means the meal is no longer vegetarian/vegan.

Nutrition for a Carnivore

Dogs require 22 essential amino acids to handle all their metabolic and energy requirements, but their bodies are only able to produce 12 of the 22. The other 10 must come from the food they eat.

Herbivores, with their multiple stomachs and lengthy GI tracts, are able to produce amino acids in huge numbers.

But dogs, with their short, simple digestive tracts can't accomplish this feat and must obtain preformed amino acids directly from their diet.

In addition, a dog's protein sources should provide a wide spectrum of amino acids. The protein sources with wide-spectrum amino acid profiles include beef, bison, chicken, eggs, fish, lamb, turkey, duck, venison, elk and goat.

Protein is a crucial component of every cell in your dog's body. Essential amino acids from high quality animal protein build healthy cells, organs, muscles, enzymes and hormones.

Dietary fat provides energy, essential vitamins and fatty acids. Fatty acids from animal sources are important for healing, normal cell membrane synthesis, reproduction and a healthy coat and skin.

Allowing for Nature's Design

Since carnivorous canines don't have a natural appetite for plant material, don't care for the smell or taste of it, and can't chew or digest it efficiently, how does it make sense to force them to eat non-meat diets?

Does it make sense to feed a biologically inappropriate commercial pet food with added flavor enhancers and digestive aids, when you can feed your dog whole, unprocessed, species-appropriate nutrition?

Is it intelligent or humane to dismiss nature's design for our canine companions in favor of a human belief system that supports vegetarianism or veganism?

I don't think it is.

I'm a vegetarian. Many of my Natural Pet clients and pet-loving friends and associates don't eat animal products. But we feed animal products to our dogs and cats because we have witnessed first-hand what it means to the well-being of our beloved pets to be nourished as nature intended.

If you can't tolerate the thought of feeding meat to a pet who is a carnivore, I strongly encourage you to acquire a pet that will thrive on a plant-based diet instead.

[+] Sources and References

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Food Democracy Now
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Center for Nutrtion Advocacy
Cornucopia Institute
Vitamin D Council
GrassrootsHealth - Vitamin D*action
Alliance for Natural Health USA
American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation
The Rabies Challenge Fund
Cropped Catis Mexico