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Vegan Dog Food: Is It Right to Force a Meat-Free Diet on Your Carnivorous Pet?

October 10, 2012 | 8,501 views
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By Dr. Becker

A hugely popular celebrity, Ellen DeGeneres, who also happens to be an animal advocate, co-owns a pet food company that has recently started selling a vegan dog food formula.

I wrote an article back in January when DeGeneres’ company announced it was developing a vegan pet food, expressing my concern about feeding carnivorous pets meat-free diets.

Because of the enormous popularity of DeGeneres with pet-owning fans, I feel it’s important – now that the promised vegan formula is actually on store shelves – to reiterate those concerns.

DeGeneres’ pet food company “...recognizes there are limited options for owners wishing to feed vegan.” This statement is essentially the company’s rationale for developing a vegan dog food. My first thoughts when I read this statement were:

  • There is a reason why there are very few commercial vegan or vegetarian dog and cat foods on the market.
  • Just because some pet owners wish to feed a vegan diet to their dog or cat doesn’t mean they should.

Commercial Vegan Dog Food is Hard to Find for a Reason

The reason, of course, is because dogs are carnivores – scavenging carnivores, to be exact. This means they are meat-eaters who can survive on plant material alone if necessary. Surviving, of course, is not the same as thriving. That’s why there are so few vegetarian and vegan commercial dog foods on the market.

And why WOULD a pet owner choose to feed his dog a “survival” diet that is meat-free, when he could feed a species-appropriate, meat-based diet that would help his dog thrive and flourish?

Some people seem to believe because dogs are scavenging rather than strict carnivores like cats, they are good candidates to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. This is flawed thinking. First of all, nature designed dogs with the teeth, jaws, GI tract and palate of carnivores.

Secondly, from a nutritional standpoint, canines 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. And a dog’s protein sources should provide a wide spectrum of amino acids – these protein sources 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.

Do some pet owners feel their personal value system is more important than feeding their pet appropriate nutrition?

This is, after all, what pet owners who force their carnivorous companion animals to eat meat-free diets seem to believe. They have placed their personal belief in a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle ahead of their pet’s foundational requirement for meat-based nutrition.

Even the veterinary advisor for DeGeneres’ pet food line, in an open letter to pet owners considering a vegan diet for their dog, says her preference is meat-based diets:

“As a veterinarian, my preference is that owners choose to feed their dogs meat-based diets. Meat proteins more closely resemble the essential amino acid requirements of dogs than do plant proteins and it is far easier to provide a dog’s essential nutrients through the inclusion of meat in the diet.”

So I must ask… 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 clinic 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.

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