When humans go vegan, they stop eating products made of or by animals. Done well, a vegan diet can offer more nutrients and antioxidants than traditional diets, boost energy and decrease body fat. But if you’re a vegan household, should that include your…dog? Gasp! (Cue a dramatic dun-dun-dun sound effect!)
Let’s find out.
OK, so can dogs eat vegan?
As summed up by Dr. Brendan Russi, DVM, at Banfield Pet Hospital, “A veterinary nutritionist who is board certified through the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists could design a diet specific to your pet’s special needs if doing so is medically necessary.”
Basically, yes, a vegan diet is possible. (Don’t stop reading!)
But should a dog eat vegan?
“While not outside the realm of possibility, vegan diets are very rarely recommended,” says Dr. Russi. So, while it’s possible to design a vegan diet for your dog with the help of a trained professional, dogs really should not eat vegan.
“Fresh animal proteins, including meat, chicken and fish and other high-quality proteins, are essential for muscle tone and development and healthy skin,” adds Dr. Russi. “Meat and bone meal are concentrated essential amino acids, which help your dog maintain lean muscles, as well as strong teeth and bones.”
On top of that, animal fat provides dogs with linoleic acid and fat, a terrific energy source.
Are there pros to a vegan dog diet?
Honestly, there aren’t any pros. The only conceivable pro doesn’t have anything to do with your dog’s immediate health; eating vegan decreases the amount of meat consumed by your household, a practice known to be better for the environment. However, at the expense of your pet’s health, this is not a fair trade. And there are so many other ways to improve your impact on the earth!
OK, so what are the cons of a dog vegan diet?
Without certain animal products in their diets, dogs run the risk of missing out on key ingredients necessary to healthy growth, both inside and out. Dr. Russi also points out research linking “diets high in peas, lentils, legume seeds and potatoes as primary ingredients” to canine heart disease. On another note, a grain-free diet is also detrimental to doggy health. Again, ideally your dog is eating balanced meals with a variety of ingredients.
But are there fruits and veggies that are good for my dog?
If you’re dead set on supplementing your dog’s meals with whole fruits and vegetables, some are better than others. As both Trupanion and the American Kennel Club note, apples and carrots are terrific places to start, as both offer tons of fiber. Apples also contain Vitamins A and C, though be sure to remove the core and seeds. Fruit seeds and pits often contain cyanide and could cause damage if ingested.
Blueberries, mangoes, peaches, pears, strawberries and watermelon are fruits safe and healthy for dogs to chow down. However, be wary of sugar intake with fruits. Strawberries have tons of sugar, so moderation is key. Watermelon, on the other hand, is mostly water and a much healthier option.
Bell peppers, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, sweet potato, pumpkin and zucchini are vegetables dogs tend to enjoy that offer positive health benefits. Some, like cucumber, have even been known to improve bad breath, which we’ll take any time we can get.
Are there fruits and veggies that are bad for my dog?
On the flip side, avoid avocado, corn, rhubarb, garlic, onion, mushrooms, cherries, grapes, raisins and citrus. These are all either poisonous to canines or can lead to an upset stomach or eventual kidney damage. And don’t forget to avoid seeds and pits!
A final note on changing your dog’s diet:
Even something as simple as switching dry food brands could cause tummy aches, diarrhea or behavior outbursts. Introduce any new food slowly, incorporating it into your pup’s current diet in very small increments. Instant dietary changes or tossing in a bunch of new foods at once overwhelms anyone’s system.
The thing is, if pet owners try to avoid certain ingredients (or focus solely on human-centric diet trends) without talking to their vets or checking food labels, dogs probably won’t get the balanced diet they need to stay healthy.
“No one formula is ideal for all breeds,” Dr. Russi says. “And your dog’s diet may change over time based on their unique needs, lifestyle and medical history.”
Run any decisions about changing up your dog’s diet by your vet first. You never know—you might get the inside scoop on eco-friendly pet food brands, breed-specific health regimens or new treats on the market.