My border collie Levi’s 9th birthday was the first time I truly thought about how old he was. Of all, most people dread the day when their pets ‘leave to live on a farm’ – as in, for good. But it’s an idea you push down for the majority of your dog’s life.
But as Levi entered his ninth year of life (get it? ), I couldn’t take it anymore. I could see he wasn’t in the best of health. He was being treated for infections in both ears and had early arthritis. He didn’t leap up into the car or into the bed as he used to since he didn’t have as much energy as he used to.
I was doing everything I could to ensure that he had a happy and healthy life. However, I was aware that many dogs do not live to be 10-12 years old. And I was eager (or desperate?) to come up with fresh strategies to improve his chances of surviving longer.
Over the course of several nights of study, I kept coming back to an idea I’d always questioned and dismissed: a vegan diet for dogs. I’m a vegan myself, but I’ve never considered making Levi go vegan. I simply want the best for him, as do most pet owners. But then I found myself reading about the dangers of giving meat to your dog, rather than the other way around.
I’m not here to persuade you to feed your dog a plant-based food. I will, however, share some of the facts I discovered when researching this issue further.
Are Dogs Able To Be Vegan?
It’s debatable if dogs can be vegans. It’s easy to mistake dogs for carnivores at first look — the teeth, for example, are deceiving. Domestic dogs, like humans, chimpanzees, bears, and pigs, are omnivores (to name a few).
An omnivore is a animal that can eat both plant and animal-based meals to thrive. As a result, dogs, like many other omnivores, can eat a completely plant-based diet.
Plant-Based Benefits for Dogs
It didn’t take long for Levi’s health to improve once he switched from conventional meat-based chow to a vegan recipe. He’s been healthier than he’s ever been in more than two years. He hasn’t had an illness since he started eating meat, and his arthritic symptoms have improved dramatically — he’s leaping into cars, into beds, and all over people. He is constantly mistaken for a young puppy, despite the fact that he is 11 years old.
It’s a tale I’ve heard many times, particularly on the Vegan Dog Nutrition Facebook page, which has over 17,000 members. Anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, of course. These testimonials, however, are backed up by science.
Companion dogs may ‘thrive’ on a meat-free diet, according to research published in 2016. According to the journal paper, “such diets have been associated with benefits such as improved coat condition, allergy control, weight control, increased overall health and vitality, arthritis regression, diabetes regression, cataract resolution.”
There were also fewer cases of cancer, infections, hypothyroidism, and ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice, and mites), according to the study.
It was highlighted that pets on a meat-free diet might still have health issues. “However, such diseases are also prevalent within the normal domesticated companion animal population,” according to the research.
In a second 2009 study, researchers looked at the diets of highly active dogs to see if they might stay healthy on a meat-free diet. The trial lasted 16 weeks and included 10 weeks of competitive racing using sprint-racing Siberian huskies. The canines on a plant-based diet were in ‘excellent physical condition,’ according to the researchers.
Plant-based diets have been utilized to assist pet patients manage dangerous health concerns, according to Dr. Debra Voulgaris, who holds a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). “As an ethical veterinarian, I have a responsibility to recommend foods for my patients that are balanced and healthy. As an ethical vegan, I have a responsibility to promote compassion to all animals, not just my patients. V-dog allows me to do both,” she says, referring to a plant-based dog food brand.
“V-dog has proven to be effective in helping many of my patients manage certain allergies, gastrointestinal issues and other systemic illnesses.”
Dr. Jena Questen, who runs her own animal rescue and veterinary clinic, is another proponent of meat-free dog meals. “Why do I support a vegan diet for dogs? Because the science is clear: 1) Humans and dogs are both omnivores. 2) A plant based diet is the best diet for health and longevity for humans. And 3) I want my animals to live as long, and healthy, as possible, therefore a plant based diet is what I feed and recommend, with tremendous results!” she stated.
25 Year-Old Vegan Dog
Bramble, the legendary border collie, must be included when discussing vegan pets. Bramble lived for slightly over 25 years, or 189 years in dog years. She was even the world’s oldest dog at the time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Anne Heritage, an animal rights activist, spoke with V-Dog about Bramble and her other puppies.
“I’ve had seven dogs – three of them lived to 19 years old, one lived to 20 years old, and then Bramble lived to 25 years old,” she said. They were all vegan.
“I was really able to enjoy my dogs much longer – we were able to enjoy each other – due to their plant-based diet. I believe you can extend your dog’s years given the right care plan and food,” she stated.
“[Bramble] walked over two hours daily. All of this activity really built up her muscles and endurance. Bramble’s vet also said she had the best teeth she’s ever seen. Her teeth were white and strong.” (Interestingly, many vets have said that about Levi’s teeth too, but I can’t say whether that’s due to his diet).
Dangers of Meat
The discovery of the (many) health risks associated with meat-based dog food prompted me to make the switch for Levi.
It’s also what prompted the establishment of certain plant-based pet food companies. Take, for example, Wild Earth. Concerns over tainted dog food prompted the company’s establishment.
“Most of the major brands have meat scraps from the ‘4D animals’—dead, dying, diseased, or disabled—so there could really be anything in there,” CEO and co-founder Ryan Bethencourt said to Wall Street Journal. Raw 4-D meat, according to the FDA, ‘may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it’.
“We’ve taken an easily accessible vegan product that we can easily scale through biotechnology, not factory farming,” he continued.
V-Dog, another meat-free pet food business, has similar reservations. Its website references statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, which reveals that 38 pet food products were recalled for contamination in February 2018, the majority of which was due to pentobarbital (a euthanasia medicine) and Salmonella infection.
Several well-known dog food brands have been recalled. Ol’ Roy, Skippy, and Gravy Train, all of which are owned by Smucker’s, a $14.34 billion company.
Risks of Raw Meat
Even more harmful is raw meat-based dog food. By evaluating samples for the bacterium Enterococci, a research released in July looked into the health dangers of raw meat-based dog food. Enterococci that travel to the incorrect parts of the body can cause dangerous infections, such as infections of the stomach, wounds, mouth, and urinary system.
Researchers examined 55 samples from 25 different brands (most of which ship worldwide). The germs were found in more than half of the samples (54 percent). Furthermore, more than 40% of the bacteria were resistant to various drugs.
The discoveries presented dangers not just to the canines that ate it, but also to people. “The close contact of humans with dogs and the commercialization of the studied brands in different countries poses an international public health risk,” study researcher Dr. Ana R. Freitas stated.
“European authorities must raise awareness about the potential health risks when feeding raw diets to pets and the manufacture of dog food, including ingredient selection and hygiene practices, must be reviewed.”
Aside from the bacterial issues, there are additional ways that utilizing animals for pet food might be hazardous. Former pet food business employees have disclosed that plastic ear tags from cattle may be processed with meat and eventually wind up in dogs’ bowls. It’s also possible to utilize spoiled store meat in batches, sometimes without removing the Styrofoam wrapping.
The matter was brought up by a few employees, who spoke with ABC about it. “There would be plastic. Butchers would be getting rid of their material and they don’t care what they’re putting in the bin — plastic, cans, all those sorts of things you would see.”’
The Impact on the Environment
Concerns about the environment were one of the main reasons I turned vegan. If you’ve been paying attention to the news recently, you’ll know that the climate problem is having an impact all around the world, expressing itself in floods, droughts, and wildfires.
Of course, there are several variables at play. Diet, on the other hand, is an unquestionable factor. Meat, dairy, and egg production are major contributors to deforestation, ocean dead zones, and increasing sea levels. Animal products (particularly beef) are major emitters of greenhouse gases. And studies have repeatedly proven that plant-based diets have a lesser environmental effect.
Oxford University researchers examined the influence of the food system on the world in 2019. The research was the most thorough of its sort to date. “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” research leader Joseph Poore found.
“It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he added, referring to the fact that these options are primarily aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is an industry that deals with a wide range of environmental issues. Animal products are, in fact, at blame for a great deal of this.
Dr. Simon Fit, a Venezuelan surgeon and veterinarian, feels it is our “responsibility” to seek to reduce our pets’ environmental effect.
“I also think that it is a duty of all of us who love animals and the planet to minimize the suffering of others and reduce the environmental impact that we produce with our food. The food that our dogs and cats consume produces more than 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – that’s the equivalent of driving more than 13 million cars.” he stated.
Vegan Dogs Are on the Rise
Vegan dogs are a small but rising minority.
Researchers from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College performed a poll in 2019 to see what meals individuals feed their dogs.
Veganism was represented by little under 6% of the participants. More over a quarter (27%) of respondents also fed their pets a plant-based diet. 78 percent of the remaining vegan survey respondents were interested in changing their pets’ food to a plant-based diet if it matched their needs.
“That percentage, 27 percent, might sound like a small number, but when you think of the actual numbers of pets involved, that’s huge, and much higher than we expected,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Dodd.
In all, 1.6 percent of the canines in the poll were vegan. Another 10.4% of dogs were ‘intermittently provided vegetarian diets or plant-based items,’ according to the study.
Furthermore, 35% of pet owners with meat-eating companion animals were interested in transitioning to a plant-based diet for their animals.
“People have been hearing about how vegan diets are linked to lowered risks of cancer and other health benefits in humans. There is also growing concern about the environmental impact of animal agriculture,” Dodd stated.
“Previous studies have also shown that pet owners tend to offer the same kind of diets to their dogs and cats that they adopt for themselves. So, while only a small proportion of pet owners are currently feeding plant-based diets to their pets, it is safe to say that interest in the diets is likely to grow.”
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