Vegan Diets for Dogs: A Conflict

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I’ve had a “vegan dog food” post saved in the drafts of this blog for…oh about 2 years now. And when I say a post, I mean it was literally just a title and a completely blank page. I’ve tried to write it, I have. What’s prompted me to actually do it is that I was contacted by VICE Magazine and interviewed for their post on vegan dog food, specifically addressing whether it is ethical to make your dog vegan.

The VICE article was kinda funny. They included unedited and contextualised quotes that clearly explained my position, which is all I could possibly hope for. Ultimately they interviewed two experts who both said it was a bad idea, and then concluded that it is “probably a good idea,” largely from thin air and based on some inaccurate nutritional information. But if you’re actually getting nutrition advice for your pets from VICE, then I would say that is probably a bad idea.     

And that’s the thing about this conversation. It doesn’t matter what you say. I think that’s why I’ve been so stuck on this post for so long. It’s pointless. My readership already knows vegan diets for dogs aren’t a good idea, and anyone who disagrees isn’t going to be persuaded otherwise by anything I say because there’s already dozens of articles online that say the exact same thing. 

The reason I know this is because over the course of my two-year writer’s block, I’ve done my research. I’ve reached out to vegan dog food companies, I’ve spoken to vegan bloggers and I’ve joined vegan dog Facebook groups. The vegan dog food company asked me why I wanted to speak to them about their product when they could see I wasn’t a customer (interesting approach to sales), the vegan blogger opted not to use any of the advice I offered (she approached me), and the Facebook groups, well, let’s just say that did not go well and leave it at that.

Actually, no. Let’s not leave it at that. Because, despite what I do indeed think about vegan diets for dogs (we will get to that), I sat quietly in the corner of this Facebook group and observed, genuinely hoping to learn more about people’s motivations for feeding a vegan diet and exactly what it is that these people are feeding their pets. I figured if someone is passionate enough about the welfare of animals and proactive enough to join Facebook groups on the topic, there was a glimmer of hope that maybe I would be pleasantly surprised. My downfall came when I dared offer to chat privately to someone asking what the potential issues with feeding a vegan diet to their dog may be. I offered no advice, I offered no insight into my personal nutrition philosophy, and I didn’t say I was anti-vegan diets for dogs (I was in a vegan group ffs, surely you’d consider the possibility that I may support them). I quite literally just said that I was an animal nutritionist and I would be happy to have a chat privately if the woman wished to contact me. Well. I was mocked on the basis that “she wants to learn” (because apparently that is a common trope of double agents infiltrating this “safe space”), I was insulted, I had my qualifications questioned, I had an enormous amount of assumptions made about my values and what I believe.

And I promptly left the group.

There are few things I enjoy less than arguments in Facebook comment threads, and I’ve got no place forcing my views down the throats of people who aren’t interested in hearing them.

For those who are interested in hearing them, here are a few dot points regarding my professional thoughts on vegan diets for dogs:

  • With the exception of severe and true multi-protein allergies, they are a bad idea.

  • Dogs do not produce sufficient quantities (yes, the do produce some) of the digestive enzymes required to digest large quantities of plant matter, without placing considerable stress on their organs over time.

  • They have not evolved to do so in the last 100 years (that’s not how evolution works).

  • Vegan diets (and actually, any highly processed kibble-based diets) are particularly stressful on the pancreas. Pancreatitis is a very serious, life-threatening and often avoidable condition.

  • There are a number of essential nutrients that dogs require for health that are not available to them through plant based sources. Some of them are available to us from plant based sources. We are a completely different species.

  • It is next to impossible to create a balanced, fresh vegan diet for dogs. If you try to do it at home without professional help you will fail. Vegan kibble is some of the worst kibble you can buy.    

  • A cat will die if you feed it a vegan diet (bonus cat fact!).

And here are a few of my personal thoughts on vegan diets for dogs:

  • I wish it was nutritionally viable to feed dogs a plant based diet because I believe the mass consumption of animal products is the single greatest threat to our planet.

  • While I would never voluntarily feed my dog a vegan diet, if I was faced with the choice between a whole food based, nutritionally balanced vegetarian diet, versus a budget supermarket kibble, I genuinely don’t know which one I would choose. Probably the former.

  • It is possible for a dog to survive on a vegan diet. But is survival really the standard for which we are striving for our pets? I want my dog to be the healthiest and happiest he possibly can be.

  • There are plenty of herbivorous pets that CAN thrive on a vegan diet and many of them need homes.

I don’t take a hardline approach to anything, and vegan dog food is no exception. Would I make my dog vegan? Not in a million years. But if someone contacted me asking for my professional advice to help them make their dog vegan, would I provide it? You bet your ass I would. Because what I have learned in…well, just in a few decades on this planet, is that if someone wants to do something, they’re probably going to do it anyway no matter you say. As a nutritionist, my ultimate and pretty much sole goal is happy and healthy animals. I would rather help someone create a vegan diet that is going to provide the best nutritional outcome possible, than turn them down and have them harm their pet without professional guidance (because I can pretty much guarantee that is what will happen). If I’m only willing to provide one approach to nutrition, then I think I’m doing a shitty job as a nutritionist. So if you insist on feeding a vegan diet to your dog, please do so with the guidance of a qualified professional.

But I’m probably the only one actually willing to help you, sorry.