Dogs may be able to go vegan if the meatless food provided to them contains the right mix of nutrients, new research has revealed. After feeding two carefully formulated vegan diets to 12 adult dogs, the study authors found the pooches to be no less healthy than those that ate meat.
In fact, those that received the vegan dog food displayed lower levels of circulating fats, indicating that some pets may actually benefit from ditching animal products in their diet.
The researchers compared the apparent total tract digestibility (ATTD) of two human-grade vegan dog formulas against a popular chicken-based kibble diet. In addition to testing ATTD – which they say provides “a measure of diet quality” – the study authors also took blood and fecal samples from each dog, allowing them to investigate the impact of each diet on the animals’ blood chemistry and microbiome.
The vegan options used in the study were both nutritionist-formulated mixtures of whole foods, including lentils, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and fruit. Both formulas were supplied by plant-based dog food manufacturer Bramble, which also provided funding for the study.
Female beagles were assigned to one of the three diets, which they ate exclusively for a period of 15 days. At the end of this period, the researchers concluded that all diets had a high ATTD, with all macronutrients having digestibility levels of more than 80 percent.
However, levels of blood metabolites differed considerably between dogs on different diets. For instance, the study authors reveal that “dogs consuming vegan diets had lower circulating cholesterol, triglycerides, platelets, and neutrophils than dogs consuming the [meat] diet.”
Given that cholesterol and triglycerides are markers of circulating fats, these findings may indicate that going vegan brings certain health benefits, especially for overweight dogs.
In a statement, study author Kelly Swanson revealed that “there were some interesting and beneficial changes in the microbial community that I think reflect the blend of fibers that were present in the vegan diets. The fecal metabolites phenol and indole, both of which contribute to fecal odor, were dramatically decreased in those diets too. It's still going to smell, but probably less.”
In addition to stifling the smell of dog poop, reductions in phenol and indole may also lead to health benefits since both of these can be toxic in high concentrations. According to the researchers, phenol and indole levels were six to nine times lower in dogs that consumed a vegan diet than those that ate meat.
“Overall, it looked like there were some beneficial shifts from a gut health perspective in dogs fed the vegan diets,” said Swanson.
In spite of these findings, however, Swanson says it’s important not to remove animal products from a dog’s diet unless the nutrients provided by these ingredients are adequately replaced. “One thing to remember is that animals don't have ingredient requirements, they have nutrient requirements. As long as they’re consuming the essential nutrients in the correct amounts and ratios, dogs can be vegan, vegetarian, or meat-eaters,” he said.
“Anyone can slap together a vegan meal for their dog, but without careful formulation, you might have something that's really imbalanced.”
The study is published in The Journal of Animal Science.