Plant-based Dog Food: Myths vs. Facts
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The Vet's Corner

Plant-based Dog Food: Myths vs. Facts

by Jeff Bloom

Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

There are so many myths surrounding plant-based diets for dogs. From plant-based diets having no protein to dogs basically being wolves - we have heard them all! So we put together a list of the top 5 myths, and used evidence-based research to debunk them.

Myth #1 - Dogs are carnivores

Dogs are classified as omnivores, not carnivores. From a biological perspective, dogs actually lack most of the metabolic adaptations to a strict diet of animal flesh that is seen in true carnivores. “Compared to true carnivores, dogs produce more of the enzymes necessary for starch digestion, have much lower protein and amino acid requirements, and can easily utilize vitamin A and D from plant sources, just as people do” (Heinze, 2016).

Myth #2 - Dogs need protein from meat

Not exactly. Dogs don’t need to eat meat, but they do need high quality protein. And you know what’s loaded with protein? Plants and fungi. The truth is, that the digestive system of a dog doesn't care where the protein comes from — it matters that the protein is complete, high quality, bioavailable, and highly digestible. Protein-rich plant-based ingredients, such as yeast, have been shown to be appropriate protein sources for dogs, and reportedly have digestibility similar to animal-derived ingredients (Dodd et al., 2018, Reilly, 2021).

Myth #3 - Plant-based diets are higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein than meat-based kibble diets

Most commercial dry dog foods typically contain a high proportion of plant ingredients, as a high grain content is necessary for successful extrusion. It is only a small step from some of the popular cereal-based dry dog foods to one that contains no meat at all. Wild Earth dog food contains more protein and less carbohydrates than many of the leading vet-recommended dog food brands as shown below on a DM basis.

Wild Earth Adult Formula Blue Buffalo Life Protection
Chicken and Brown Rice Adult
Royal Canin Medium Adult Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein Hill’s Science Diet Adult
Chicken and Barley
Protein 31.1% 26.6% 25.5% 21.6% 23.9%
Fat 12.2% 15.6% 13.3% 19.4% 14.7%
Carbohydrates 43.3% 44.4% 53% 52% 53.9%

Myth #4 - A plant-based diet is not nutritionally sound

Vegan diets for dogs can be nutritionally complete and balanced, they just need to be carefully formulated. A 2021 study examined the steps taken to ensure the nutritional soundness and quality of plant-based pet foods and found that plant-based diets were produced at equal or superior standards to meat-based diets, with acceptable or superior standards overall at all stages of formulation (Knight & Light, 2021). Not only can commercially available plant-based diets be of high quality and be healthy, but they can also be delicious and satisfying to dogs. In 2021, a group of researchers from the University of Winchester surveyed the owners of 2,308 dogs (and 1,135 cats), and found that those who were fed plant-based diets for at least one year were just as eager to eat and just as healthy as those fed meat-based diets (Knight & Satchell, 2021).

A vegan diet for dogs can be balanced and nutritious, help dogs live healthier and longer lives, and be a diet that dogs love! This is not to say that all plant-based diets are created equal, and careful evaluation of the diet must be completed. At Wild Earth, we test our finished product to make sure they not only meet, but exceed AAFCO nutritional requirements for adult maintenance.

Myth #5 - A dog’s health will decline on a vegan diet

More studies are being published that show plant-based food can be healthier for some dogs than conventional diets, and promote longevity. Take, for example, a survey by Dodd and colleagues found that dogs who were fed plant-based diets reported fewer health disorders, and longevity was reported to be greater for dogs fed plant-based diets (Dodd et al., 2022). Another study, where sprint-racing sled dogs were fed a nutritionally complete and balanced vegan diet, demonstrated that a carefully balanced meat-free diet can maintain normal hematological values in exercising dogs (Brown et al, 2009).

Also important to note that the most common culprits involved in cutaneous adverse food reactions in dogs are beef, chicken and dairy (Mueller et al, 2016). Plant-based diets are inherently devoid of these ingredients, and therefore often offer symptom relief to those dogs with food allergies.

A recent study conducted by Andrew Knight, a veterinarian, found that “the pooled evidence to date indicates that the healthiest and least hazardous dietary choices for dogs are nutritionally sound vegan diets” when compared to conventional meat-based kibble and raw meat diets.

So there you have it! Myths busted. We hope you can use some of this evidence-based information when you inevitably hear someone state one of these myths as fact.

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