Scientists say ‘As long as they’re consuming essential nutrients in correct amounts, dogs can be vegan, vegetarian, or meat-eaters’
Pet foods currently sold across the world match the various lifestyle, value systems, and price points that pet owners demand, including vegan formulations, say scientists, including those from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
While any pet owner can put together a vegan meal for their dog, the diet might be imbalanced without careful formulation, they say.
“Because people are feeding these diets to their pets, it’s important they be tested like all other foods to make sure they’re safe and complete and balanced,” study co-author Kelly Swanson said.
“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,” Dr Swanson explained.
In the new study, published recently in the Journal of Animal Science, scientists tested two human-grade vegan formulas from Bramble against a leading brand chicken-based kibble diet.
They fed the diets to beagles for three weeks and sampled the dogs’ blood chemistry, fecal quality, and microbiome, the collection of microbes present in the poop.
The vegan diets were mixtures of whole foods like lentils, garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, apples, blueberries, peas, and carrots, scientists said.
Researchers found that the vegan diets didn’t generate any more or less stool than the chicken diet in the beagles.
“With these ingredients, there’s more fiber and oligosaccharides, which could be good for dogs that need to stay regular,” Dr Swanson said.
They also found that some chemicals in the blood that can indicate health status differed between the vegan diets and the chicken-based diet.
Some blood triglycerides and cholesterol, which are measures of circulating fats, were significantly lower in dogs fed the vegan diets, scientists said, adding that these could benefit obese pets and help them maintain a healthy weight.
Reasearchers also observed “beneficial changes” in the microbial community in the fecal matter of dogs that were fed 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,” Dr Swanson said.
“Overall, it looked like there were some beneficial shifts from a gut health perspective in dogs fed the vegan diets,” he added.
In future studies, scientists hope to perform head-to-head comparisons between human-grade diets with and without meat and dairy products.
“No one had tested digestibility of these diets in dogs before this. We showed that these vegan diets resulted in desirable fecal characteristics, high nutrient digestibilities, and positive changes to certain blood and fecal metabolites,” Dr Swanson said.
“For people who are interested in feeding their pets a vegan diet that aligns with their personal values, the diets we tested are a good choice,” he added.
However, researchers also cautioned that homemade vegan dog foods may not provide complete and balanced nutrition for dogs.