The trend for vegan pets: fad or here to stay?

This week Mutt & Pooch investigates the current trend for vegan pets. But is it just a fad or here to stay?

With veganism on the rise, it seems that people are also advocating vegan diets for their pets.  In the UK the popularity for vegan pet food is growing and recently UK based vegan pet food company Benevo was presented with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade, acknowledging its outstanding growth in exports over recent years.  An article by LIVEKINDLY also describes how vegan dogs are on the rise in New Zealand as consumers ditch meat.  And Wild Earth aims to reinvent the behemoth pet food industry by bringing a revolutionary clean protein to market—one that comes from the Earth, not from animals. More on them later!

Veganism is on the rise, so are vegan pets!

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Although there is much debate about whether vegans should actually have companion animals in the first place, people are increasingly interested in feeding their pets a vegan diet for ethical, environmental and health reasons. 

Did you know that if your dog has a food allergy it is more likely to be caused by animal proteins than grains?! The most common causes of food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy, chicken and egg proteins.

According to new research by the University of Guelph a surprising number of pet owners, particularly those who are vegan, are interested in feeding their pets a plant-based diet.

A team of scientists led by the University of Guelph in Ontario carried out an online survey of 3,673 dog and cat owners from around the world, looking to find some insights into attitudes towards veganism and pets.

The study revealed, 27% of vegans had already eliminated meat from their pet’s diets.

 This new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that 35 percent of pet owners were interested in switching their animals to a vegan diet. As for the vegan pet owners, that figure was as high as 78 percent.

Sarah Dodd, currently a PhD candidate at the OVC’s Department of Population Medicine, said she was surprised by how many vegans had already chosen to eliminate meat from their pets’ diets.

According to Dodd, 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.’

She goes on to say that there has not been much research on the nutritional suitability of vegan diets for dogs and cats, nor on the health benefits and risks of plant-based diets in these animals.

The study further revealed 55% of pet owners would check with their local vet before changing their pets' diet. It was also highlighted that motivation to feed a plant-based diet was measured in terms of cost compared to what the pet owner currently paid for pet food

Vets worried by trend in vegan pets!

The growing trend for vegan dogs and cats is controversial. There is much debate about whether it is cruel to make your mutt vegan as illustrated below.

There is much debate around vegan pets. Image source: Deviant Art  https://www.deviantart.com/pupaveg/art/342-Vegan-pets-736233550

There is much debate around vegan pets. Image source: Deviant Art https://www.deviantart.com/pupaveg/art/342-Vegan-pets-736233550

It has been reported that vegan pet parents are worrying vets by cutting out meat and vital amino acids.

According to a study carried out in 2016  it was found that the majority of plant-based dog foods were not compliant with accepted standards of pet foods and there were concerns regarding the adequacy of amino acid content. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association, a survey of 86 vegetarian dogs in Europe found that over 50 percent of them were eating diets deficient in protein, essential amino acids, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. In particular, dogs require two amino acids, called L-carnitine and taurine, that are extremely hard to obtain from a plant-based diet unless it is supplemented.

However, vegan pet foods brands such as V-dog have been around for some time. One of the newer brands, Wild Earth (mentioned earlier) is a technology startup developing clean protein pet foods that are healthier for your pet, better for the environment, and more humane than conventional products.

Ryan Bethencourt is Co-Founder and CEO of Wild Earth.

Ryan Bethencourt is Co-Founder and CEO of Wild Earth.

They are a mission-driven company that is reinventing pet food with science. Their ‘Good Protein Dog Snacks’ are free from toxins, antibiotics, pesticides, and carcinogens .These innovative dog treats are made from cultured human-grade koji, a distant relative of the mushroom. The company aims to lead the shift away from the reliance on the unsustainable animal-based ingredients used in pet food. Mark Cuban recently invested $550,000 in Wild Earth’s dog treats on ‘Shark Tank’. .

Dogs can adapt to a vegan diet

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It has been argued that as omnivores, dogs should be able to adapt and manage on well prepared commercially available vegan diets as long as the essential nutrients they would normally get from meat are present. One study has even shown the ability to maintain active sled dogs on a carefully produced meat-free diet. And, interestingly one of the oldest living dogs in the world was a vegan dog called Bramble who lived to 25 years old.

That said whether vegan dogs survive vs thrive is debatable. Some argue that putting dogs on a vegan diet is going against nature. And some vegans maintain they would never force a vegan diet on their dog!

I came across the following debate on Twitter lead by Gary Fettke which you may find interesting:

https://twitter.com/FructoseNo/status/1078191558455750656

This has been bugging me as #vegan activists are out and about. "Should Your Pet Go on a Vegetarian Diet? The risks of feeding vegan or vegetarian diets to your pet." It seems the pets struggle to grow, breed and need supplements. Who would have thought?

twitter debate.jpg

I experienced backlash myself when I posted a poll about vegan dogs in a local dog owners group on Facebook. But, that’s another story!

Cat owners who force their pets into veganism risk breaking the law

Kitten who nearly died after being fed a vegan diet

Kitten who nearly died after being fed a vegan diet

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they can't survive without meat.  A cat being fed a strict vegan diet will likely die of malnutrition. However, some people argue that with careful supplementation and monitoring, cats can get all of the nutrients they need from plant-based foods.

 In the UK cat owners have been advised they could risk breaking the law if they force their pets into veganism.  But that hasn’t stopped thousands of people switching their cats to plant-based diets and joining Facebook groups such as Vegan Cats, which has almost 7,000 members.

The danger of feeding a cat a vegan diet is highlighted in an article featured in The Rooster which describes how a kitten nearly died from a vegan diet. The horrific case at a North Melbourne animal hospital prompted a warning about the dangers of people "forcing ideologies" on their pets.

Vet Leanne Pinfold said the kitten (whose owners were believed to be vegan) was fed on a diet of potatoes, rice milk and pasta which caused it to become critically ill.

More research needed into long term benefits of vegan diets for pets

Vegan dogs: do they thrive or survive?

Vegan dogs: do they thrive or survive?

V-Dog believes dogs can be vegan and has some great resources for vegan dog owners or dog owners considering a vegan diet for their dog. There is obviously a massive trend towards sustainable agriculture and maybe vegan dog food (or perhaps insect based dog food) is the way forward. The vegan trend for humans is growing so it’s only natural that people will extend their dietary habits to their dogs since they’re considered non-obligate carnivores.

However, opinions as to whether a meat free diet is a good option for dogs is clearly divided. According to an article in Bustle it was concluded that a vegan diet might not be the best way forward while an article in the Guardian suggested that pet food is an environmental disaster so vegan dogs may be the answer.

Despite the differences in opinion, it looks like the trend for vegan pets is here to stay. However much of the science on what foods are safe to feed our pets is ambiguous and new trends like vegan pet food are largely unproven in their long term effects.

According to the RSPCA more research is clearly needed into the long term benefits of feeding pets a vegan diet. Until then, caution is required. Make sure you do your research into the best vegan dog food brands if you are considering a vegan diet for your dog and it would be wise to consult your vet.

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About the Author:

Annie is the Founder of Mutt & Pooch and Wuuf & Bark. She also runs Bijou Concierge.