Study: dog vegan diets are healthier, safer, and could help you save on vet bills

A peer-reviewed study was published in PLOS ONE on April 13, 2022. The study suggests that dogs on a vegan diet are healthier and safer. 

The study was conducted over the course of a year on 2,536 dogs and revealed which dogs had fewer signs of poor health. Researchers had made a list of 22 common illnesses and tracked which dogs had these illnesses. It also tracked repeated trips to the vet.

In the study, 13.2% of dogs were on a vegan diet. 32.8% of dogs were on a raw meat diet, and 54% were on a conventional meat diet. 

Half of the dogs fed conventional meat-based diets needed non-routine medication, but only one-third of the vegan-diet-fed dogs did so.

Non-routine medication excludes the usual pest and parasite preventatives. 

36% of dogs on vegan diets had health disorders, compared with 49% of dogs on conventional diets and 43% on raw diets.

Researchers also noted that vegan-diet-fed dogs went to the vets less frequently. On average, 9% went four times a year to see the vet compared with 17% for the conventional diets.

The authors of the study were not able to draw much conclusion on the healthiness of the raw meat diet for dogs since these dogs were, on average, significantly younger than the rest of the dogs. They also added that raw met dog diets are often contaminated with bacteria and parasites.

The vegan pet food industry is growing fast, with $9 billion worth of vegan pet food sold in 2020 alone. 

"Our study is by far the largest study published to date," said Prof Andrew Knight at the University of Winchester, UK, who led the study. "It revealed that dogs' healthiest and least hazardous dietary choices are nutritionally sound vegan diets."

Knight indicates what could be causing these differences, aside from nutritional values. He suggests that weight problems might be an essential factor: "One of the most common health problems for dogs is being overweight or obese, and it is unfortunately common that when we do tests on the commercial meat-based diets, there are more calories." Just like for humans, obesity is a canine killer, too.

The study was not conducted in a facility but instead remotely surveying dog owners, which is as close to reality as possible. 

Justine Shotton, the president of the British Veterinary Association, said: "There is a lot of ongoing research in the field of vegan dog diets, and this paper adds to the body of evidence supporting its benefits. However, there is currently a lack of robust data mapping the health consequences of feeding a vegan diet to a large number of dogs over many years, so we look forward to seeing further research on whether this can meet a dog's dietary requirements over the long term."

Shotton adds that if you are thinking of feeding your dog a vegetarian or vegan diet to your dog, you should consult your vet and make sure your diet does not have dietary deficiencies and associated disease.

One thing the study does not address is price. Vegan pet food costs about 300% more than conventional pet food.

According to another study, dogs find vegan food just as tasty — the researchers suggest a vegan diet could be a worthwhile switch.

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Written by Leo Roux

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