Plants are an essential part of any diet but can dogs be sustained on plants alone? Veganism is not only a diet but a lifestyle for many humans. It is a rapidly growing trend, with many people making the switch for various reasons including sustainability, animal ethics and health. One survey even suggested that there was a 40% increase in veganism in 2020 alone. With more and more people making the switch to a plant based diet, many pet owners are wondering if their furry family members can also make the transition with them.
As a canine nutritionist, I generally do not recommend that owners feed their dogs a 100% plant based diet. While dogs eat a lot of the same foods that us humans do, they digest and absorb nutrients in a slightly different manner. As a result, a fully plant based diet is not completely sustainable for them. A diet completely devoid of meat, could cause dogs to become malnourished and impair normal growth and other body functions. From a nutritionist point of view, I would not recommend that owners feed their dogs a vegan diet, homemade or commercial, without consulting their veterinarian.
While dogs may not be able to eat a vegan or 100% plant based diet, that doesn’t mean that pet owners can’t incorporate a higher proportion of plant products into their dog’s diet. A plant forward diet is an excellent option for those owners looking for a more sustainable diet for their pups.
A plant forward diet is essentially a vegetarian diet for dogs. It puts plants at the forefront of the recipe but still supplements a small amount of not-meat animal products, like eggs, cottage cheese and/or fish oil, to ensure that your dog gets all of the nutrients they need to thrive.
There are certain amino acids, minerals and digestible proteins that dogs can only get from animal products. Not to mention, palatability is one of the biggest hurdles with plant based diets when it comes to dogs. While some dogs will readily eat anything and everything, there are just as many that are picky eaters. Protein and fat are the most palatable nutrients to dogs and without the protein and fat from animal products in their food, some dogs may be less inclined to eat their whole meal.
If you’re considering a plant forward diet for your dog, there are a few things to consider. My recommendation as a canine nutritionist is not to try and make your dog’s food at home. The average pet owner is not trained to properly formulate and balance all of the nutrients that dog’s need to survive. This is why I always recommend that owners purchase a food that is created and formulated by a company with a certified companion animal nutritionist on staff.
There are a handful of vegetarian diets for dogs available on the market. An ideal plant forward diet will have plant products making up at least 80% of the diet and only supplemented with animal products where it is needed. Since dogs need such a high proportion of protein in their diet, the plant products used in the diet will have a high proportion of digestible plant protein. The following are a few great examples of ingredients to look for in a good vegetarian dog food.
Green, orange, yellow, red! Lentils come in a variety of colors and all are an excellent source of plant protein for dogs. Lentils are a type of legume that are composed of approximately 9% protein. Lentils also contain a healthy portion of fibre which acts as a prebiotic to feed the good bacteria in your dog’s gut, known as the microbiome. Lentils actually pack a surprising amount of vitamins and minerals, including a ton of folate, and a good source of manganese, phosphorus, iron, copper, and potassium.
Another legume, chickpeas are another plant protein powerhouse. The chickpea goes by many different names, including gram, Bengal gram, chhana, chana, garbanzo bean, or Egyptian pea. Regardless of the name, the chickpea is made up of approximately 9% protein. It has also been shown to help lower blood sugar due to its high proportion of resistant starch. Additionally, chickpeas are a great source of selenium, magnesium and B vitamins.
You might have noticed a trend with legumes here but peas, another member of the legume family, are another excellent source of plant protein. They pack a whopping 25% protein! Peas have gotten a lot of bad press lately, however I am here to assure you that the rumors about the link between peas and heart disease are completely false. Peas are not toxic to dogs and aside from the protein they also have a lot of health benefits. They are a low glycemic index food which can help lower blood sugar and help dogs with weight control. They also contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals for dogs.
Plant protein isolate or plant protein concentrate may sound like a scary word but it is essentially a fancy way of saying plant protein powder for dogs. As the name suggests, protein isolate is made up of 80-95% protein that has been isolated from a specific plant source.
Plant protein isolate is made through a simple food production process. The plant's outer shell is removed and milled into a flour. The other parts of the plant, like the fibre and starch, are separated through a filtration process and then distilled into a protein precipitate. The plants used in a protein isolate are most commonly peas but you can also find fava bean or chickpea isolate as well.
You may see this labeled as pea protein powder or something similar depending on the type of plant isolate used. This minimally processed ingredient, really helps boost the overall protein and amino acid content of the diet, which eliminates the need to add extra animal products to compensate for the amount of protein needed for a plant forward canine diet. As a result, this also helps to lower the fat and calories in the final formulations, making for a healthy, lean dog food.
The last legume on my list, I promise! Green beans, fava beans, kidney beans and more! Beans are another great source of plant protein in a vegetarian dog food. The protein content differs slightly depending on the type of bean used. Fava beans have the highest protein content, however green beans are the most digestible to dogs. Aside from their protein content, beans are also a source of B-vitamins, potassium, magnesium, iron, fibre and antioxidants.
Seeds like flax and hempseed are a great addition to a vegetarian diet as another supplemental source of protein. It is important however to ensure the seeds have been split or milled as the outer hull may be difficult for dogs to digest. In addition to protein and fibre, flax and hempseed are also an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids which can help improve cognitive function as well as skin and coat health.
At Kabo we are always hard at work in our kitchens, creating new and exciting recipes for our pupstomers! One of our primary goals at Kabo is sustainability and that’s why we have been experimenting in bringing plants to the forefront of our new recipe. We understand that dogs may not be able to eat completely vegan but that does not mean that we can’t be more conscious about the plant based ingredients we highlight in our new recipe.
Our new veggie recipe is expected to be available to customers on Earth Day 2023 and will feature some of these amazing ingredients: