Vegan Pet Food – Gen Z Fad or Genuinely Good?
Plant-based diets are on the rise and not just among humans, vegan food has made its way into our pet's bowls too!
Modern pet parents are advocating for vegan diets for their pets due to ethical, environmental, and health reasons.
But is vegan pet food just a fad, and more importantly, is it safe - especially when it comes to our feline friends?
It’s the question that’s causing daily debates and dividing opinion but the movement isn’t slowing down anytime soon!
Millennials are pioneering plant-based diets for dogs and switching traditional kibble and heavily-processed foods for more natural ingredients*
And 60% of Gen Z dog lovers believe it’s healthier to limit meat in their dog's diet**
So, can our furry buddies be completely vegan? What do the experts say? And who is right?
In support of Veganuary, we’ve collected all the evidence from both sides so you can be the judge!
What Veterinary Professionals Say
British Veterinary Association
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is the largest body for the veterinary profession in the UK and is a not-for-profit organisation.
The BVA doesn’t recommend feeding a dog a vegan or vegetarian diet as, while it is theoretically possible, it’s difficult to get the balance of essential nutrients right.
“We wouldn’t recommend giving a dog a vegan diet as it’s much easier to get the balance of nutrients wrong than to get it right, leading to a risk of dietary deficiencies and associated disease,” stated Justine Shotton, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association.
“As an evidence-based organisation, the British Veterinary Association will continue to follow and assess all emerging evidence regarding vegan, as well as other, novel diets”. Dr Justine added.
Andrew Knight, Veterinary Professor
If you’ve stumbled down the vegan pet food rabbit hole already, you’ve probably heard of Veterinary Professor, Andrew Knight.
Professor Knight is a huge advocate for vegan diets for pets due to discoveries made during his research.
The veterinary professor revealed that his study showed that cats and dogs had as good, or better, health outcomes on plant-based diets as they did when fed on meat pet foods (provided these were carefully formulated with additional synthetic nutrients).
Synthetic supplements are what’s added to vegan pet food to ensure that pets get all the daily nutrients they need.
Currently, there isn’t any scientific evidence to support whether synthetic nutrients are safe long term for animals, or if they can be used in their synthetic form as easily in the body as in their natural form.
Professor Andrew Knight, along with his colleagues (Brown H, Huang E, Rai N,) published a research paper on the 13th of April 2022 that reported from the findings of 2639 dogs, that “the pooled evidence to date indicates that the healthiest and least hazardous dietary choices for dogs, are nutritionally sound vegan diets.”****
The peer-reviewed analysis revealed that vegan dogs require fewer medications and visit the vet less often.
Unsurprisingly, the study caused widespread controversy in the vet world, causing the British Veterinary Association and other bodies to bite back.
“There is currently a lack of robust large-scale data mapping the health consequences of feeding a vegan diet to dogs over their lifetimes, so we look forward to further research on whether non-animal protein sources can meet a dog’s dietary requirements throughout life.
“We know there are limitations to owner-reported data, which can only provide one aspect of the picture, so we’re also keen to see future studies assessing clinical data in order to build a more holistic view of the health impact of vegan diets on dogs” said Justine Shotton.
What About Cats?
Whilst the professors research might put forward a persuasive argument for vegan dog food, most still aren’t convinced when it comes to cats.
Head of veterinary services at the Blue Cross charity advised the public against plant-based pet food adding “Pets need a balanced diet, cats in particular have very specific nutritional needs which are unlikely to be met on a vegan diet”.
Justine Shotton of the BVA said: “While on paper a vegan diet for cats may include supplements or alternatives to animal-based protein, for example, there is no guarantee that these would be bioavailable to the cat or that they wouldn’t interfere with the action of other nutrients. That is why robust, peer-reviewed research is needed to ensure that non-animal protein sources can meet the pet’s dietary requirements”*****
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning it’s much harder or nearly impossible to meet their nutritional needs without giving them meat.
Many of the essential nutrients that cats require, such as preformed vitamin A, cysteine and taurine are minimal or non-existent in plant ingredients.
There’s currently not enough sufficient evidence to suggest that commercially available vegetarian or vegan cat food is safe for felines.
Cats require 11 different amino acids that are essential for life and the most important of all are taurine and arginine. Deficiency can cause health-related issues such as heart failure, blindness and issues with the immune system.
Taurine can’t be made from plant-based sources, so a synthetic alternative has to be used. A direct approach to making this involves the reaction of aziridine with sulfurous acid. in the laboratory. This is naturally available in meat and fish.
There are currently no scientific studies as to whether cats can use these synthetic forms and if they are safe in the long run.
What Vegan Dog Food Company, The Pack say
Back to dogs for this part and we’re handing it over to our pals and vegan dog food experts, The Pack.
Co-founded by committed environmentalists and husband-and-wife, Judy Nadel and Damien Clarkson, The Pack is out to show that plant-based is actually better for our dog’s health.
“Here at THE PACK, canine health comes first: that’s the primary reason we decided that our nutritionally complete, drool-inducing meals wouldn’t include any animal products.
Today’s domestic dogs are deep in a health crisis, with rates of cancer and obesity soaring, and the science shows that plant-based dog diets are not only safe for our omnivorous friends but potentially offer a wealth of health benefits.
These include weight management, protection against allergies, reduction of arthritis symptoms, improved immunity and even longevity: plant-based superfoods like those found in THE PACK can help our dogs fight cancer and enhance overall vitality.
What’s more, switching your dog to a meat-free diet has enormous benefits for the planet. As more pet parents feed premium ‘human grade’ or raw meat instead of by-products, farm animals are being bred and killed specifically for dog food.
Research in 2020 showed that the pet food industry produces almost 3% of the total CO2 emissions from farming: the same amount of CO2 produced by a sixth of global flights.
We’ve conducted a carbon footprint analysis to show that our vegan dog food produces significantly less CO2 than meat-based food (in the case of beef-based dog food, over 17 times less!).
Finally, many dog parents worry that their dogs won’t like vegan food. Yet not only do we see dogs go wild for THE PACK, there’s science to back up canine enjoyment of plant-based dinners.
An article last year, surveying over 2000 owners, found “no consistent evidence of a difference [in enjoyment of] vegan diets and either conventional or raw meat diets” added Judy and Damien.
The Pack’s new eBook Raising a Happy, Healthy, Plant-based Dog debunks mythologies around plant-based versus meat-based dog diets and makes the science around dog nutrition accessible. All backed up with links to evidence and the latest research!
What Buddy says
Just like the wild wolves they’ve descended from, dogs are omnivores. This means our canine companions can remain healthy on both plant and animal-based foods.
Cats are obligate carnivores and need meat to live long full lives. It’s easy to get a plant-based diet wrong for felines with catastrophic results for their health. It’s best to get specialist advice and think twice before switching your cat to a vegan diet.
But, in truth there is no one size fits all diet when it comes to our pets.
Whether you choose dry, raw, wet, cold-pressed, home-prepared, meat-based or plant-filled food, is completely your call.
But it goes without saying we all want the best for our beloved buddies. That’s why we encourage pet parents to do the research and keep pets safe, happy and healthy at home.
Double check that any homemade meals or pre-prepared food follows a “complete diet” and contain all the nutrients your buddy needs.
If you are considering putting your pet on a plant-based diet, it’s important that you consult with a vet first.
Animals are individuals and some pets may have dietary requirements that can’t be met on a vegan diet.
A vet can point you in the direction of a food manufacturer whose vegan pet food is developed by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
Veterinary professionals can also help you get the balance of nutrients right if you want to limit meat in your pet’s diet.
You can book a free online consultation with a qualified Buddycare vet nurse for diet help and nutritional support, here.
We welcome new advances in scientific research for further development into whether keeping pets on vegan diet is safe and better for health in the long term.
So, is vegan pet food good for our furry family members? Well, as you can see it all depends on who you ask!
It looks like nobody can agree when it comes to a vegan diet for pets - Not even the experts and scientists.
For many, there is a lack of long-term research to support that it’s completely safe. For others, the benefits are clear as day.
One thing that can’t be disputed is that plant-based food Is certainly better for the planet we share with our furry friends.
Research at the University of Edinburgh revealed that making meat-based food for dogs and cats uses up a landmass twice the size of the UK every year!
Plant-based pet food might have its many perks, but everypawdy has their own pet parenting style.
Just like snuggling up in bed with your cats or letting your dog give you a slobbery kiss in the mouth, it’s your choice!
Just remember not all pet food is created equal, whether it’s meat-based or packed with plants.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to do the research, seek support and make informed decisions when it comes to your pet’s nutrition.
But for the sake of the planet we share with our furriends, maybe it's time we agree to meat somewhere in the middle ;)