According to the largest study to date, vegan diets are healthier and safer for dogs than conventional meat-based diets, as long as they are nutritionally complete.
The diet and health of over 2,500 dogs were tracked for a year using surveys conducted by their owners. These assessed seven general health indicators, such as multiple visits to the vet, and 22 common illnesses.
Researchers found that, for example, nearly half of dogs fed conventional meat-based diets required non-common medications, but only a third of dogs fed vegan diets did. A separate study in 2021 found that dogs found vegan diets just as tasty as regular dog food.
Some of the dogs in the study were fed raw meat diets and these were slightly healthier than the vegan dogs overall. However, this may be due to the fact that they were on average one year younger.
The detrimental impact of Western societies’ overconsumption of meat on the environment and people’s health has become clear in recent years, along with growing concerns about the way farm animals are treated.
There are approximately 470 million companion dogs worldwide and a growing number of pet owners are also considering changing their pet’s diet. Around $9bn (£6.9bn) of vegan pet food was sold globally in 2020 and the sector is growing rapidly.
“Our study is by far the largest published study to date,” said Professor Andrew Knight, from the University of Winchester, UK, who led the study. “It found that the healthiest and least dangerous food choices for dogs are nutritionally sound vegan diets.”
“The raw meat diet seemed to have slightly better health outcomes,” he said. “But these dogs were much younger, giving them a health advantage. A substantial number of previous studies have also shown that raw meat diets are significantly more contaminated with pathogenic bacteria and parasites.
The study, published in the journal Plos One, analyzed surveys conducted by 2,536 dog owners on a single animal. Just over half followed conventional meat-based diets, a third received raw meat and 13% followed a vegan diet.
Among the findings, 17% of dogs on a conventional diet had four or more vet visits in a year, compared to 9% for those on a vegan diet and 8% for those on a raw meat diet. . The percentage of dogs reported to have suffered from health problems was 49% for the conventional diet, 43% for the raw meat diet and 36% for the vegan diet.
Survey-based studies can’t reveal the reasons for their findings, but Knight suggested weight issues could be a big factor: “One of the most common health problems in dogs is being overweight or underweight. obesity and it is unfortunately common that when we test meat diets, there are more calories.
“We also know the health risks associated with overconsumption of meat and dairy products for people and it’s often the same ingredients,” he said, although in some countries pet food may contain meat deemed unfit for human consumption.
Further research is needed to confirm the results. “The main limitation of our study is that we didn’t have a population of animals confined in a research facility and fed a specific diet without any modifications,” Knight said. “We studied what real dogs in normal homes ate and their health outcomes. This gives us a good indication of what the results are for dogs in the real world.
Justine Shotton, President of the British Veterinary Association, said: “A lot of research is being done in the area of vegan diets for dogs and this article adds to the body of evidence supporting its benefits. However, there is currently a lack of solid data mapping the health consequences of feeding large numbers of dogs on a vegan diet for many years, so we look forward to seeing further research to find out. if it can meet a dog’s dietary needs over the long term. .”
“Although we do not recommend it, it is theoretically possible to feed a dog a vegetarian diet, but owners should take expert veterinary advice to avoid dietary deficiencies and associated illnesses,” she said. .
Most of the survey respondents were in the UK and other European countries and more than 90% were women, but Knight said this probably did not cause systematic bias. Knight, who himself follows a vegan diet but does not own a dog, designed and led the peer-reviewed study, which was funded by the charity ProVeg.