The Daily Beet

10 Jun Adventures With Ami: Plant-Based Dogs?

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We are the proud parents of one 9 year old German Shepherd Dog. He is the best dog one could hope for.  He’s gorgeous, he’s obedient, he’s a lover and a protector.  He has brought so much joy to our family.  He is also getting old.  He’s not as active as he once was and it takes him a little longer to get up on the bed than it used to.

One day at the pet food store, I noticed a bag of dry food marked as vegetarian.  Hmmm. I had never really thought about a vegetarian option for dogs.  Could that be an avenue for my dog to explore? Should my dog be plant-strong? I bought his usual food, a high-end lamb and rice blend and went home to research alternative diet lifestyles for dogs.

I started reading articles about crude protein intake, dogs being carnivores, dogs with allergies, older dogs and the like.  Each article I read was an opposing opinion of the last.  I had no idea there was so much information on whether or not dogs could be or should be plant-based.  I found myself asking…where will he get his protein? What about omega-3’s? What if he didn’t like it? What if his health were to suffer because he wasn’t eating meat? What about B-12? Do dogs need B-12?

I was worried now more than ever. Then I had a little moment of clarity…haven’t I been down this road before?  Worried about where I’d get my protein? What if it doesn’t work for me?  Ha! I had asked the same questions when I was thinking about starting a plant-based lifestyle myself.  I laughed a little then, because I know what I have learned since those early days.  People thrive eating this way!  I was also reading that many dogs are switched over to a no meat diet by their vet to help correct health problems. Hmm.. that sounds familiar too!  If eating this way can help a dog who has health issues to fix…wouldn’t it seem logical that a dog might be able to prevent some health problems by eating this way to begin with? …I even found an article about vegan dogs that mentioned Dr. Esselstyn:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/03/10/vegan.dog.diet/index.html

I read more articles, talked to some people who have switched their dogs to a plant-based diet, called and chatted with his vet for a bit too.  I then started looking at the ingredients in dog food across the board.  The food he was eating had several vegetables and fruit like blueberries in the ingredients list already.  Though we had researched the food he had been eating, he’s been on it for a few years, so I never really noticed all the great stuff that was in his food to begin with.  It didn’t seem like that big of a leap to switch him over for a while and see how it goes.

So I bought a small bag of the food I had decided to try with him. It has very similar ratios of protein and fat compared to the food he had been eating for a few years, just a little less protein and a little less fat.  Mixing it in little by little with his lamb and rice blend until he was switched over to the veggies, grains, fruit and potatoes variety entirely.  He LOVED it!

The transition went well and for the past two months he has been doing great!  Everything was fine until I picked up some peanut butter biscuits for him recently.  I was in a hurry and grabbed a box that looked healthy.  The next day, my poor dog had some intestinal distress.  I had not read the label.  I had completely forgotten the FIRST rule of label reading! NEVER EVER BELIEVE ANYTHING ON THE FRONT OF THE BOX! Jeff Novick’s words echoed in my head as I read the ingredients.  Chicken byproduct, egg powder and a few other less than optimal ingredients for my now plant-based pup.  Ugh. In the trash they went!

So I went back to the store and spent a half hour reading dog biscuit ingredients.  Wow.  It took me forever to find one without animal products but I did!  It felt like my first shopping trip during my first 28 days following Engine 2. His food had been easier to find, because there aren’t that many options.  Have you seen the treat aisle at the pet store lately? It’s starting to resemble the snack aisle at the grocery store for people.

I am happy to report that I have a happy, healthy plant-based dog, who will hopefully be with us for a long time to come.

NOTE: this is my personal experience with my dog and only my dog.  I am not a Veterinarian, and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. :)  I just love my dog.

 

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Ami Mackey
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is a food coach at Engine 2 Extra and has been plant-strong since 2011. She is also the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

  • Lionors

    You asked all the same questions I’ve been asking about my own 9 year old dog who is now experiencing some health issues. I would like to ease his last years with us, however long that is. I have been wondering about a plant based diet for my dog as well. I will definitely look at the link you provided and start reading labels at the pet food store. Just like I do for myself and my family. After all my dog is family too. Thank you for your post.

  • Lisa

    Could you tell us the brand name of dog food that is plant-based? Have been wondering about this myself for my 90 lb. yellow lab. Thanks!

  • Gunner’s Mom

    You have to be careful with a plant-based diet for dogs. My dog has chronic yeast infections and any amount of grains in his food sets him off BIG time. I have literally tried everything and the only thing that keeps him from becoming a yeasty mess is being on a strictly animal protein diet of ground beef and hard boiled eggs (including the shells for calcium) & a supplement called Dinovite. He’s 7 years old and it has just been this year that I’ve finally got it all figured out for him. He’s been on a vegan diet, a vegetarian diet, a regular Science Diet diet, nothing worked and I was spending WAY too much $$ on vet bills and he was miserable. For the past 6 months he’s been on the above diet is yeast problem has just about gone away completely. It’s weird for me to make his food since I am an E2’r but he’s a dog and I’m a human – totally different digestive systems!!

  • Smay

    Well, I sure wish you’d share your brand names with us all so that we don’t have to go thru all of the research hours you did and re-invent the wheel, so to speak. I’ve thought about switching my 13 year old Boston Terrier to plant based, too. I’d love to know the brand name products you found for your sweet fellow.

  • Jencop

    Dogs are NOT vegetarians!!! Their body’s are NOT created to eat a plant only diet. We have had several customers damn near kill their dogs with this nonsense!!

  • TADinator

    LOL, love the disclaimer…
    Also, love that just as I moved to the next sentence, the line in my head was “Never EVER trust the front of the package!”

  • Deb

    Brand names? I am nervous about feeding dog only plant-based diet. I would like to do half and half maybe? Although I did have an Aunt who was vegan, she made her dogs eat weird stuff. Eggs and cabbage and other veggies. Dogs were healthy and lived a long time.

  • Michelle

    My mom refuses to let our Mini Schnauzer/Yorkie mix become plantstrong, but I do give her fruit and veggie “scraps” from time to time. She LOVES apples and she chews on kale and lettuce stems like rawhide. Even though I wish she was plantbased, I don’t mind that she eats Blue Buffalo because it’s much better compared to the other “food” on the market. :)

  • Tamra

    I have been wondering about how best to feed my little dog. She is a puppy mill survivor, used for years to breed. She has a lot of small mammary tumors (dog breast cancer is not supposed to be like humans?) Anyway – I have also felt a lump on her little hip. I am taking her to the vet tomorrow to see if any have grown larger etc…. I want to give this little pup the best chance possible she is so sweet. I am VERY confused about meat and dogs.

  • Leslie

    Thank you for adding to the anecdotal evidence regarding vegetarian diets for dogs. Please continue to update us about your dog and any health issues, good and bad!

  • DeCatBastet

    Dogs, having descended from wolves, are carnivores. It cannot be an established fact that some dogs manage to survive on vegetable scraps in the streets unless someone has gone to the trouble of following said dogs around for a protracted period of time and noted everything that they eat. In other words, I would bet that some of those survivors are in fact killing and eating other animals in some regular intervals. Trust me, as a vegan and E2r I have wrestled with the ethical conundrum of being a plant-eater that has to feed an obligate carnivore, but that is a situation that I chose and now I have to deal with it. We have seen significant improvement in our dog by following the advice in the book “Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: The Ultimate Diet” by Kymythy Schultze. I strongly recommend that everyone who wants to do what’s best for their pets thoroughly research this topic. Dogs have a very different biology than humans.

    • Leah

      Dogs are actually omnivores and can do well on a vegan or a meat-filled diet.
      This has been scientifically shown in many studies. Most vets will approve vegan diets for dogs.

      Maybe you are thinking of CATS. Cats cannot safely eat less than 70% of their diets meat, because cats are OBLIGATE carnivores, whereas dogs are not.

    • Covacub

      Thanks for this post, I agree, E2r for us now, and use only a raw food diet with my pets, after years of allergies and sickness. Watch them in the wild and they will show you what they really need to survive in health. On the other hand the gorilla, like us, will forage eating plants and fruits. I also supplement with a great greens food called BioPreparation as it is quickly absorbed by pets and BioSuperfood for people as it is slowly absorbed. Last year I had a 17yr young cat tested before dental cleaning and blood work come back with perfect.If anyone is interested in BioSuperfood contact me at lifeforce77@verizon.net,

  • Ami Mackey

    The brand we use is the one our vet recommended. Talk to your vet :) All dogs are different and have different needs according to their health situation.

  • Leah

    Awesome! I’ve read so many stories of healthy plant-based dogs lately. I’ve seen a lot of examples of dogs with skin problems who heal on a plant-based diet. This makes sense, since a lot of skin allergies in dogs are caused by diet, especially chicken, soy, and corn. The better quality plant-based dog foods are also soy and corn free. A lot of people make their own too! Cool!

  • Kristina

    I just recently had this conversation with our dogs veterinarian. Our dogs love to eat raw veggies when I cut them up and he said that was fine – wouldn’t hurt them, but he also said they wouldn’t get many nutrients from the veggies because their intestinal tracts are much shorter and there isn’t enough time to absorb them. He says they need the animal protein and their bodies/systems are so much different than ours that a vegetarian diet would be harmful and not provide what they need.

  • Leah

    There seems to be a lot of confusion here about dog food diet. Happy Herbivore had a really good post about what she actually feeds her dogs. Google “happy herbivore” and “vegan dogs” if you are interested.

  • Vicki

    Cats are obligate carnivores, dogs are not. Our vet of fourteen years feeds a plant diet to his two goldens and hasn’t encountered any issues. Don’t jump to conclusions either negative or positive – do your research and proceed according to what you learn and your own comfort level. Some dogs might not respond as well, but I’m willing to bet that flooding their systems with micronutrients has much the same effect as it does with humans.

  • Kelly P.

    Just as humans can survive–but not thrive–on animal products, dogs can survive–but not thrive–on vegetarian/vegan diets. Dogs are, indeed, omnivores, but meat makes up a very large part of their natural diets. When meat is scarce, dogs will scavenge and survive on fruit and vegetable matter, but it is not their first choice. They will regularly consume a SMALL amount of fruit (berries and melons) and vegetable matter (like grasses), and will also consume the stomach contents their herbivore prey (e.g. rabbits and deer). However, there are NO vegan dogs! We can make them that way to make ourselves feel better, but outside of a serious health condition (like kidney failure), dogs need meat to thrive.

  • stacey

    Great discussion. My 14 year old dog is battling a failing pancreas (probably cancer). Sweet potatoes and grains have been a blessing.

  • Kirsten

    I love it…a plant strong doggie!!! So happy you have made the decision to keep your whole house plant strong!

  • Jacky

    Great post. Instead of buying a bagged dog food consider making your own (I do and it’s super easy) or go to a “Natural” pet food store (not Petco or the like) and ask – they are a wealth of knowledge. I also make my own dog treats – also very easy – sort of like just making cookies for humans. Research it – it’s not that much work. I’ve been feeding my dog (black lab) this way since he was about 1 year old and he’s almost 11 now and has the energy of a 3 year old and almost no grey at all. You can do the raw food thing too. The book that was mentioned by Kymythy Schultze is excellent. I appauld you for caring abotu your dog’s diet too – back in the day there was no dog food – now it’s just a greedy industry. Good luck!

  • Health4animals

    Hi. I helped a dog with pancreas cancer, with no foods = fasting…. until the dog really wanted to eat again (when he is severe ill he has no apetite) and then I gave him to eat basically legumes, raw carrot (he likes and is good for him to chew), a little fruit and other cooked veggies.

    • wendy

      Hi i just read what u doing for your dog i need your help so badd my dog is having kidney failure and i want to help him and save him I really love him so much he is like my babyy please help mee my cell is 817-559-3076 i’m so desperate pleasee help me i would really appreciate it.. help me to save my baby pleasee..

  • http://willkriski.com/ Will Kriski

    My dog Ben is over 18 years old. He’s a Cockapoo-Terrier cross. We mostly feed him vegetarian food – vegetables and things from our dinner and for a while a bagged vegetarian dog food. Don’t listen to anyone who says dogs are carnivores and need to eat meat. At the end of the day we all need protein which can come from plant-based food as well. Remember they’re (and we’re) not running around in nature anymore.

  • scottsvillematt

    my little bichon toy poodle mix is doing very well on a diet of about 2/3 fresh veg (sweet potato, winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, pineapple, frozen blueberries, etc.) and 1/3 Taste of the Wild meat-based dry kibble. he also has a bit of my oatmeal in the morning, which is mixed with berries, flax and soy milk.
    he was getting a bit heavy on an all kibble diet with processed dog treats.
    now he can eat more at meals and enjoy pieces of vegetables as treats and still stay in shape.
    he looks great and can even jump up onto the bed now, which is a big deal as he’s a little 10-pound dog.
    the only problem is that i have to walk him more, all that fiber has made him very regular.

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