vegan dog food

Vegan Dog Food: The Science, Our Experience & Best Brands

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If you've been vegan for any amount of time, you're probably already convinced that humans don't need to eat animal products to live and thrive, but what about our other four-legged family members - such as dogs?

Being that wolves are mainly carnivores in the wild and ​share a common ancestor with dogs, many people have the preconceived notion that dogs require an animal-based diet to be healthy, but is this the truth?

The Science Behind Dogs Being Vegan

Even though the science on humans going vegan is quite clear, there simply aren't a large amount of vegan/vegetarian dog studies out there. While we try to reference actual research and veterinary authorities regarding this topic wherever possible, please bear in mind the body of evidence here is not extremely large.

However, there is a more than enough information on the topic out there that warrants at least giving it a try on your dog for both health and ethical reasons.

Why a Vegan Diet Can Work for Dogs

There are a few important things to understand as to why its completely reasonable to feed your dog a vegan diet.

Dogs have come a long way since wolves - not only in their looks, but in their ability to digest starch.

  • Although dogs and wolves may look similar, they do have genetic differences. One of the major genetic differences is the dogs capability to digest starches. This is likely due to dogs living besides humans for so long and having to live off of human scraps.
  • They also have lower protein requirements than obligate carnivores such as cats.
  • Dogs have the ability to use Vitamin A and D from plant sources - just like humans.

​One thing to note is that a poorly planned or inferior diet for a dog or a human is likely to result in problems - whether it includes meat or not.

This is why there are guidelines to dog food supplementation whether the food has meat or not. Dogs have a specific set of balanced nutritional needs, which is why home-prepared diets aren't usually recommended.

Sprint Racing Dog Study on Siberian Huskies

One of the most popular studies referenced regarding dogs following meat free diets was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2009. Although the sample size was rather small (only 12 dogs), the study design itself was rather thorough.  The participating dogs were checked by a veterinarian three times throughout the study and blood samples at weeks 0, 3, 8 and 16.

The researchers were mainly studying sports related anemia, but the dogs were given regular check-ups as well, as mentioned above.  Dogs from both the meat-free and meat eating groups were assessed to be in great physical condition.

Even racing Siberian Huskies were able to thrive on a vegan diet.

It is important to note that these were very active racing dogs. These Huskies were training and racing throughout the most of the duration of the study, meaning their demands for calories and nutrients would far exceed a normal domesticated dog.

While the scientific data that we found is very encouraging​ and should be considered the best source of evidence on this topic, we also have had a good anecdotal experience which we documented below.

We're not taking an ethical stance on dog racing here, but rather just presenting the information in the study.

Appeal to Nature Fallacy: Nutrients vs. Ingredients

Dogs eating vegan can be a very emotionally driven topic. For some, not feeding a dog any meat goes against the natural order of things.

The problem with this line of thinking is that natural doesn't always imply good. In fact, the "natural" option is sometimes worse than the alternative!

Dogs need a specific combination and ratio of nutrients, not specific ingredients

Given what we're about to cover in the next section - it may actually be best for your dog to get these nutrients from plants, simply because we don't live in the picturesque natural world that is portrayed in many dog food commercials.

What's Actually in Your Dog's Food?

The pet food industry is mostly a byproduct of the human animal agriculture industry. When you think about what actually goes into standard dog food, it seems clear that plant alternatives might be the better option, or atleast worth a try.

Some of the stuff that goes into dog food can't even go into hot dogs. This list but is not likely limited to:​

  • Hides and Bones
  • Digestive system along with feces, udders, etc.
  • Brains
  • Non-farm animals including other pets

Conventional dog food comes with its own set of downsides.

All of this byproduct, among other things, typically gets transferred to a "rendering plant" which is essentially a huge grinder. Some rendering plants even receive things like plastics, styrofoam, expired meats, and even dead pets.

This rendered material is processed and extracted into "meat and bone meal", and it's hard to tell exactly what's in it as regulations vary from state to state.

We're not saying this is all ​pet food or all pet food companies, but this topic is something to think about and investigate when you're comparing conventional dog food vs. plant based alternatives.

If your dog can get its nutrient needs met from sources lower on the food chain, like plants, you're likely exposing them to less junk and waste products.​

Plenty of Vets Support a Vegan Diet for Dogs

This interview with Dr. May, who is a practicing veterinarian talks a bit about the meat and bone meal issue which we just discussed. 

There are plenty of other vegan vets who share these positions. V-dog features some of the most prominent ones on their website

Perhaps the most notable is Dr. Andrew Knight who runs VeganPets.Info. He has conducted his own academic research (over 65 studies) and stays thoroughly abreast on all of the latest research on this subject. His published research on this very issue can be found here.

Environmental Pollutants and Toxins

As some research indicates, food may be the primary route of exposure to contaminants from multiple chemical classes such as metals (mercury, lead, arsenic), persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (dioxin, DDT, dieldrin, chlordane), and pesticides (chlorpyrifos, permethrin, endosulfan).

A diet high in large fish and animal products, for example, results in greater exposure to persistent organic compounds and metals than does a plant-based diet because these compounds bioaccumulate up the food chain.

As an illustrative example: eating a sardine is likely to contain less environmental ​pollutants than eating a bigger fish like a salmon.

Pet food is no different - and likely much worse. Check out the video above and this link which touches on the high concentration of flame retardant chemicals in dog and cat food!

Anecdotal Evidence

In the majority of cases, anecdotal evidence isn't a great indicator of scientific truth. However, we figured it was useful here just because there aren't that too many studies to draw from on this issue.

One of, if not the, longest living dog on record was Bramble, a Collie that lived to 27! 

Apparently, Bramble's owner fed him rice, lentils, and organic vegetables.​

As we stated earlier, we can't recommend making making your dogs meals at home because there are certain standard and guidelines for nutrients in pet foods, but Bramble makes an interesting single-point case study.​

Our advice would be to stick with a reputable vegan dog food brand if you're going to give plant based dog food a try.​


​Our Experience with V-Dog: A Popular Vegan Dog Food

In early 2017, we started feeding our dog a vegan diet, specifically V-Dog Dog Kibble, as her primary food source. Since then, she's been doing quite well!

As a dog that's had digestive issues all her life, she's had one very minor digestive episode, and seems to have boundless energy and athleticism (its a sight to see for a toy poodle) even though she's approaching 7 years old.​

Introducing Our "Vegan" Dog

Here's a picture of our beloved toy poodle, Penny. Penny has been vegan for almost a year now and we're happy to report that she's been doing great and her digestive health has actually improved!

Penny with her Food in the Background

​Penny has always had a very sensitive stomach since she was young and has gone through a lot of different brands of dog food. There have been multiple occasions where she was having trouble digesting one food (would either throw it up or get diarrhea) and we would switch to another type only to encounter the same issue.

Before switching to V-Dog​, Penny was eating Simply Wellness Turkey and Sweet Potato kibble as well as a prescription low-fat wet food called Hills Diet Digestive Care.  She was doing well on that food - with a few upset stomachs here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary for her.

How She Eats It

The one thing about V-Dog is that they don't have any brand of wet food. When we feed Penny at night, we will gently heat some of the kibble with some water and sometimes some rice or sweet potato until everything is soft and mushy (like wet food). Then we simply feed it to her in a bowl.

She usually slurps it up quite quickly!

She also has a red soccer ball (pictured below)​ which she rolls around to eat dry kibble throughout the day. Try to give her dry kibble out of your hand and she won't eat it, but if she gets it from out of her ball, she'll eat it all day!

Penny with her Food Ball

Did She Like It?

Penny is pretty picky, so one of our main concerns was whether or not she would like V-dog.

To help her system adapt, we were mixing the food with her previous food when we first started switching her over. Immediately she starting picking out ​the V-Dog and eating it and leaving the rest of her food in her bowl or on the floor.

I think we can safely say that she likes it. She's yet to leave her dinner unfinished.​

Blood Test Results

Penny had one bout of diarrhea the entire time we were giving her V-dog which is quite low given her history and past instances of throwing up, diarrhea, or upset stomach.

To be safe when this happened, we took her to the vet and she was given a blood screening. We were pleased to learn that everything was in the healthy range, despite the fact that she had been experiencing some digestive issues over the past week.

We don't suspect that this episode was related to her food at all, but probably some other food that she got her paws on.

V-Dog even challenges their customers to get their dogs blood tested before and after starting a meat-free diet.

Would We Recommend Vegan Dog Food Based on Our Experience?

Based on our experience, we don't see any reason why you shouldn't give it a try. If your dog loves the food and stays healthy, what could you have to lose?


Vegan Dog Food Brands

Below are some of the top brands selling vegan dog food. For the sake of this article - we're just going to be comparing dry kibbles when it comes to protein because it's not a valid comparison to compare wet vs. dry food as the wet has a lot more moisture and thus a lower protein percentage.

V-Dog

As we discussed, V-Dog is what our toy poodle has been eating for nearly the past year. She likes the food, her energy is great, and her blood work turned out just fine. Our only complaint with V-Dog is that they don't sell the mini kibbles in bulk which makes them more expensive than the standard size. Both products have the same exact ingredients (at the time of writing), but the smaller version might be easier for some dogs to chew and digest given their size.

V-Dog Looking Like Any Other Dog Kibble

They can be found online at V-Dog.com.​

Ingredient Statement for V-Dog

According to their website, V-Dog has the following ingredient statement:

Listed as the first ingredient, the majority of the kibble is made from pea and pea protein with brown rice, oatmeal, potato protein. It's supplemented with everything else it needs to meet or exceed AAFCO guidelines.

It has the highest minimum protein out of every brand on this list which might be relevant if you're worried about your dog not getting enough.

Dried Peas, Pea Protein, Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Potato Protein, Sorghum, Canola Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols) , Natural Flavor, Suncured Alfalfa Meal, Brewers Dried Yeast, Dicalcium Phosphate, Flaxseeds, Millet, Calcium Carbonate, Lentils, Peanut Hearts, Quinoa, Sunflower Chips, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Dried Carrots, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Manganese Sulfate, Calcium Iodate), Dl-methionine, Dried Parsley, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin Supplement, D-calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D2 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hyrdochloride, Biotin, Folic Acid), L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (A Source Of Vitamin C), Preserved with Citric Acid, Preserved with mixed Tocopherols, Dried Blueberries, Dried Cranberries, Dried Celery, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Dried Lettuce, L-carnitine, Dried Watercress, Dried Spinach, Rosemary Extrac

We'd highly recommend it given that it's worked so well for our dog!​

Guaranteed Analysis of V-Dog

  • Crude Protein Min: 24 %
  • Crude Fat Min: 9%
  • Crude Fiber Max: 5%
  • Moisture Max: 10%

Natural Balance 

Natural Balance is a bigger pet food brand, but also makes an entire line of vegetarian (vegan) dog food. They make kibble, dried food, and dental chews.

The vegetarian section of their website can be found here.​

Ingredient Statement for Natural Balance

Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Cracked Pearled Barley, Peas, Potato Protein, Canola Oil, Potatoes, Tomato Pomace, Vegetable Flavoring, Calcium Carbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Natural Mixed Tocopherols, Spinach, Parsley Flakes, Cranberries, L-Lysine, L-Carnitine, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Kelp, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B-1), Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Niacin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B-6), Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Riboflavin (Vitamin B-2), Vitamin D-2 Supplement, Folic Acid.

Guaranteed Analysis of Natural Balance

  • Crude Protein Min: 18%
  • Crude Fat Min: 8%
  • Crude Fiber Max: 4%
  • Moisture Max: 10%

Nature's Recipe

Although we did see a dry kibble available on other retail sites, we were only able to find one vegetarian wet food on their website. We found their vegetarian dry kibble on Petco.

Ingredient Statement for Natural Balance

Ground Rice, Soybean Meal, Cracked Pearled Barley, Canola Oil (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Calcium Carbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Salt, Dehydrated Carrots, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Source Of Vitamin C), Inositol, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Beta-Carotene, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Garlic Oil, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Iron Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Onion Extract, Garlic Powder, Rosemary Extract.

Their recipe uses soybean meal as a big part of the formulation so this could be something to consider if your dog has an allergy.

Guaranteed Analysis of Nature's Recipe

  • Crude Protein Min: 22%
  • Crude Fat Min: 8%
  • Crude Fiber Max: 4.4%
  • Moisture Max: 10%

Purina Hypoallergenic Hydrolyzed

Although it doesn't seem to be marketed as a vegan/vegetarian dog food, Purina makes a soy based food in their hypoallergnic line found here. Be careful, though - in addition to the regular flavor which we've featured below, they also have a chicken flavor which contains chicken liver.

Ingredient Statement for Purina HA

Starch, hydrolyzed soy protein isolate, vegetable oil, dicalcium phosphate, partially hydrogenated canola oil preserved with TBHQ, powdered cellulose, corn oil, potassium chloride, guar gum, choline chloride, DL-Methionine, salt, magnesium oxide, lecithin, taurine, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin supplement, garlic oil, Vitamin B-12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, calcium iodate, biotin, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), sodium selenite. A-2626

Again, just like the Nature's Recipe - this formulation also uses soy which may not be good for dog allergies.

Guaranteed Analysis of Purina Hypoallergenic

  • Crude Protein Min: 18%
  • Crude Fat Min: 8%
  • Crude Fiber Max: 4%
  • Moisture Max: 10%

Ami Dog

Ingredient Statement for Ami Dog 

Ami is a global brand that operates in a wide variety of countries - over 25 according to their website. Part of their mission is to bring forth an ethical, eco-friendly, and successful global economy, so you know they are quite committed to the cause.

Corn, corn gluten, corn oil, rice protein, whole peas, beet pulp, linseed, bicalcium phosphate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, potato protein, brewer’s yeast, calcium, carbonate, sodium chloride, rapeseed oil. It also contains linoleic acid.

If you live outside the US - this might be the only vegan dog food you're able to locate, according to the map on their website, they even distribute in China, Korea, and other Asian countries!

Guaranteed Analysis of Ami Dog

  • Crude Protein Min: 27%
  • Crude Fat Min: 14%
  • Crude Fiber Max: 2.9%
  • Moisture Max: 8%

Halo Pets Vegan Dog Food

Although they do also make meat-based dog foods, HALO pets makes a vegan dog food that's a bit different than the rest of the products on this list. The ingredient statement doesn't have any rice, and the formulation focuses on low glycemic ingredients like green peas and chickpeas.

Ingredient Statement for Halo Pets

Green Peas, Chickpeas, Pearled Barley, Oat Groats, Pea Protein, Whole Flaxseed, Sunflower Oil, Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Potato, Sweet Potato, Alfalfa Meal, Carrot, Celery, Beet, Parsley, Lettuce, Watercress, Spinach, Canola Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Dicalcium Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Dried Kelp, Natural Vegetable Flavors, Flaxseed Oil, Carrots, Dried Apple, Dried Blueberry, Dried Cranberry, Chicory Root, Taurine, Rosemary Extract, L-Carnitine, Potassium Chloride, DL Methionine, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin B12 Supplement, Niacin, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D-2 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Folic Acid), Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Iron Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Cobalt Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Ethylene Diamine Dihydriodide, Sodium Selenite).

HALO claims that the higher glycemic index dog foods may contribute to obesity in dogs, but this claim warrants further investigation. Even if a food is formulated to be lower on the glycemic index, your individual dog's genetics as well as additional feeding such as treats may also play a role in them gaining weight, but it is something to consider if your dog has issues.

Guaranteed Analysis of Halo 

  • Crude Protein Min: 20%
  • Crude Fat Min: 10%
  • Crude Fiber Max: 8.5%
  • Moisture Max: N/A

Benevo (UK Brand)

Benevo is a UK-based vegan pet food company that has probably the widest selection of dog food available. They have wet food, dry food, treats, and different formulations for different stages of life.

If you live in the UK - be sure to check them out! Their website isn't that clear on where they distribute, but they also seem to be doing trade shows in India.

Ingredient Statement for Benevo Adult Dog Food

Soya, Corn, White Rice, Sunflower Oil, Peas, Brewers Yeast, Beet Pulp, Tomato Pomace, Yeast Based Palatant, Minerals, Vitamins, Yucca Schidigera Extract (0.1%), Fructo-Oligosaccharides (Prebiotic FOS) (0.01%).

Again, it is soy based, so consider this if your dog has allergies and keep in mind that they do have other versions available without it.

Guaranteed Analysis of Benevo Adult Dog Food

  • Crude Protein Min: 20%
  • Crude Fat Min: 10%
  • Crude Fiber Max: 8.5%
  • Moisture Max: N/A

Conclusion

Given all of the information we've presented, we think it's definitely worth giving  vegan dog food a try.

Ethics aside, there are several reasons that your dog may actually be better off; the primary one being the main ingredients in most standard dog foods are waste products of the animal agriculture industry.

The higher you get on the food chain, the more environmental pollutants and toxins you tend to consume which we discussed at length in the first section. 

Always speak with your vet and be sure to do your due diligence with blood work as the research on it isn't as vast as it is in human nutrition, but the available research, anecdotes, and clinical evidence seem to show that dogs do perfectly well on meat-free diets!

About the Author Joey Bruno

Cooking healthy, delicious, plant-based meals has been Joey’s true passion since he went vegan in 2015. He has a masters in Nutrition and Food Science and is committed to making the internet a place of education and knowledge rather than misinformation and clickbait. He currently lives in Delaware with his wife.

Leave a Comment:

10 comments
  • Vicki says September 22, 2017

    My dogs are vegan and love V-Dog. They are healthy and happy eating a vegan diet.

    Reply
  • Linda Lang says September 22, 2017

    When my Husky Shepard mix was diagnosed with cancer, I put both her and my Siberian Husky on a plant based diet. They lived to be 17 and 18 years young.

    Reply
  • JB says September 23, 2017

    My 10-year-old cocker spaniel and almost 14-year-old dachshund have been on Natural Balance vegetarian wet and dry food for several years and they don’t miss the meat one bit.

    Reply
  • BN says September 27, 2017

    Thank you for this. I have been feeding dogs vegetarian for years but I have recently become concerned about the arsenic in rice which is a main ingredient in so many vegetarian dog foods. Based on this article, I’m going to try Halo.

    Reply
      Danica says September 27, 2017

      Our 7 lb rescue chihuahua had all kinds of skin allergies when we first adopted him. We put him on a vegan diet 4 years ago and not one issue since. He loves Vegan Halo brand and we add streamed veggies (usually kale or green beans) in for added flavor.

      Reply
  • Amanda says September 28, 2017

    Thank you for this article. I’d just like to mention that Hills and Puritans who are owned by Nestlé are companies that do animal testing. Therefore I would not recommend them at all.

    Reply
  • Tara says October 4, 2017

    Thank you for putting together a thoughtful, complete article on this topic. We hoped when we adopted our dogs that they could be vegan, but only after I did a significant amount of research on the science and health behind it; not getting caught up in the emotions of the matter. Thankfully, they are vegan, happy and very healthy. My two girls are on V-dog, and one had digestive issues exactly like your Penny. Not anymore! (My vet suspects it was the oatmeal in Natural Balance vegan, her old food, being so high in the ingredients list.) Great job, Joey.

    Reply
  • Cindy Hamilton says October 4, 2017

    I’m wondering if you’ve seen any research about the benefit of a vegan diet for their teeth? It is supposed to help humans teeth, but curious if you’ve read anything about dogs? I have two Yorkies and toy breeds tend to have teeth that are harder to maintain than larger dogs.

    Reply
      The Thrive Cuisine Team says October 4, 2017

      Hi Cindy,

      Yeah – I feel you on that. Brushing our dogs teeth regularly is the only thing that works for us. Some breeds are just genetically prone to bad teeth.

      I haven’t seen any research on it 🙁

      Reply
  • Tanja Viljoen says October 23, 2017

    Our dogs and cats have been on Benevo dog and cat food for the last 4 years and are very healthy and happy

    Reply
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