Plant-based Diets Are Trending in the U.S. The U.S. News and World Report ranked the Mediterranean Diet (a eating plan that involves consuming a ton of plant-based foods) as the Best Overall Diet in 2020. A 2018 Nielsen report found that nearly 40 percent of Americans eat more plant-based foods.
Often times, when people become interested in certain foods, they ask their vets whether they should change their pets’ diets too. Plant-based diets are no exception.
‘Should I buy plant-based food for my dog?’ is a question I get regularly, ”says Dr. Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM, Veterinary Expert at Pumpkin Pet Insurance. “Many human counterparts to our pets choose vegetarian diets, and therefore they choose the same for their pets.”
Some also believe that vegetable means “higher quality”. Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of Wild Earth, co-founded the plant-based dog food brand in 2017 after seeing dog food recalls.
“I thought, ‘Why is the food system so unsafe for our pets?'” Bethencourt recalls. “I thought, ‘What if we replaced the meat in dog food with vegetable protein?’ That got me on my way to try and find high protein but still have plant-based foods. “
Wild Earth uses yeast, which is 40 percent protein, to ensure dogs get protein in their diet. Bethencourt also believes in its product so much that he ate some of it in 2019.
It tastes good – but are plant-based diets healthy for puppies? Dr. Choczynski gave her the pros and cons of plant-based dog foods.
Are Plant-Based Dog Foods Good for Dogs?
Some vegetarians and vegans choose the diet for ethical reasons and want their dogs to follow suit.
“They want to make sure that they feel morally appropriate about what they are feeding their dogs,” says Dr Choczynski.
Like humans, dogs also have a vegetable diet for health reasons including liver failure.
“Our livers are responsible for filtering out toxins,” explains Dr. Choczynski. “One of the things that is responsible for filtering is ammonia.”
But when the liver breaks down, it can’t filter the ammonia. When a dog’s body breaks down meat-based proteins, it produces ammonia.
“Ammonia will float through the bloodstream … and it can cause hepatic encephalopathy, which can cause seizures,” says Dr. Choczynski. “We’re going to switch to a soy-based diet … with the aim of lowering the ammonia in the blood.”
Anecdotally, dogs on a plant-based diet may have better joint health, more energy, and fewer skin and coat problems, according to a survey of Wild Earth customers.
What are the cons of feeding dogs plant-based foods?
Dogs are omnivores, which means they usually eat meat and vegetables. Although Dr. Choczynski says that if it is possible to replace meat protein with vegetable protein, not all dog bodies will ingest it. She says some plant-based dogs have experienced urinary crystals.
Dogs on a vegetable diet can also become deficient in taurine, as the amino acid is usually found in animal protein. Dr. Choczynski warns that taurine-deficient dogs can suffer from heart disease or heart failure.
Signs that your dog is not eating a vegetable diet include constipation, poor coat, poor eyesight, and weight loss. Dr. Choczynski suggests consulting your veterinarian before feeding your dog any plant-based foods and if any problems arise.
What to look for when choosing dog food
You want to make sure that your dog’s food, whether plant-based or not, is balanced with all of the nutrients he needs to live his best life. Dr. Choczynski advises pet parents to look for the American Feed Control Officer (AAFCO) label, which means it meets regulatory standards as a healthy dog food.
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Continue reading: How to read dog food labels