If I’m vegan, why can’t my dog be too?

Ah, the veganism debate. It can be a heated topic, and Netflix keeps churning out powerful documentaries that just add fuel to the fire. We’re all entitled to live the life we think is best for us. Still, there’s no denying that both the environment and humans would be better off if we adopted a nutritionally complete vegan diet. 

The environment gets reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Humans get lower blood sugar levels, improved kidney function, and protection from certain cancers. It’s a win-win really, and it’s no wonder vegans are so passionate about their lifestyle. Going vegan also means you no longer contribute to the barbaric meat and dairy industry. 

And veganism is only growing. If you’re vegan, or if you like to occasionally flirt with the lifestyle, it might make you wonder, “hmm, if being vegan works for me, can my dog go vegan too?” It’s a fair question as dogs are, in fact, omnivores (derive nutrition from both plant and animal sources). But it’s a bit more complicated than that…

Humans vs dogs

Our mouths

First, let’s look at the differences between humans and dogs. One of the most obvious tells that we shouldn’t really be eating meat is our teeth. They’re simply not designed to tear through a carcass. We have those little pointy incisors, but compared to the massive 3-inch long machetes in a tiger’s mouth, it’s safe to say ours are pretty pathetic in comparison.

A doggo’s teeth, however, are a different story. They do have much more prominent incisors. Sure, they’re not anywhere near as big as a tiger’s, but that’s because dogs aren’t carnivores. The key differences between an omnivore and a carnivore’s mouth are the length of the incisors and the molars. Dogs have more molars – the flatter duller teeth towards the back – and carnivores such as tigers have fewer. 

Another interesting point to note is that herbivores and omnivores produce amylase in their salivary glands, while carnivores don’t. This enzyme helps us break down starchy carbohydrates into simple sugars. Dogs do produce this enzyme, but it’s added in the pancreas and small intestine, not their mouths.

Vegan dog food 2

Stomach acids

Carrying on through our digestive journey, we reach the stomach. Pretty much every one of us has had food poisoning at some point or another. Maybe we had a dodgy burger. Or that funny-smelling chicken turned out to not be a good idea after all. Whatever caused it, we bet it wasn’t fun.

Undercooked meat is probably one of the leading causes of it. But carnivores are built differently. Literally. Their stomach acids are much stronger and can easily kill all the nasty bacteria in raw flesh. This is why you never see a tiger with salmonella on a David Attenborough documentary. 

As our little floofs are designed to eat meat, their stomach acid is much stronger than ours. But dogs’ bodies have also changed a lot over the years. This is why some are perfectly happy and healthy munching on raw liver, chicken feet, and bone marrow. But other dogs, including Swagwags’ very own Big G, just can’t hack it. Every dog is different. But this stronger stomach acid means, when cooked, any doggo can blissfully chow down on a big ol’ chunk of meat.

Intestines

You probably remember from biology lessons that the intestines are a super-long organ packed in a teeny space. Like the world’s tallest man crammed into a Fiat 500. Human intestines are this long so our bodies have time to break down fibre and absorb all the goodness from plant foods. Other plant-eating animals are the same. But carnivore intestines are much shorter to allow meat to quickly pass through their system.

A dog’s intestine can comfortably digest both meat and plant foods. They aren’t 100% carnivores like cats and would seek out food other than meat in the wild if they needed to.

Amino acids

A good rule of thumb when looking at dog nutrition is whether or not what they’re eating keeps them healthy. And, like us, amino acids have an incredibly important role in their health.

Taurine helps with cardiac function, the immune system, eye health, and so much more. Then there’s L-carnitine, which is also important for heart health and helps transport fatty acids that are then used for energy.

A taurine deficiency can cause panting even without exercising, weakness, blood in their urine, fainting, and can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle thins and the chambers become enlarged. L-carnitine deficiency can cause weakness, muscle pain, heart muscle failure, and dilated cardiomyopathy, too. 

Why is this relevant? It’s clear dogs need these amino acids. And they can only be found in meat. Now a vegan dog food may include these as supplements, but why give your doggo artificial nutrients when they can get them from the actual source?

Vegan dog food 3

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

While humans may be omnivores, we just aren’t the same as our puppers. We’ve adapted. And while doggos have evolved and adapted too, that doesn’t mean we’re at the same level yet.

But there are cases of dogs who have thrived on a vegan diet. Bramble the 25-year-old (that’s 189 in dog years, in case you were wondering) vegan Border Collie, for example. So it is technically doable, but it’s so much harder to get wrong than it is to get right. It’s simply too dangerous to attempt without the help of a professional such as a veterinary-trained nutritionist. 

An example of a vegan dog diet gone wrong would be the infamous Maggie the Labrador. For those who don’t know, Maggie’s pawrent posted a picture of her and the meal she had prepared for her. It contained tofu, puree brown rice, puree sweet potato, chia seeds, and digestive enzymes. The internet went mental. One vet even responded to her post, completely shutting her down, saying her dog looked malnourished and that this diet could shorten her lifespan. 

As we always say, every dog is different. They could thrive on a vegan diet. They also may not. It’s a coin flip. But let’s say you give it a whirl anyway… 

Vegan dog food

Vegan dog food does exist, so surely that’ll be fine for your pooch, right? Sadly, that’s not always the case.

You can find some options online, but take a look at the ingredients list. A good few of them list soy as the main protein source. While that may be fine for some pups, soy is a common allergen for dogs.

A pup with a soy allergy may experience ear infections, itchy rashes, flaky skin, hair loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, and obsessive licking. To make matters worse, if they do have a soy allergy and are regularly exposed to it, their symptoms will worsen over time.

You can also find soy products – such as soybean meal, soy flour, soy protein concentrate, soy isoflavone, and soy grits – in non-vegan dog food. So keep an eye out for these ingredients. But also be aware that dog food companies aren’t always the clearest about what’s in their food. “Textured vegetable protein” for example, can include soy.

When it comes to veganism, I support it all the way. Your preference is your preference and it’s clear there are plenty of benefits to that lifestyle. But dogs just aren’t built the same as us. 

One doggo might be happy and healthy on vegan dog food, whereas another pup could end up deficient in essential nutrients that could make them fatally ill. Is it worth the risk?

And for many of us, food is the best part of the day. Just thinking of our favourite foods is enough to get our mouths watering and we can almost taste it on our tongues. Our dogs are no different. 

Unless you’re a trained nutritionist who had the time and knowledge to nail a vegan diet for your pup, or you take the steps to understand exactly what nutrients your dogs need, a balanced, protein rich diet = a healthy, happy dog. 

Looking for your doggo’s new fave dish that brings on that “dinnertime dance”? Look no further. Swagwags kibble is nutritionally dense and packed with responsibly sourced protein that your pup will love. Grab a bag of their new favourite dish today.

If you’re ever concerned about potential allergies, take one of our sensitivity tests. It’s non-invasive and takes 5 minutes to do – a small price for perfect pup health!