In recent years, plant-based diets have gained traction among health-conscious individuals and environmentalists. This surge in popularity has also brought a rise in plant-based meat substitutes. With these products becoming staples in many households, pet parents often wonder: Can dogs eat plant-based meat?
Understanding plant-based meat
Before diving into its suitability for dogs, it’s crucial to understand what plant-based meat is. Made primarily from proteins, fats, minerals and flavoring agents derived from plants, these products are designed to mimic the texture and taste of animal meat.
Common ingredients include soy, peas, beans, lentils and a variety of grains and seeds.
Why would owners consider plant-based meat for dogs?
- Environmental concerns: Some believe producing plant-based meats generally has a smaller environmental footprint compared to raising livestock.
- Ethical reasons: Vegan and vegetarian dog owners might wish to extend their ethical eating habits to their pets.
- Health benefits: Some believe plant-based diets can offer health advantages, given they’re free from hormones and antibiotics present in some meats.
The nutritional aspect: Dogs are omnivores
Dogs are fundamentally omnivores, meaning their diet can comprise both animal and plant sources.
While their wild ancestors primarily consumed meat, domestic dogs have evolved alongside humans, adapting to a varied diet over thousands of years. This adaptability suggests that dogs might be capable of digesting plant-based foods, including meat substitutes.
Pros of plant-based meat for dogs
Digestibility: Some dogs might find plant-based meat easier to digest, especially if they have specific meat allergies.
Reduced allergens: Dogs allergic to specific meat proteins might benefit from plant-based alternatives.
Nutrient-rich: Many plant-based meats are fortified with essential nutrients, ensuring a balanced offering.
Cons of plant-based meat for dogs
Incomplete amino acid profile: Not all plant-based meats provide the complete set of amino acids to constitute a complete protein source that dogs need.
Additives and seasonings: Some brands of plant-based meat products may include garlic, onions or excessive salt, all of which can be harmful to dogs. Also ensure the plant-based meat doesn’t contain harmful additives, especially those that are toxic to dogs like xylitol.
Filler ingredients: Meat substitutes or plant-based meat products often include many “filler” ingredients. If you’ve ever looked at the ingredient list of a plant-based meat product you’ll know how long it is compared to an animal product of just beef, chicken or salmon for example. These ingredients often provide no benefit to a dog’s health. Things like natural flavors, canola oil and dried yeast, all of which are included in Beyond Meat’s “Beyond Burger” ingredient list, do not aid in your dog’s overall health.
Cost: Plant-based meats can sometimes be pricier than regular meats.
Limited research: A study published in the NIH found that there is no convincing evidence of major impacts of vegan diets on dog health. There is, however, a limited number of studies investigating this question and those studies available often use small sample sizes or short feeding durations.
When researching studies, I like to check who is funding them to determine if there is any conflict or bias in the study. For example, in a study published by Lukas Andreas Kiemer titled “Vegan diet and it’s effects on dogs health”, you can find many immediate references to climate change which really should not be a factor impacting this particular study from a health standpoint. It is also partially funded with grant money from The Pollination Project who state “We will not support projects that exploit or harm non-human animals. For us to be in alignment with our core values, we choose not to engage in activities that would cause another creature’s pain and suffering.” illustrating a bias towards a vegan diet.
Essential nutrients dogs need in their diet
A study published in the Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology illustrates the importance of a balanced diet especially when feeding a plant based diet to your furry friend. When considering any diet changes for your dog, it’s paramount to ensure they receive all necessary nutrients:
- Protein: While plant-based meats provide protein, ensure it’s of high quality and that your dog gets the essential amino acids.
- Fats: Dogs need certain fatty acids that are primarily found in animal sources. If opting for a plant-based diet, you might need to supplement these.
- Vitamins and minerals: Ensure your dog gets the right mix of calcium, phosphorus, iron and other vital minerals and vitamins. Some of these are abundant in animal meats and might need supplementation in a plant-based diet.
Tips for introducing plant-based meat to your dog
- Start slowly: Introduce the new food in small quantities, mixing it with their current diet.
- Observe for allergies: Look out for signs of allergies or intolerance, including skin rashes, digestive issues or changes in behavior.
- Choose wisely: Opt for brands that prioritize pet health and avoid harmful additives.
- Consult your vet: Before making any drastic changes to your dog’s diet, always consult a veterinarian or a pet nutritionist.
There are many veterinarians or pet nutritionists that have written educational articles on this topic and it’s important to explore their expert opinions.
- Dr. Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist who has often spoken about both dog and cat nutrition, and can provide a scientific perspective on plant-based diets for pets. In her article titled “Vegan Dogs – A healthy lifestyle or going against nature” she addresses some common myths citing scientific studies regarding plant based diets for dogs. The author concludes stating “Most dogs can do quite well on a carefully designed vegan diet that meets all of their nutritional needs.”
- Dr. Jennifer Larsen, DVM, MS, Ph.D., DACVN, an expert in the field of veterinary nutrition assisted in a study with researchers with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Nutrition Support Service on whether commercially available vegetarian diets for cats and dogs were providing the levels of amino acids that they claimed to contain. Twenty-four diet samples were sent to a contract research lab. This research found that all the diets were adequate in total protein. However, six of the diets did not meet the AAFCO minimum for one or more amino acids — and one diet was too low in four amino acids. Some of the diets that were below the minimum weren’t just a little bit below but up to as much as 34 percent lower than what was supposed to be included.
The verdict: Can dogs eat plant-based meat?
Yes, dogs can consume plant-based meat, but with a few caveats.
Firstly, ensure that the product doesn’t contain any harmful additives or ingredients. Secondly, it’s crucial to remember that while dogs can enjoy plant-based treats, their diet must be well-rounded and nutritionally complete. This might mean supplementing certain nutrients that plant-based meats don’t provide in ample amounts.
If you’re considering transitioning your dog to a primarily plant-based diet, it’s not just about substituting meat with its plant-based counterpart. It’s about ensuring the overall dietary needs of your dog are met. This may require incorporating various plant-based foods, supplements and possibly small amounts of animal-based products, depending on the advice of a veterinary nutritionist.
As the world’s eating habits change whether for better or worse, it’s natural for pet parents to consider the same for their furry friends. While plant-based meats can be a part of a dog’s diet, they shouldn’t be the sole source of nutrition.
Balance, variety and nutritional completeness should always be the guiding principles. And as always, involve your veterinarian in any dietary decisions for your pet.