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Also read: Can Dogs Thrive on a Vegan Diet

A group in Los Angeles County is calling for a switch to vegan kibble for all shelter dogs, which has sparked a discussion on whether or not our dogs thrive on a meat-based or plant-based diet.

Here are my thoughts with support from experts on both sides of the discussion.

When I heard about this a week ago, my first feeling was a great well of defeat.  It sometimes feels like we're fighting a losing battle against the pet food industry. On one side we have pet food companies lying about their food and pet bloggers helping them perpetuate those false claims.  On the other side, we have the veterinarian community (and folks outside the veterinarian community) perpetuating myths about raw feeding for dogs.  And now we have people pushing a vegan diet for dogs and claiming that there is science to back up their claims.

The following is the recording of Commissioner Wolfson's statements uploaded to SoundCloud:

CLICK HERE to download and listen to the full recording of the meeting:

The following is the request to reject this proposal:

City of Los Angeles - Report to the Board of Animal Services Commissioners - Vegan Food for Shelter Dogs

Please notice that this report discusses the feasibility of feeding a vegan diet to a variety of dogs with various health issues; it doesn't simply dismiss the diet because the dogs will poop more as Commissions Wolfson states in his testimony.

As you can imagine, this is a hot topic, but everyone's passion for and against vegan diets for dog sparked my curiosity and now I want to know about the pros and cons of this decision and the motivation of all of the parties involved.

  • Why push human morals on a different species?  Why not educate and inspire people to transition to vegan/vegetarian diets?
  • If this isn't going to save the shelters money (vegan kibble is expensive) then what's in it for all the people involved?
  • What's in it for the vegan kibble brands that are supporting this decision to introduce their food to LA shelters.
  • Where is the science that's being used to justify switching a carnivore* to a plant-based diet?

*We can argue until the end of the world whether or not dogs are carnivores. My point isn't the title, it's my belief (and that of many others) that meat is biologically appropriate for dogs.  Not a vegan diet.

The Skulls of a Wolf, Coyote, and Dog to show that all of these animals are meat to eat raw meat.
Source: Unknown (if you do know, send me an email and I'll update)

So I Emailed Commissioner Wolfson

Nearly six years as a pet blogger has taught me to keep an open mind, even when I don't initially agree with another person's point of view, so I sent the following email to Commissioner Wolfson:

Good morning…

First I want to say that I'm a raw feeder, I believe dogs are carnivores, and I don't support vegan or vegetarian diets for dogs. I source all of the food I feed to my dogs from humane and sustainable farmers in my area. And I'm an aspiring vegetarian because unlike my dogs, I think I can thrive on a vegetarian diet.

I want to write about what's happening in Los Angeles and I also don't believe in writing about a topic without having all of the information. I would like an opportunity to speak with you about your push to make all dogs in your shelters vegans. Specifically, I would like to know what science you have that proves that dogs will live longer on a vegan diet. I watched your video on Facebook and saw that you mentioned that people adopting vegan dogs would rethink their diet – are you using the dogs to inspire more people to eat a vegan diet? If so, why?

We can speak via email, phone, or on video (which I will upload to YouTube).

Thank you for your time. I hope to hear from you.


Color me surprised when he responded.  We will be chatting on video (or least I'll be on video) at noon, Saturday 12/9/17.  I'm really excited.  For now, I'd like to address the feasibility of plant-based diets for dogs.

Why People are Calling for Vegan Diets for Dogs

According to Commissioner Wolfson, the raising and killing of animals for food is having a disastrous impact on our environment, and many people will agree with this statement.  This is why I'm committed to becoming a vegetarian in 2018.

According to Commissioner Wolfson, feeding dogs in the Los Angeles shelter system a meat-based diet costs money and lives.  The shelters are spending more than $300,000/year on meat-based dog food; this will not change if they succeed in converting dogs to a vegan diet.  What will change is the number of animals being killed for dog food every year:

  • 20,000 chickens
  • 10,000 turkeys
  • 1,000 lambs

However, I see a fallacy in this statement.  What type of food are shelter dogs being fed?  Speaking with people around the country, not every shelter is feeding dogs a high-quality kibble.  The lower quality kibbles, which are most affordable, do not contain a lot of meat and rarely is meat the first ingredient.  They also use meat by-products, which are the scraps left over after slaughter and rendered meats.  This isn't meat from animals being raised for the pet food industry; this is the garbage left behind after meat has been butchered for human consumption.  Which makes some wonder if a vegan dog food would be better for dogs.

Commissioner Wolfson, who feeds his dog a vegan diet, believes that feeding meat to dogs isn't healthy for dogs because of the quality of the meat used to make lower quality kibble.  While I agree that this garbage isn't healthy for our dogs, I believe it's a huge leap to conclude that meat isn't healthy for dogs.  I'm also not suggesting that shelters should feed raw dog food either.

Science Supporting Vegan Diets for Dogs

From everything I've heard and read so far, it seems like the science that has concluded that a vegan diet is superior to a meat-based diet for dogs boils down to vegan veterinarians, vegan dog parents who feed their dogs a vegan diet, and the owners and employees of vegan dog food companies.

Commissioner Wolfson reviewed studies that were put out by…

  • The National Institute of Health – this study is on the ingredients in vegan dog food; this isn't a study that is comparing the health of dogs on a plant-based diet to the health of dogs on a meat-based diet now or over an extended period of time.
  • American Veterinarian Accompiance of Clinical Multimedia Platform – Wolfson stated this one so quickly that I don't think I wrote it down correctly because no amount of searching on Google produced information.
  • LA Times – I don't believe that the LA Times conducts scientific studies; however, I did search their site and while I did find a lot of articles about vegans and vegetarians, I didn't find anything about a study on how dogs will thrive on a vegan diet.

However, I did find plenty of articles that shared the risks of feeding a vegan diet to our dogs:

Dogs Are Biologically Designed to Eat Meat - Image of Two Dogs, One with a Plate of Veggies, and One with a Plate of Meat
Source: Dr. Laurie Coger DVM

Is Vegan Dog Food Healthy for Dogs?

As a raw feeder, I'm biased on this topic.  I'm not a veterinarian or a nutritionist and my knowledge comes from the veterinarians I've worked with on this blog and who have treated my dogs.  I believe that dogs are carnivores, my friend, Dr. Laurie Coger, states that dogs are facultative omnivores.  Whichever camp you fall in, carnivore or facultative omnivore, I believe that most of us agree that a meat-based diet is biologically appropriate for dogs.

The reason I don't think a vegan diet is healthy for dogs is that:

(1)  I believe that the high glycemic load of a diet of grains and starches will have a negative impact on a dog's health.

(2) I believe that a high carb diet (44% and higher when I did the math on a few brands) will result in constant insulin spikes which will lead to increased stores of fat in the body as insulin is working over time.  This increased storage of fat and decreased burning of fat leads to overweight dogs.

Amount of Carbs in V-Dog Vegan Dog Food: 100 – Protein – Fat – Fiber – Moisture – Ash = Carbohydrates

100 – 24 (Protein) – 9 (Fat) – 5 (Fiber) – 10 (Moisture) – 8 (Ash*) = 44% Carbohydrates

*The foods I studied didn't list Ash in their guaranteed analysis, therefore, I used 8% as an estimate per my research.

(3)  I believe that the increased grains and starches in a vegan diet act as food for unhealthy bacteria in the gut.  Remember, healthy gut, healthy dog.  As a person who is raising a dog with a compromised digestive system, it took years to get Rodrigo's gut health turned around and during that time he experienced loads of health issues because his immune system was also compromised (the gut and the immune system work together).

(4) I believe that the only way to feed a dog a balanced vegan diet is to add synthetic nutrients which can be harmful to some dogs.  I have seen first hand the impact of synthetic nutrients on my dog, Rodrigo.  I spent lots of money on vet visits until I figured out that Rodrigo could only eat premade raw from brands that used all natural ingredients.

Obesity, diabetes, digestive issues, and cancer are common health issues dog parents are seeing.  How will feeding a vegan diet help?  And, if I'm being open-minded on this topic, I have to wonder how a vegan diet will compare to feeding the lowest quality kibble on the market.

However, because I'm not a veterinarian or a nutritionist, I thought I would share videos from people a lot smarter and more experienced than I am in canine nutrition to share their thoughts on plant-based diets for dogs.  And, to be more balanced, I've included two pro-vegan videos as well.

Dr. Judy Morgan's Thoughts on Vegan Diets for Dogs

Dr. Laurie Coger's Thoughts on Vegan Diets for Dogs

Dr. Karen Becker's Thoughts on Vegan Diets for Dogs

Rodney Habib's Thoughts on Vegan Diets for Dogs

Susan Pitcairn's Thoughts on Vegan Diets for Dogs

Dr. Armaiti May's Thoughts on Vegan Diets for Dogs

Dr. Karen Becker's Thoughts on Vegan Diets for Dogs

Part One: Dr. Becker on Feeding Pets a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet

Part Two: Dr. Becker on Feeding Pets a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet

My Interview with Armaiti May, DVM

Dogs aren’t omnivores. I believe that they are facultative carnivores.  However, if they were omnivores and have evolved to eat carbs and vegetables, this doesn’t mean that they thrive on a vegan diet; just that they will survive on a vegan diet.

The Border Collie Bramble doesn’t prove that a vegan diet is better for dogs. There are many reasons why Bramble lived to be 25 or 27 years old – good genes, environment, a high-fat diet, daily exercise, eating once a day (daily fast), and diet – or a combination of everything.

There is no proof that vegan diets have a calming effect on aggressive individuals. It’s too far of a stretch to compare a few humans in the prison system to thousands of dogs in the shelter system.  The shelter environment is high stress and dogs and humans are different species and will react to a vegan diet differently.

Chicken meal doesn’t always come from the throwaway, low quality, tainted meat. Chicken meal is chicken without the water.  It’s important to contact a brand to find out what parts of the chicken are being used.

Animal lives will not be saved if the shelter system switches to a vegan diet. The animals used to make kibble are still going to die; Canidae isn’t closing down because of this change.

Non-GMO vegetables and grains do not reduce the likelihood of cancer. My question about the high carb diet feeding cancer in high-risk dogs wasn’t answered; instead, I was told that the ingredients are non-GMO.  Carbs are carbs and they all break down into sugar which feeds tumors.

Anecdotal evidence isn’t’ science. The group who is proposing this diet change sites thousands of dogs that are doing well on a vegan diet.  Thousands of dogs aren’t science or a study.  A 10-week study of sledding dogs isn’t a proper study.  Where is the bloodwork before and after the diet change to show a positive change?  What about 6 months later and 12 months later?  Mentioning a few dogs that are outliers (there will always be exceptions to the rule) is not science or a study.

So What Should We Feed Our Shelter Dogs?

In a world that is being negatively impacted by the amount of meat that we're eating, I think we, the humans, should consider removing meat from our diet or decreasing the amount of meat we consume.  But this is a dog nutrition blog, not a human nutrition blog.  When it comes to our shelter dogs, I'm torn.  While I don't believe that a vegan diet for our dogs is the right path to take, many people have pointed out that vegan dog food may be better than some of the low-quality dog foods on the market and that are being donated to shelters.

Yes, those low-quality dog foods contain meat, but it's low-quality meat (rendered, 3D, 4D, not fit for human consumption).  These foods have high amounts of grains and starches and there are kibble brands that are up to 60% carbs.  Wow!  Commissioner Wolfson mentioned Canidae and inferred that they were a low-quality kibble; I disagree.  I don't think it's great, but I can provide a list of 5 kibbles that are 100x worse for our dogs (in my opinion, of course).

So what do we do?

I believe that we need to remember our economics lessons – supply and demand.  While kibble isn't the best food for dogs, it's the most convenient and affordable way to feed shelter dogs.  Therefore, we need more high-quality kibble brands to step up and offer their food to shelters.  We need donors to provide big bags of higher quality kibble.  And we need to help shelters reach a place where they can successfully complete permanent (quality) adoptions in a short amount of time while reducing the number of homeless dogs.

Also read: Can Dogs Thrive on a Vegan Diet

A group in Los Angeles County is calling for a switch to vegan kibble for all shelter dogs, which has sparked a discussion on whether or not our dogs thrive on a meat-based or plant-based diet.

Here are my thoughts with support from experts on both sides of the discussion.

Read More About Raw Feeding for Dogs

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