Don’t @ me. It’s science.
As someone who’s been vegetarian for most of my life, I have often toyed with the idea of trying to convert my fur family’s diet to more closely mimic my own. But some part of me always thought it seemed a bit unnatural. Dogs, after all, are descended from wolves and wolves are apex predators. I don’t want to deprive my dogs from feeling like they’re at the top of the food chain! But this new study suggests that some of my romantic ideas are just that — vegan diets may actually be healthier for dogs.
The research, which was published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE, asked 2,609 dog guardians in the U.K. to track their canine companion’s diet and health for at least a year. Half of the dogs involved in the study ate conventional meat-based diets, about a third ate raw meat diets, and 13% of the dogs ate vegan diets. The researchers then assessed the animals using seven health indicators — like how many times a year they went to the vet — and common illnesses.
What researchers found was that only a third of the vegan dogs needed non-routine medication, while almost half of the dogs on conventional diets needed medication outside of the usual pest and parasite preventatives. Vegan dogs also had fewer vet visits — fewer than 10% of them went more than four times a year. In comparison, 14% of dogs who ate conventional diets went more than four times a year and raw dogs only went eight percent, according to the study. Plus, only 36% of vegan dogs had health disorders, compared with 49% of dogs who ate conventional diets and 43% of dogs on raw diets, according to the study.
Basically, vegan dogs were deemed generally healthier because they tended to have less frequent vet visits and didn’t take meds, but dogs on raw diets were also in really good shape. But the dogs on raw diets also tended to be younger than the other dogs, so scientists can’t say for sure how much their diets have to do with their health and it’s important to note that raw meat dog diets are often contaminated with bacteria and parasites, the authors of the study noted.
Because this study was conducted via surveys, researchers can’t come to a solid conclusion about why vegan dogs tended to be healthier, but they think that weight may have something to do with it. “One of the most common health problems for dogs is being overweight or obese and it is unfortunately common that when we do tests on the commercial meat-based diets, there are more calories,” Andrew Knight, professor of health and wellbeing at the University of Winchester, UK, and lead author on the study, told The Guardian. In other words, vegan dog diets may be better simply because they are lower in calories.
It feels important to note that the study has some limitations, namely that it was conducted by self-reported survey. Personally, though, I don’t really want anyone to lock thousands of dogs in labs so we can get better clinical data, and the researchers involved think that the non-lab setting is actually a bonus. “We studied what real dogs in normal homes ate and their health outcomes. It gives us a good indication as to what the outcomes are for dogs in the real world,” Knight told The Guardian.
One thing the study does not address is class. Vegan pet food costs about 300% more than conventional pet food, which means that it’s not an accessible option for most of us. I can’t help but wonder what other lifestyle differences high class dogs enjoy that make their lives healthier.