The debate over whether to feed your dog a vegan diet has been raging over recent years – but a new study has suggested that vegan diets may result in healthier pets compared to conventional meat-based diets.
Researchers assessed the overall health of more than 2,500 dogs through surveys completed by the owners.
The study, the largest of its kind published, claims that vegan diets may be the “healthiest and least hazardous dietary choices”, as long as they are “nutritionally sound”.
Dogs that were fed a raw meat diet appeared to have marginally better health indicators compared to those fed vegan diets.
However, researchers said this may have been because the dogs that were fed raw meat diets were, on average, one year younger.
They also pointed out: “Significant evidence indicates that raw meat diets are often associated with dietary hazards, including nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, and pathogens.”
Of the 2,536 canine participants, 13 per cent were fed a vegan diet, while 33 per cent ate raw meat and 54 per cent were given conventional meat-based diets.
The study, published in the journal Plos One, found that nearly a fifth (17 per cent) of dogs on conventional diets had four or more visits to the vet over the period of one year, compared to nine per cent of vegan dogs and eight per cent of those on raw meat diets.
In terms of health disorders, nearly half (49 per cent) of dogs on a conventional diet suffer from them, compared to 43 per cent of dogs on raw meat and 36 per cent for vegan pooches.
As more people realise the importance of reducing meat consumption in order to mitigate the climate crisis, vegan diets for both humans and dogs have become increasingly popular.
A 2019 study found that the majority (78 per cent) of vegan pet owners would consider feeding their dogs a strictly plant-based diet if it received veterinary approval and was easily available.
Professor Andrew Knight, of the University of Winchester, who led the study, said more research is needed to confirm the findings.
The study’s authors acknowledged that its limitations included relying on quantitative information and opinions provided by pet owners, rather than veterinary clinical examinations and assessments of the animals’ health.
They also acknowledged the potential of “unconscious bias” in the answers given by pet owners who were surveyed.
“This could occur if a guardian using a conventional or unconventional pet diet expected a better health outcome as a result, and if this expectation exerted an unconscious effect on their answers about pet health indicators,” the authors wrote.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) stressed that there is no data about the health impacts of feeding a vegan diet to a dog long term and that more peer-reviewed research was needed.
Justine Shotton, president of the BVA, said: “There is a lot of ongoing research and scientific interest in the field of vegan dog diets and this paper adds to the body of evidence supporting its benefits.
“However, there is currently a lack of robust data mapping the health consequences of feeding a vegan diet to a large number of dogs over many years, so we look forward to seeing further research on whether non-animal protein sources can meet a dog’s dietary requirements over the long term.
“Although we would not recommend it, it is theoretically possible to feed a dog a vegetarian diet, but owners would need to take expert veterinary advice to avoid dietary deficiencies and associated disease, as it is much easier to get the balance of nutrients wrong than to get it right. A dog on a vegan diet may also need synthetic supplementation.
“Our advice to pet owners interested in exploring alternative diet options for their dogs is to talk to their vet first, as any changes to dog’s diet should only be undertaken under advice of a vet with in-depth nutritional knowledge.”
The study added: “Regardless of ingredients used, diets should always be formulated to be nutritionally complete and balanced, without which adverse health effects may eventually be expected to occur.”