Exhibitor News - An Introduction to Vegan Dog Food
By Lucy McKinna BVSC MSc CIDA MRCVS, Founder McKinna PlantLabs*
"Public opinion on vegan pet food was once firmly on the resistance side of the dog park fence, but times are a-changing. Plant-based pet foods are rapidly developing and concerns about their impacts on pets, farmed animals, and the environment. But can plant-based pet foods be nutritionally sound? Can vegan dog food really be palatable? And finally, what could be the benefits of your client switching their dog to a plant-based diet?
A vegan dog owner, I used to positively hesitate in the petshop as I made my way to the till clutching my bag of lamb and rice kibble, knowing full well that my dog Kizzy would eat anything as long as it was delicious - whether a lamb had been anywhere near it or not.
My dad still buys lamb in the supermarkets and is resolute in his belief that it is not the same as the lamb he sees in fields when in the countryside. Happily for people like me who accept that both sets are one in the same, but don’t like it - the plant-based market is now exploding for both humans and our pets. Increasing nutritional knowledge and food science advances has allowed us to create nutritionally sound products without meat, that better align with their owners ethical and environmental viewpoints.
Any dog food (whether conventional meat-based or vegan) making up more than 5% of a dog’s diet (i.e. more than ‘treat’ status), should really have a label stating it is ‘complete’. This means that the food contains specific nutrients at levels above a minimum, and sometimes below a certain maximum; set by FEDIAF, the trade body representing the European pet food industry.
Recent studies have shown that vegan pet foods are generally at least as palatable to dogs and cats as conventional meat or raw meat diets - and at almost all stages within the formulation, manufacturing and distribution processes, surveyed companies had acceptable or superior standards overall, with plant-based diets slightly superior to meat-based diets.
One of the main points of focus and concern about a vegan diet is the protein, and constituent amino acids. The correct amino acids in the correct proportions in the ingested diet is of course absolutely vital to each cell of the body working as it should, whether the dog is eating a diet with or without meat. With a plant-based diet - there has to be a careful balance, but it can be done - and is! The amino acid arginine is the same whether it comes from a turkey or a soybean- it’s not the source that counts, it is the nutrient.
FEDIAF guidelines are, however, set up for conventional meat based dog foods - They probably weren't necessarily expecting a quarter of the population of the UK to decide to meat reduce /go veggie or vegan (and then extend that consciousness to their dogs’ food). Therefore a client should ensure that if they are buying a vegan diet, the three amino acids DL-methionine, L-carnitine and taurine should be supplemented i.e. that these three be found listed in ‘nutritional additives’ on the back of the pack.
But why should we have to go to such effort to make a recipe to supplement these amino acids? Does this mean plant-based is wholly unnatural and should be abhorred? Well I would argue no - every single dry dog food has vitamins, trace elements supplemented, taurine is being supplemented into a growing number of conventional meat-based dog foods, while of course we’ve been adding taurine into cat food for over 30 years.
As more and more of our clients adopt a plant-based lifestyle themselves and ask us for guidance on feeding plant-based to their dog, being able to offer advice on what they should be looking for on the back of the pack, is vital.
With the growing number of premium vegan dog foods available they can now feed in alignment with their ethics. Owners often report improved stool consistency, an improvement in coat and increased energy levels from a switch to plant-based, and of course a reduction in pruritus in dogs allergic to one or more of the meat allergens, representing 8 of the 10 most common food allergens."
*Flagship product Noochy Poochy vegan Adult 12mth+ With a 30% organic ingredient content, 28% protein and an Omega 6:3 ratio of 4:1