One of the common arguments against a plant-based diet for dogs is that it isn't "natural." Often we question whether it goes against their instincts and biology, pointing to their teeth, behavior, and so on as evidence. This argument suggests that perhaps feeding them vegan could be considered "forcing" our own personal beliefs upon an otherwise predatory animal. But is it correct to assume that the most "biologically appropriate" diet for our dogs is one that consists primarily of meat?
Dogs ≠ wolves
Despite dogs' shared evolution with wolves (or at least other wolf-like canids), dogs now differ from wolves genetically in many ways. This may be apparent when comparing their appearance and their dispositions, but what about their diet? Turns out, dogs have evolved to digest and make excellent use of starches in their diet due to their evolutionary history alongside humans. While wolves may have trouble digesting a plant-based diet, dogs can successfully obtain their nutrients through plant sources thanks to thousands of years of eating table scraps from their human caretakers. Learn more here.
Meat from livestock isn't "natural"
In today's world, the majority of meat is produced in factory farms, where livestock are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics, fed GMO-based grain, and live in filthy conditions. Unsurprisingly, the meat that makes it to our plates (or our dogs' bowls) is loaded with contaminants. On top of that, pet food manufacturers use 4-D meat, or meat from animals that are "diseased, disabled, dying, or dead," due to its low cost. These slaughterhouse byproducts (which include all body parts deemed unfit for human consumption, including skin, tendons, brains, intestines, reproductive organs, etc.) are ground up along with other cheap sources of meat (such as spoiled grocery store meat, roadkill, and euthanized animals) to form the base of pet food. These pet foods are often recalled for contamination. Not exactly what we had in mind when we picture our dogs hunting like wolves out in the wilderness.
"High-quality" meat isn't "species-appropriate"
So what about raw diets? Should we switch our dogs to higher quality cuts of meat? Raw feeding advocates argue that a raw meat diet is the closest we can get to a "biologically appropriate" diet for dogs. If we look at it from an evolutionary standpoint, it sort of makes sense given that dog and wolves share a common ancestor. However, over the past thousands of years that dogs have lived alongside humans, it's safe to say that their caretakers weren't feeding them the finest cuts of meat. What we do know is that the AMY2B gene has multiplied in dogs since they've been domesticated, indicating that their diets were becoming more and more starch-rich. This makes sense, since domestic dogs came to rely less and less on hunting as a food source. Many breeds were even bred specifically to hunt for us, but not to eat the animals that were caught - thereby preserving the "hunting instinct."
Raw diets come with health hazards
Other problems arise with raw meat diets as well. Many dogs have trouble processing a diet so high in animal protein, and may develop allergies to it. Meat has been found to contain carcinogens, and, in raw form, many species of pathogens that can spread to your kitchen, pets, and family. Raw diets are not well regulated and may not be nutritionally complete, which can lead to health complications down the line.
Additionally, the environmental impact of a raw diet is vastly higher that of a 4-D-based one. Producing higher-quality cuts of meat requires additional animals to be slaughtered, which means more land and water used, more greenhouse gases emitted, and of course more lives ended.
Do we have to feed animals to our animals?
There is currently no scientific basis for the claim that deriving nutrients from what is perceived to be a “natural” source such as an animal is in any way superior to deriving them from plant-based sources. Plus, dogs now live in our homes, sleep in beds we fluff, and eat meals we prepare for them. What is "natural" may not be so clear-cut anymore. "We can protect both the animals we feed and those we have historically fed to them. The two goals are neither in conflict, nor mutually exclusive," says Nathan J. Winograd of the Huffington Post. Luckily, there are many dog foods on the market that are both plant-based and nutritionally complete. These foods have helped address a variety of health problems in dogs, including allergies (often to animal proteins), joint pain, and obesity. Additionally, feeding our dogs a diet that is lower on the food chain greatly reduces their risk of exposure to contaminants and carcinogens, both of which can lead to a variety of diseases over time.
Want to learn more about plant-based diets for dogs?
Check out the resources below for studies, testimonials, and more!
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Source: Huffington Post