Plant-Based or Meat-Based Diet for Your Dog: Which is Best?

The dietary and lifestyle preferences of pet parents are playing an increasing role in pet food choices. Now more than ever, pet parents are demanding healthier, more wholesome options for their dogs' dietary source of vitality and happiness. This is especially the case with young people, as millennials are spending more than ever on their pets. (...I'm more than willing to admit that this includes myself and my three fur babes).  

At over 80 million, there are more dogs and cats in the U.S. than children under 18. The pet food industry is apparently even starting to outpace the baby food industry. What can we say...our dogs are our babies. 

So, what do I feed my dog? 

In a space where there are so many dog foods to choose from, with new brands and formulas popping up what seems like daily, this question remains in the forefront of pet parents' minds more than ever. 

Raw Meat Diet

In an industry full of recalls, contaminations, by-products and questionable ingredient sourcing, a dog food pet parents can trust is worth its weight in gold. 

The "prey model raw" or "BARF" feeding diet has become particularly popular with various groups of dog lovers. But is this the optimal diet for dogs? Do dogs need raw meat to thrive to their fullest?

This type of diet is popular among those who believe dogs are carnivorous and closely related to wolves, but many experts and veterinarians have questioned the raw feeding model, citing concerns over things like proper nutrition and contamination.

Read more on this topic from a veterinarian's perspective: "Should I feed my dog raw meat?"

What about meat-based kibble?

It's important to consider: what's really in pet food? Even when some of us think we know, major and "premium" dog food companies too often end up being sued for lying, or pulling products off the market due to dangerous and deadly recalls

A book called Food Pets Die For by Ann N. Martin (2003) states, “Despite industry claims that pets live long and healthy lives on commercial pet food, we veterinarians are routinely faced with contradictory evidence in the form of sick animals. We frequently encounter acute reactions such as diarrhea and vomiting and skin lesions. Most often, though, we are witnessing symptoms of deteriorating health, of diminished efficiency of bodily functions and organs, of kidneys failing in middle age due to excessive protein, of weakened immune systems and allergic reactions. We are seeing the cumulative effect of all those additives, toxins, lead, and the very questionable source of the natural ingredients.”

With this information comes the importance of choosing a transparent brand with excellent quality standards and no lawsuits or recall issues. 

The question of what to feed your dog now goes beyond what brand, but delves more into what source of nutrition. A new question animal-loving pet parents are asking is: Do I feed my dog a meat diet...or a complete plant-based diet? 

As the vegetarian and vegan movement continues to gain momentum in the U.S., spurred by popular films like Cowspiracy and award-winning books like How Not To Die, more people are waking up to the harsh ethical, health and environmental realities and repercussions of our seemingly insatiable taste for animal meat. 

Since millions of these same people have dogs, their lifestyle choices trickle down to the food and products they purchase for their furry companions. The good news? Vegetarians and vegans now have substantial (and mounting) evidence that proves their dogs can thrive on a fully plant-based diet.

Vegetarian Diets for Dogs 

A recent study in the MDPI by Dr. Andrew Knight BVMS, MRCVS concludes that vegetarian diets for dogs can be perfectly healthy, as long as they are complete and balanced.

According to Dr. Knight, “Dogs can be maintained on vegetarian and vegan diets, but they must be nutritionally adequate and reasonably balanced...Owners are advised to use a nutritionally complete commercial diet, or to add appropriate nutritional supplements to homemade diets.” 

Although there is a lot of marketing and misinformation essentially portraying dogs and wolves as the same, it turns out that since dogs have evolved alongside humans over thousands of years, they now have different genetic components that allow them to digest and make excellent use of starch-rich diets. 

According to a paper in Animal Genetics, domestic dogs not only developed a better ability to digest starch, but a greatly-improved ability to utilize and benefit from these starches than their wolf counterparts:

"The researchers found that dogs have more copies of a gene called AMY2B, crucial for amylase production, than wolves. And in dogs, this gene is 28 times more active in the pancreas than in wolves...Dogs also showed changes in specific genes that allow for the breakdown of maltose into glucose, another key starch digestion step, and in genes allowing for the body to make use of this glucose." (source)

Dogs do not need meat to live a healthy, long life, but do need certain amino acids (protein), fats, vitamins and minerals - all of which can be found in a complete and balanced plant-based diet. 

According to American Veterinarian, "As dogs and cats became domesticated over time, human food scraps became an increasing part of their diet, causing behavioral and physiological adaptations to a more varied diet that included plant-based foods. Today, domesticated dogs can metabolize carbohydrates and subsist on a lower protein diet than their wolf ancestors, effectively making them omnivorous."

An additional study from the British Journal of Nutrition concludes that even high-intensity sprint racing huskies can excel on a complete and balanced meatless diet.

Do dogs need meat to thrive?

It turns out dogs are omnivores, not carnivores, and can thrive on a complete and balanced plant-based diet.

In addition to the potential health risks related to feeding your dog animal products (especially raw meat), there is something most dog parents have in common: we're animal lovers. As animal lovers, it’s important for us to consider this ethical inconsistency: Why love certain animals, but eat others

Just like pandas, dogs don't need to eat meat: “The concept of 'evolutionary nutrition' ignores the simple fact that taxonomy and phylogeny are not destiny, nor do they reliably predict the specific details of a species’ biology, including its nutritional needs. Sure, dogs are in the order Carnivora, but so are giant pandas, which are almost exclusively herbivorous.” -Dr. Brennen McKenzie, MA, VMD.

But what about longevity? Do dogs live a long life on this type food? 

In addition to one of the Guinness Book of World Record's oldest dogs, Bramble the Collie, living to age 25, countless other dogs have lived and thrived into their twenties on a balanced plant-based diet. See some of their stories. 

What do veterinarians think about a plant-based diet for dogs?

All around the country, there are an increasing number of veterinarians in support of a complete and balanced vegan diet for dogs. See veterinary opinions on this topic.


So, what's the verdict? Here are some important takeaway points...

  • Dogs can eat meat, but don't need it to thrive.
  • Dogs have evolved away from their wolflike ancestors and now have omnivorous digestive capabilities.
  • It's important to choose a complete and balanced diet for your dog.
  • Choosing a dog food company you can trust is key.


V-dog contains 100% balanced plant-based nutrition for your dog. Our products are expertly formulated, veterinarian recommended and meet/exceed all AAFCO standards. Since our formula is highly digestible, we've seen countless itchy, allergic dogs experience complete turnarounds on our kibble. Read their stories here or learn more about v-dog on our FAQ page


Featured image: multipix
Dog/baby photo: Dallas City Mom's Blog

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