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Plant-based Diets for Dogs? Survey Says...

By Katherine Kramer, DVM, CVA, DABVP - Advisor to Virchew

The movement toward plant-based (PB) diets continues to grow. While many people embrace this diet for ethical reasons, the majority indicate that they ‘go plant based’ for health issues. Stories abound of patients with heart disease, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, etc., improving dramatically with a PB diet. My husband once topped the scales at 300 pounds and was hypertensive and pre-diabetic. After he made the switch, his blood pressure and blood sugar normalized within a month, and he lost 100 pounds over a year.

Woman holds big dog after enjoying a meal of virchew food created in Vancouver, BC, by Laura Simonson

Alternative Diets for Human & Canine Health

Diet has the potential to either heal or harm both humans and animals. In 2007, many dogs developed kidney failure and perished due to melamine-contaminated diets. In 2018 and again in 2021, many dog food brands were recalled due to potentially toxic levels of Vitamin D. We see many dogs on ‘grain-free’ diets develop significant heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy). These issues, in addition to individual health concerns, have steered concerned dog custodians to seek out alternative diets to protect the health of their beloved canines.

A medium sized dog enjoy a dish of virchew love bowl which is vegan, plantbased, and created in vancouver, bc, canada, by laura simonson.

Commercial Dog Food Companies Jumping on Board

PB dog foods are being espoused by the dog food industry as well. Purina, Rayne and Royal Canin now all have vegetarian and PB diets. These diets have been formulated to treat a myriad of diseases, including allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and pancreatic, liver, and urinary tract diseases.

Recent Studies of Plant-based Diets for Dogs

Two recently published studies examined this exciting trend toward PB diets for dogs. In each study, surveys collected information on feeding habits and health issues. Each study analyzed responses from questionnaires and, interestingly, drew similar conclusions.

The first study, generated from the University of Guelph, summarized 1,413 responses (mainly from Canada). Surprisingly, 30% of the dogs were fed plant-based diets, which was much higher than the 2% estimated by the authors of the study. In response to health questions, respondees indicated that dogs receiving PB diets had better fecal consistency scores (fewer instances of constipation) and fewer health disorders. The most interesting finding was that plant-based dogs lived, on average, 1.5 years longer than dogs receiving meat-based diets.

The second study, from the University of Winchester, surveyed mainly UK pet owners but also included responses from Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania. With a pool of 2,536 responses, 13% fed PB diets. Guardians answered questions on seven general health indicators and twenty-two specific disorders. Dogs receiving PB diets had fewer trips to the veterinarian and were on fewer medications. The authors concluded that nutritionally complete and balanced vegan diets were the ‘healthiest and least hazardous’ dietary choice for dogs.

In both studies, dogs that received a PB diet were perceived to be overall healthier than dogs receiving meat-based diets, with reported fewer health disorders and fewer trips to the veterinarian. While these survey studies do not provide incontrovertible proof of a PB diet’s benefits, they suggest that PB diets are more than ‘the new fad’ and are worthy of continued research. These studies have attracted the attention of veterinarians and pet guardians alike.

Plant-based: Moving into the Spotlight

For years, veterinarians and caretakers have debated (sometimes heatedly) the benefits of commercial foods versus raw or home-cooked diets. Until recently, plant-based diets were a small majority of the dog food market. However, based on these recent studies, plant-based diets are on the rise as caretakers want to make ethical and health-conscious decisions for themselves and their canine family members.

Author: Dr. Katherine Kramer - DVM, CVA, DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice) is from Vancouver, BC and joined Vancouver Animal Wellness Hospital in March 2011 after nine years of practicing veterinary medicine in North Carolina. Animals have always been a part of her life, from her early childhood on a wildlife refuge in the Florida Keys, to working on a white rhino in South Africa while earning her degree at the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine. She is a member of the College of Veterinarians of BC, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.

Seeing the benefits of nutrition upon disease in her patients and the positive impact a plant-based diet has had on both her and her husband's health, Dr. Kramer is excited to be working as a consultant with the Virchew Team.

When Dr. Kramer is not working at the hospital or offering consulting services, Kathy and her husband Alex can be found hanging out with their very handsome black and white felines.

An Important Disclaimer:

Virchew's blog, website, social media posts/comments, email communications and other correspondence are for educational purposes only and are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent disease.

Our products and services are not a replacement for the expert care and advice provided by your veterinarian. Any dietary or healthcare changes should be made under their guidance, especially in the case of existing underlying health conditions.​

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