Vegan Dog & Cat Diets In 2020: Are They Safe?

Updated January 3, 2021

Three years ago when I first investigated vegan diets for dogs and cats, my response was a bit simplistic. I said that as long as you use a complete and balanced diet, your pet can be vegan.

Since then, we’ve learned more and I have too. I still think you can have a vegan dog, but there are important warnings. And vegan cats? Probably not, but I can show you how to feed them without any guilt.

Let’s start with a quick overview of the diets available.

Vegan Dog Foods In Australia

The following vegan dry foods can all be purchased in Australia. Wet foods are also available from Benevo, Yarrah and VeganPet.

Vegan Dry Food BrandComplete,
Balanced*
Protein SourceOriginCost/kg
BIOpet VEGAN 1.25kgYes – Adultpea, soybeanAustralia$9.98
BIOpet VEGAN Adult DogYes – Adultpea, soybeanAustralia$6.66
Benevo Puppy OriginalYessoybeanUK$14.10
Benevo Adult OriginalYes – AdultsoybeanUKn/a**
Benevo Adult OrganicYes – AdultsoybeanUK$12.06
Yarrah Organic Wheat-FreeYes – Adultpea, soy, lupinEU (NL)$14.60
V-Planet Kinder*** Kibble MiniYes – AdultpeaCanada$13.81
V-Planet Kinder*** KibbleYes – AdultpeaCanada$11.76
VeganPet Dog Food DRYYessoybeanAustralia$11.33
Costs have been calculated from the largest single item available + shipping to Walkerville, but are estimates only . *As claimed by manufacturer. **Unavailable in larger sizes at time of writing. ***Kinder as in “more kind” not children!

All of these diets are said to be complete and balanced meaning that they can be fed as the only diet to adult dogs without causing nutritional deficiencies. That’s a great start, but there are still some areas of concern.

Protein Quality

Proteins are made of building blocks called amino acids. Some of these can be made in the body, but dogs have ten essential amino acids that must be found from proteins in the diet.

When a dog eats animal protein, the amino acid mix is very similar to what they need (after all, what better to make an animal than from another animal). Plant proteins on the other hand are usually very different, and if one essential amino acid is too low, it could interrupt or slow down protein synthesis.

A good manufacturer will recognise this and add the limiting amino acid to make the plant proteins more valuable. This is often methionine for legumes such as soy, peas or lupins, plus taurine for cats. Adding protein from grain sources is another solution, but this won’t please everyone.

Protein Source

I included the origin of the proteins to raise concerns with each of them:

  • Peas in dog diets have been linked with a recent increase in an unusual heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy. While the link has not been definitively proven, I personally would not choose this protein source.
  • Lupins make me uncomfortable due to the presence of quinolizidine alkaloids that require a deactivation step before feeding.
  • Soybeans are problematic in animal foods, as both under- and overcooking will reduce the availability of the amino acids. This bothers me less than the other two.

None of these concerns should be considered strong enough to advise against vegan diets. What they do show is how easy it is to make simple errors in manufacture. This leads me to problem three…

Food Regulation

Yes, once again this little gem rears its ugly head. Twice.

Pet food safety regulation in Australia is abysmal. Those who know me know that along with many other people, I have been doing my best to improve this for years. It affects pets everywhere, and touches on both of the Australian manufacturers.

  • BIOpet market their VEGAN 1.25kg using a picture of a puppy, which fools its major online retailer into calling it a puppy food. However, it does not meet AAFCO guidelines for puppies and is an adult food.
  • VeganPet have recently initiated a voluntary recall due to links with megaoesophagus. The recall is announced on their website as a single image where the text is almost too small to read. Thankfully I do hear that purchasers have been contacted directly.

I hate saying it, but foods sold into the EU or USA have to meet much higher standards than ours. We are working to fix this.

What is not a problem is feeding dogs very differently from their wolf ancestors. Read why here. So let’s talk about safe vegan diets for dogs!

A Vegan Diet Plan For Dogs

A vegan dog diet can be so simple, it’s like cheating. You can choose to rely solely on one of the many vegan pet foods available. They should do what they say on the packet: provide a complete and balanced diet.

However, even though the risks are low, I would not rely entirely on any one food, especially an unconventional one. Many people will use several vegan diets from different manufacturers to spread the risk. However, others choose to use these foods together with options 2 and 3 below.

Vegan Diet Plan 2: Homemade

I imagine most people would like to know what goes into their dog’s food. That’s why we commissioned a vegan diet from specialist veterinary nutritionists. It has been made with great care for both safety and taste. It’s even grain-free!

I think it’s very good. Being a little expensive to feed larger dogs, many owners use it for variety. I’m sorry that I can’t publish it online as it may be hazardous for all but healthy adult dogs. If you want to use it, there are two choices:

  1. Come in for a checkup. As long as your dog is suitable we will supply a tailored version for the price of a second consultation fee.
  2. If you don’t live locally, ask your vet about getting the same thing done in your clinic. You can get your vets to contact us to see who we used.

Vegan Diet Plan 3: Compromise

If your aim is primarily to reduce the use of animals in food, I believe you can still add selected food of animal origin and remain guilt-free. Even a small supplement will add high quality proteins easily assimilated by your pet.

Compromise is never popular and I understand if what I say next is offensive. The idea is that some parts of food animals are sought after, and others are waste. If you stick to buying only leftover products, you will barely increase the number of animals being slaughtered.

Examples might be:

Vegan Treats

What about special snacks for dogs? There are quite a lot you can choose from. We sell Veggie Ears that look spookily like the real thing and dogs love them. However, there are plenty of other options you can find online.

Vegan Cat Diets

vegan cat diet

There are two brands of vegan cat food available in Australia, both based on soy. They are:

  • Benevo Vegan Cat Adult Original (around $15.50/kg)
  • VeganPet Vegan Cat Food (around $17.97/kg)

VeganPet also offer a tinned food (pictured).

I would not rely on them completely, for the same reasons outlined above, plus one very specific cat concern: the amount of carbohydrates.

If you run these diets through my online carbohydrate estimator you will see they are higher than ideal for cat foods.

On the plus side, they should contain all the major and minor nutrients and so would be very suitable if fed along with an animal waste product like chicken necks.

Other Vegan Pets

If you’re still deciding on a pet, what about a rabbit? They come vegan right out of the box and are just as fun to have around. Search our site for lots of rabbit-friendly info.

Massive disclaimer: information on the commercial foods was derived from web data on December 5, 2020. I can not further guarantee its accuracy and it will change without notice. Any advice given to modify or add to complete and balanced diets can make them less balanced and potentially dangerous.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.

Andrew

One Reply to “Vegan Dog & Cat Diets In 2020: Are They Safe?”

  1. Really appreciate your thoughtful consideration of vegan feeding. I’m feeling slightly less guilty about the beef and chicken necks for my dogs. In fact your whole blog should be required reading for all those responsible for animals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *