New research from the University of Winchester has found that a nutritionally-sound vegan diet provides better health outcomes for pet dogs than a conventional meat diet.
The study, Vegan versus meat-based dog food: guardian-reported indicators of health, examined the wellness of 2,639 dogs and is one of the first large-scale studies to explore how health outcomes vary between dogs fed meat-based and vegan diets.
For the research, dog owners provided information about their dog, fed either a conventional meat, raw meat or vegan diet for at least one year.
The researchers looked at seven general indicators of ill health in dogs including unusually high numbers of visits to the vet and whether the dog took medication, and dog owners were asked to report their own opinion of their dog’s health and what they believed their vet’s assessment to be.
The findings show that dogs fed conventional meat diets appeared to be less healthy than those fed either a raw meat or a vegan diet. They had poorer health indicators in almost all cases.
Dogs fed raw meat diets appeared to fare marginally better than those fed vegan diets. However, the effect sizes were statistically small, in every case.
Additionally, the dogs fed raw meat were significantly younger on average, which has been shown to have protective effects, improving health outcomes. Factors unrelated to health may have also improved apparent outcomes for dogs fed raw meat, with the proportion of dogs who had not seen a vet in the last year markedly higher in this group.
If ages were equalised and non-health related barriers to visiting the vet were accounted for, the researchers say it is not possible to conclude that dogs fed raw meat diets would be likely to have better health outcomes to those fed vegan diets.
The researchers also looked at the prevalence of 22 specific health disorders, including problems with their skin/coat, dental issues, allergic dermatitis and arthritis. Percentages of dogs in each dietary group considered to have suffered from health disorders were 49 percent for conventional meat diets, 43 percent for raw meat diets and 36 percent for vegan diets.
Adding further endorsement to the vegan diet, previous research indicates that raw meat diets are often associated with dietary risks, particularly pathogens such as bacteria and parasites.
Andrew Knight, Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics and founding director of the Centre for Animal Welfare at the University of Winchester, said “Pooled evidence to date from our study and others in this field indicates that the healthiest and least harmful dietary choice for dogs among conventional, raw meat and vegan diets, is a nutritionally-sound vegan diet.
“Vegan diets are among a range of alternative diets being developed to address increasing concerns of consumers about traditional meat-based pet foods, including their environmental ‘pawprint’, their perceived lack of ‘naturalness’, health concerns, or impacts on those animals in the food chain used to formulate such diets.”
Dr Hazel Brown, co-author of the study at the University of Winchester, said “Alternative diets and pet foods offer benefits to both environmental sustainability and the welfare of farmed animals which are processed into pet foods, but many pet owners worry that they may harm the welfare of pets. There is no evidence that biological and practical challenges in formulating nutritionally adequate canine vegan diets mean their use should not be recommended.”