Plant-based pet food? Vegan diet healthiest for dogs, study suggests

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WINCHESTER, United Kingdom — Forget giving the dog a bone, pet dogs would be far healthier sticking to a vegan diet, according to a new study.

The findings of a survey of more than 2,500 dog owners, looking at links between dog diet and their well-being, suggest that “nutritionally sound” vegan diets may be healthier and less hazardous than conventional or raw meat-based diets.

Researchers say that many factors may influence dog owners to choose unconventional diets for their pets, including concerns regarding the environment, the treatment of animals used as food, and the health of their pets. However, studies of the health effects of conventional pet diets compared to unconventional ones have been limited until now.

To help clarify the potential health effects of different dog diets, Professor Andrew Knight and his colleagues analyzed survey data from guardians of 2,536 dogs fed either a conventional meat, raw meat, or vegan diet. The survey included questions about the dogs’ health, including the number of veterinary visits, use of medications, and specific dog health disorders.

Yet dogs on raw meat diets are healthier?

Prof. Knight says the results suggest that, overall, dogs on conventional diets are less healthy than raw meat or vegan diets. However, dogs on raw meat diets appeared to be even healthier than those on vegan diets. Despite those findings, researchers say there are several factors that prevent the conclusion that raw meat diets are definitely healthier. For example, dogs in the study on raw meat diets were significantly younger than dogs on vegan diets, which could help explain why they appeared to be healthier overall.

Dogs on raw meat diets were also less likely to go to a vet. The team adds that while that could be a sign of better health, previous research indicates that the owners of dogs on raw meat diets are less likely to seek veterinary advice. Prof. Knight, a veterinary professor of animal welfare at the University of Winchester, says further research is necessary to confirm whether a raw meat or a vegan diet leads to better dog health.

The research team suggests that large-scale studies of dogs, maintained on different diets, which utilize data such as results of veterinary clinical examinations and veterinary medical histories, could yield results of greater reliability.

Previous studies have found links between raw meat diets for dogs and increased risk of pathogens and nutritional deficiencies. In light of both the new and previous findings, the researchers suggest that a nutritionally sound vegan diet may in fact be the healthiest and least hazardous choice for dogs.

“We believe our study of 2,536 dogs is by far the largest study published to date, exploring health outcomes of dogs fed vegan and meat-based diets. It analyzed a range of objective data, as well as owner opinions and reported veterinary assessments of health. It revealed that the heathiest and least hazardous dietary choices for dogs, are nutritionally sound vegan diets,” the study authors conclude in a media release.

The findings appear in the journal PLOS One.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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