Apr 17, 2020

One-Third Of Dog Owners Believe Plant-Based Pet Diets Are Better

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Research shows one-third of dog owners believe a plant-based diet is better for their pets. The plant-based trend seems to be everywhere with alternatives such as plant-based burgers and kinds of milk for humans. Did you know that plant-based foods can also positively impact your pet’s health too?

More than 4 in 10 (43 percent) of dog food buyers think limiting red meat eaten by pets is healthier than not limiting it at all. So what’s driving these beliefs and what are the potential health benefits of feeding pets plant-based foods?

Plant-based foods for humans are undergoing rapid growth and it’s outpacing overall food growth by more than five times in grocery retailers. Even major companies such as Purina, Pedigree, and Natural Balance have started offering vegetarian and vegan foods for dogs and cats, using ingredients such as brown rice, barley, peas, spinach, and potatoes. Startups such as Wild Earth are sourcing protein from yeast for their dog food. In the future, pet food could be made from sustainable ingredients such as duckweed and algae.

Younger dog owners (aged 16 to 24) might be more likely to reduce the amount of red meat in their dogs’ diet compared with older dog food buyers (older than 45). 40 percent of younger dog food buyers (age 16 to 24) were in favor of regularly dishing up plant-based meals compared with just 21% of those older than 55.

Research by the American Veterinary Medical Association has found little evidence to suggest vegan or vegetarian diets are beneficial to animals. However, anecdotal evidence and testimonials from pet owners suggest some pets could thrive on plant-based diets. Industry players such as V-Dog, a vegan dog food company, believe vegan diets could lead to longevity, increased mobility, decreased allergies, better bowel movements, and excellent weight maintenance.

More generally, in terms of health outcomes, 76 percent of pet owners are looking for better digestive health and 44 percent believed pet food with good bacteria, such as fermented foods, could support pet health. 71 percent agreed a pet’s diet had a direct impact on the animal’s emotional well-being and 51 percent were interested in foods with calming ingredients such as hemp/CBD and chamomile. The environmental impact of meat is also one of the driving factors.

These trends, as with the plant-based pet food trend, could be a reflection of the humanization of pet trends, where owners are looking for ways to adopt the same diet and health trends for their pets. These days, pet owners travel with their pets, allow them to sleep in the same bed, and generally treat their pets as family members. Pet diets tend to reflect the choices of their human owners. As more people eat less meat and embrace plant-based diets some or all of the time, they’re exploring ways to adopt a similar diet for their pets, whether it’s for digestive and gut health or other well-being benefits.

Experts such as Megan Shepherd from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, say it’s critical to keep in mind dogs are omnivores, not herbivores, and they have different nutritional requirements to humans. Dogs tend to struggle on high-fiber and can be at risk of nutritional deficiencies if fed a vegan diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they can develop serious health conditions if they’re fed a plant-based diet. For example, cats can absorb the essential amino acid taurine only from animal sources.

Shepherd says owners who feed their dogs plant-based diets should be careful about choosing foods with the right nutritional profile. This is especially true when it comes to amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin D. She says vegetarian diets can be low in the amino acid methionine. Nutritional biochemist Wanda McCormick from the University of Northampton adds dogs have very specific nutritional requirements based on breed, age, size, and sex.

While more pet owners are looking for plant-based pet foods, dogs might need some animal products in their diet to thrive. Cats undoubtedly do need a carnivorous diet to be healthy. Supplementation could offer an option for dog owners, but issues such as bioavailability and interference with other nutrients would need to be carefully studied first.

Health promotion along with environmental and ethical guilt could be driving the trend. As such, the future of pet food could be slaughter-free meat grown in labs that’s both cruelty-free and environmentally sustainable. Insect-based pet foods could be another alternative for environmentally conscious pet owners to consider in the coming years. 

Related article: Plant-based meat

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