As responsible guardians, we want to give our four-legged friends the very best in life, and that includes what we put in their bowls every day. But how’s a pawrent supposed to know what the best food is when we’re bombarded with mixed messages about dog diets?
Advice from friends, recommendations from vets, commands from raw food fanatics, clever marketing from pet food companies, home-baked recipes from blogs, campaigns from vegan dog owners, heart disease horror stories in the news – it’s all just... too much! How do we cut through the noise and separate fact from fiction?
Well, let’s start by debunking five common myths about dog food.
Myth 1: GRRR! Dogs are miniature wolves
We’ve all seen dog food ads urging us to feed our Labradoodles and Cavapoos ‘real meat diets’ as though they’re blood-hungry wolves. But take a look at your fur buddy: does he or she look like a fierce, carnivorous hunter? Even if you share your den with a German Shepherd rather than a King Charles Cavalier, it’s unlikely that he or she is spending their day tracking prey and burning up thousands of calories. In the UK, over 39% of dogs (that’s over 3.7 million!) only get up to half an hour’s daily walk, their ‘inner wolves’ well and truly in hibernation. Our domestic hounds simply don’t need the high-protein, high-fat and high-calories of the ‘primal’ meat diets we’re told we should be feeding.
In fact, our dogs’ internal make-up has adapted over thousands of years of domestication to allow them to easily digest and process healthier plant-based diets. Today, they can get everything they need, nutritionally, from a meat-free diet! Have a read of our blog to find out more.
Myth 2: YUCK! Dogs won't like meat-free food
Since we’re always being told that our dogs are ravenous wolves, it’s natural to worry that taking animal meat out of their bowls is, well, a bit mean. Let’s face it, noshing is every dog’s favourite part of the day, so shouldn’t we be giving them chow they really enjoy?
Absolutely! The good news is that dogs have been scientifically proven to enjoy vegan dog food just as much as meat. A recent article surveyed 2,308 pawrents to find out how their dogs behaved towards their food: were their tails wagging as much? Did they dash up to their bowl? Were they barking at their pawrent to ‘hurry up and feed me’? How fast did they gobble the food down? Taking all these things into account, the researchers found “no consistent evidence of a difference between vegan diets and either conventional or raw meat diets”. Vegan dogs are drooling over their dinner just as much as meat-eating dogs!
Of course, a dog used to meat may initially be suspicious of the new taste of their vegan dog food and that’s why we recommend a gradual transition.
Moreover, anybody lucky enough to share their den with more than one dog will know that our furry friends often love different foods. They’ll also enthusiastically scarf down ‘delicacies’ we humans would never put in our mouths (if you know, you know!) Our pups’ definition of tasty food is complex and varied, which is why THE PACK has three different delicious options, each bursting with a range of plant-based flavours. Whether they’re a fan of No-Fishy Dishy or go crazy for No-Cluck Casserole, we offer something for every canine connoisseur!
Myth 3: DUH! Meaty dog food is ethical because it uses up by-products
If farmed animals are already being killed to feed meat-eating humans, doesn’t it make sense to use up the leftovers for pet food? Isn’t that the environmentally responsible thing to do?
Well, firstly, not many of us really want to feed our beloved pups yucky rendered ‘by-products’ like bones, fat, blood and feathers. Instead, we’re demanding high-quality ‘human grade’ food for our dogs, whether that be raw meat from the butchers or a ‘premium’ pet food brand. This means that much of the pet food produced today contains cows, pigs, fish and chickens that have been raised specifically for our pets to eat. In America, 30% of factory-farmed animals are bred and killed to feed companion animals!
Secondly, even if we are buying dog food made from meat by-products, this might not be as ethical as it sounds. An article for the National Renderers Association admits that without the pet food industry ‘recycling’ meat, intensive animal farming could not exist: “the sustainability of animal agriculture depends on a reasonable and practical use of the by-products generated.” That means that when we feed leftover meat to our dogs, we’re inadvertently supporting the cruel and broken system we call factory farming.
Myth 4: CHOMP! Raw meat is good for my dog
How can you tell if somebody’s a raw meat feeder? Don’t worry, they’re tell you! Pawrents who feed raw swear that wet, uncooked meat is the best thing ever for their tiny wolves. But the experts disagree. According to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, American Veterinary Medical Association and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, raw meat pet food can introduce bad bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella and even parasites into our pets and our homes. And while the high levels of fat might make your dog’s coat shiny, they also risk making them overweight - and plump pooches are unhealthy pooches.
Myth 5: YIKES! Vegan dog food causes heart disease
Three letters that strike fear in the hearts of dog owners: DCM. Over the last five years, very weak links have been made between grain-free diets and a rare type of doggy heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM has been tentatively connected with legumes, lack of grains, and reduced taurine in pet food. A new study has blamed some ingredients used to replace grains in dog food, speculating that peas and maybe lentils might make it harder for dogs to make or absorb taurine, that essential amino acid for healthy hounds. Because many vegan dog foods contain ingredients like peas and pulses, this report has been used to attack meat-free as well as grain-free dog diets.
However, there’s zero evidence to prove that these plant-based ingredients or lack of grains cause DCM: it’s all just speculation. Given that the new study only looked at the pet foods already associated with DCM, it’s more likely is that these specific diets weren’t formulated to provide the right nutrients. Also, many of the foods tested had been stored open for months, allowing them to degrade. A more recent scientific paper in Journal of Animal Science investigated the controversy and concluded “The use of plant-based proteins as ingredients in canine and feline diets not only meet consumer demand but also provide a valuable, safe, and nutritionally adequate alternative to traditional protein sources.”
So, if your meat-free dog food is nice and fresh as well as carefully nutritionally balanced, your plant-powered dog is no more likely to suffer from DCM than a raw meat eater!
Don’t take our word for it. Here’s the research:
- The latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing PAW report on dog walking habits (2021)
- Professor Andrew Knight’s recent article on palatability of vegan pet food In PLOS One journal (2021)
- The article that states that rendered meat by-products increase the sustainability of intensive farming (2015)
- Gregory Okin’s game-changing paper on the environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats in PLOS ONE (2017)
- On concerns around feeding raw meat diets to dogs in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (2001)
- The nasties in raw meat-based diets for cats and dogs in Veterinary Record (2018)
- Parasite risks from raw meat-based diets for pets in Companion Animal (2020)
- Risks to the wider household when feeding raw meat diets to dogs are reviewed in One Health journal (2021)
- The article associating DCM with peas in dog food in Nature (2021) and a blog by a companion animal nutritionist debunking this.
- The recent paper in Journal of Animal Science (2021) investigating and refuting the claim that pulses are linked to DCM.
- Another paper on DCM and dog food and the lack of conclusive evidence (2020)