Great question! It’s a common query for lots of pet owners, especially if they’re vegetarian for ethical reasons. The short answer is: no, dogs are omnivores, not carnivores.
The reason dogs and humans get along so well is because they’ve evolved alongside each other. For millennia, dogs have eaten the scraps that humans have thrown them; this means they’ve evolved to be omnivores, not carnivores like their wolf ancestors.
Dogs and people produce amylase, which is the enzyme needed to digest starch, and that means that dogs can very easily break down fruits and vegetables for their nutrients.
The gene for amylase is 28-fold more active in dogs than wolves, and test-tube studies have indicated that dogs should be five times better than wolves at digesting starch.
Do dogs need meat?
Dogs, like people, can thrive on all sorts of food, and they can absolutely be healthy on a plant-based diet. Dog’s diets resemble that of their caregiver, so in the west, people feed their dogs meat because it was traditionally a large component of their own meals. But in India, for example, dogs are often vegetarian because their humans are vegetarian. (This is very different from cats, who have to be carnivores because they’ve maintained their independence from people a bit more.)
So, as humans are reducing their own intake of meat for ethical and ecological reasons, it’s time we started looking at how we can reduce the environmental impact of our dog’s food too.
Can dogs get protein from a vegan diet?
Just like people, dogs can get protein from a vegan diet too. The most important thing is that dogs need nutrients, not ingredients, and as long as all the nutrients are there in the right quantities, it doesn’t matter what the original source of the protein was.
When dogs eat protein, their bodies break it down into ten essential amino acids: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Protein types differ only in the length and structure of the amino acids, the building blocks are all the same. Or, to put it simply, threonine is threonine if you find it in chicken, beef, or soy protein.
As it happens, eating animal-protein is an incredibly inefficient way to get nutrients into your dog’s body. All of the nutrients they need exist in plants, but if those plants have been eaten by cattle first, a lot of them have been absorbed by the cattle so it can live before it is killed for beef.
By switching your dog to a plant-powered diet, you’re just removing the most environmentally damaging step of food-production from the process of getting the goodness of plants into your dog.
Are vegan dogs healthy?
Because a vegan diet provides the same amino acids for dogs as an animal-protein diet does, a vegan dog should be, at the very least, as healthy as its meat-eating friends.
In fact, Veterinarian Dr. Andrew Knight analysed four previous studies that assessed the nutritional value of plant-based diets for dogs. Based on his own data as well as the growing number of population studies and case reports surrounding this topic, he concluded that dogs can thrive on vegetarian diets, given that they are nutritionally complete and balanced, and may even experience a range of health benefits.
In fact, the longest-living dog in the Guinness Book of World Records is vegan! Bramble the collie lived to the ripe old age of 25, that's about 189 years in dog years!