High steaks: Should you feed your dog a vegan diet? Here is the view from a top pet nutritionist

When Anna Webb speaks, dogs listen. So should their people. The pet nutrionist, trainer and behaviourist regularly shares her wisdom with various BBC programmes, not least Europe’s only radio show dedicated to dogs, The Barking Hour. For Veganuary, Anna shares her knowledge on a dog’s diet and why veganism is not for our pooches

I cannot bare the thought of the unethical treatment of animals, and I’m not a fan of
industrial farming. I choose to be a vegetarian, but I wouldn’t impose my diet choices onto my dogs as I understand that we’re different species.

Is it fair to impose vegan or vegetarian diets on dogs if this isn’t species appropriate? I’m an omnivore whereas a dog is classified as a primary carnivore, a cat is an obligate carnivore and a rabbit is a herbivore, which is why no one would feed the bunny on steak!

My study with the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies clarified that dogs are biologically and physiologically designed to eat meat. Some classify dog as omnivores. Just because a dog will eat anything, as a natural born scavenger, this doesn’t mean they’re an omnivore.

Despite us domesticating our pooches for thousand of years, their teeth and the short length of their digestive tract and bowels have not changed. Unlike us, dogs have trouble digesting, discarding and processing a plant-based diet through their gut and their liver.

Conversely dogs digest and metabolise the proteins in meat much quicker and effectively than we do. The proteins dogs absorb from meat, rather than plants, are responsible for building and repairing the muscles and tissues.

Animal protein also provides dogs with the structure for the skin, hair, nails, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscle fibres. Meat contains the essential 10 amino acids that dogs need to thrive, which are either missing from plant-sourced protein or are not bio-available. Not least the essential amino acid Tryptophan, which promotes the release of the happy hormone, serotonin in the brain. Perhaps that’s why my tiny English Toy Terrier, Mr Binks looks so happy chomping through a raw meaty bone.

He’s proof that even small dogs enjoy using their teeth designed for this purpose. Dogs’ digestive systems are naturally more acidic than ours to function. Meat provides this acidity whereas plant-sourced proteins promote an alkaline PH.

The gut is responsible for over 70% of the immune system, it’s the number one defence mechanism against toxins and disease. It absorbs nutrition that fuels the body to survive and fight the ageing process. If the gut is compromised it can cause ill health like allergies, autoimmune conditions, even cancer. The proteins found in plants like un-sprouted and GMO grains, beans, legumes, and nuts can cause inflammation and damage the stomach lining.

It’s the combination of insecticides and pesticides as well as natural compounds found in plant proteins that protect them against parasites and fungi, but only serve to further distort a dog’s digestive tract.

Another big difference in our digestion is that we produce the starch enzyme Amylase in our saliva, which begins to ‘digest’ carbohydrates in our mouths. Whereas dogs only secrete Amylase in their pancreas, allowing limited time and availability to cope with plant-based foods. Opting for locally sourced, even organic meat is an answer to balance concerns of antibiotics that can travel down the meat food chain.

Since 2009 the availability of ready-made frozen raw complete meals has increased, giving lots of choice, making feeding raw fit into our convenience-led lifestyles: you simply thaw and serve. I opt for a responsible supplier like Poppy’s Picnic, Benyfit or Cotswold Raw to offer locally sourced or organic meat, and I choose novel protein sources like venison, wild boar as not being over-‘farmed’.

These complete frozen meals comprise the ideal ratio being minimum 70% meat, 10% offal and 20% fruit and vegetables. The aim being to mimic a dog’s ancestral diet.

We’re not living in a perfect world, from the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food veggie or not, it’s all tainted. Arable fields destroy hedgerows, the habitat for birds, bees and wildlife, while livestock omit carbon gases, both increasing climate change.

Ethically I feel it’s a tad ironic to feed dogs as vegans or vegetarians. My beef with mankind is compromising the well-being of our pets for an unsustainable world that we humans have created.

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