We all know that a healthy lifestyle for humans requires giving our body what it requires – activity and nutritious food. Common sense along with an increasing body of scientific evidence tells us that means a diet of whole foods. Simply that is food that remains close to the way nature produced it – fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. As food is processed it loses the lovely vital nutrients we need for health and longevity.
But what about our four legged friends, how do their needs differ and how can we best meet their needs? Raw, commercial, home cooked, meat based, vegetarian, vegan – the options are plentiful and it can be agonizing trying to decide which is right.
Honey had different diets at various stages from raw to plant only.
Can dogs be vegan? No. They can’t. Clever and all as Fido is he can’t make an ethical decision. He may be plant based though. Veganism is often confused with plant based lifestyles but is quite different. Veganism is a lifestyle that aims to minimise harm to other animals by eliminating any products or activities that involve their use and comes from an animal rights prospective. Being plant based derives from healthy eating and focuses on consuming whole foods while avoiding or minimizing animal products and processed foods.
Both dogs and humans are omnivores and can consume a wide variety of foods. We think of dogs as being like a tame wolf and feel they should have a similar diet. However dogs have genes that enable them to digest starch and glucose readily including wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes. Most of us feed our dogs a grain based diet without actually realising it. Commercial dog foods are just that, the meat content is low and those meaty looking chunks in wet food are actually textured vegetable or grain proteins.
Commercial dog foods are only around since 1860 but gained popularity after WWII following an aggressive campaign by manufacturers decrying table scraps as dangerous and extolling the virtues of canned food. The claims were not based on scientific evidence but on psychological marketing techniques. For most of us we’ve now lived in an age where commercial products are the standard for our dogs but a few short generations ago dogs were feed exclusively on table scraps. They ate bread, potatoes and vegetables just like their human companions. Meat was a luxury and families might have eaten it once a week with Fido getting the bones. He was most likely a working dog too and survived and thrived on a lifestyle of exercise and unprocessed foods.
Bramble was a minor celebrity in vegan circles and is long remember since her passing in 2003 at the ripe old age of 27. A blue merle collie, she was raised by a vegan on a plant diet in Somerset, UK. She was given a home cooked meal of organic vegetables, rice and lentils once a day, had regular long walks and psychological stimulation. It is impossible to know what part of her lifestyle or genetics most contributed to her longevity but either way a meat free diet certainly did not harm her.
I have feed dogs in my care diets from 100% plant to raw meat. Generally the dogs were not with me long enough to ascertain any benefits from a particular diet with one exception. Trigger was with me for 7 weeks. An older dog who was very overweight and had arthritis in his back knee. He had access to as much Yarrah vegan kibble as he wanted, a home cooked meal of grains, vegetables and lentils once a day and 2-3 short walks. The commercial treats and processed meats he was used to were strictly banned. During his time with me he lost 7lbs, his coat and skin improved (regular baths with a medicated shampoo and grooming), his eyes became shiny, he had an improved zest for life and loved his walks, eventually being able to do an impressive run to catch up with me.
For now anecdotal evidence is the best available when deciding on what to feed Fido. Reputable well designed studies don’t exist and likely will never as there is no commercial benefit in them. Commercial food is handy, cheap and nutritionally balanced if the manufacturers are to be believed so has its place. Too many processed foods are bad for us in the long-term and probably it is the same for Fido. Giving Fido table scraps and home cooked food is something that we should try to opt for more. He will love it and along with vital exercise, playtime and cuddles his quality of life will improve and hopefully his longevity. Getting the same old meal day after day is boring so he will enjoy the variety and new smells, tastes and textures. You can simply add some extra to the pot when making your own dinner or make up a one pot wonder of ¼ starch (rice, pasta, quinoa, potatoes) ¼ green veg, ¼ sweet coloured veg and ¼ lentils (beans or legumes are great too). Dogs also enjoy various herbs and spices added to their meals. If you want to get adventurous a great little cook book is “Plant based recipes for dogs” by Heather Coster. Some of the simple recipes are suitable for children to make. Cooking for Fido and watching him enjoy the food fun for everyone. You can sample all the food too and see what flavours you both enjoy. Protein balls are all the rage so here is a sample recipe:-
½ cup tahini (sesame seed paste, peanut butter also works)
1 small banana, mashed
1 cup toasted rolled oats
1 tbsp nutritional yeast (nothing like bread yeast, it has a cheesy flavour and can be omitted if you have none)
1 tsp cinnamon
Mix the tahini and banana in a bowl until well combined.
Add the rest of the ingredients until a sticky mixture is formed (add more oats if too wet)
Roll into balls depending on the size of Fido. Place slightly apart in an airtight container and freeze.
Alternatively press into a silicone ice cube tray.
Give straight from the freezer as a treat Fido will love.
My current canine roommate is a Jack Russell Terrier named Ransi. She enjoys a plant based diet. Favourites are pears, apples, clementines, strawberries, sweet picked beetroot and bananas but tomatoes are refused. A tasty treat while preparing dinner is raw carrot, turnip, sweet potato or butternut squash. She likes but doesn’t get too often vegan cheese, Quorn fillets and Linda McCartney burgers as they are highly processed but mainly cos they are mine all mine. She loves rice cakes even more so when topped with peanut butter, licking out the Alpro yoghurt containers and when I make a smoothie she gets a share. A meal that didn’t go to plan and won’t be eaten by me can be a relished meal for her (such as the large pot of pumpkin soup recently. She gets table scraps and specifically cooked meals along with commercial kibble and wet food (Zooplus.ie, Amazon, veggiepets.com) and treats (Amazon, Jolleys, Pets at Home).
A quick and easy way to introduce new foods is to forget the Kong filler at the shop and instead try
- Plain soya yoghurt, mashed banana and peanut butter
- Cooked rice mashed with marmite and frozen
- Mashed chickpeas and/or any variety of bean
- Mashed cooked broccoli and carrot
- Melon, berries and banana blended
- Yoghurt with pureed fruit and freeze
- Stewed apple and mashed banana