Could vegan dogs help solve climate change?
Research suggests plant-based diets could have environmental benefits — but veterinarians are divided
Pet nutritionist Joanna Rickard chose to go vegan for the health benefits and to keep a low carbon footprint — but she would never force her beloved pups Chia and Edith to do the same.
"They can survive off a plant-based diet, but they don't thrive," said Rickard. "The raw diet seems to be the absolute best in terms of overall health for dogs."
Rickard is one of many pet owners aboard the raw food hype train — a trendy diet made from raw meats and bones proponents say has significant health and wellness benefits.
But the dishes also come at an environmental cost.
A recent study suggests that meaty pet foods are a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States alone, up to 70 million tons of carbon are released annually from the production and consumption of pet food.
The study's author, Greg Okin, says switching pets over to a vegetarian diet could be one way to curb emissions — but veterinarians are divided over how healthy going vegan might be for man's best friend.
"If you asked six different vets, you'd probably get seven different answers," said Dr. Kathy Kramer, a veterinarian at Vancouver Animal Wellness Hospital.
Kramer says there's an ongoing debate between professionals as to what constitutes an ideal doggy diet. However, she says its hard to dismiss how beneficial the raw food diet can be. After all, dogs need the protein.
"Dogs primarily have gotten leftovers from the campfires," she said. "Going back from the dawn of time, they've been scavengers and they eat what they need to eat — and thousands of years of evolution hasn't really changed that. They still have the canines in their teeth that are designed to rip flesh."
"But I've seen some dogs do really well on vegetarian diets too," she said. "I think it all depends on individual body chemistry."
Vegetarian options are few and far between for dogs, and Kramer says there isn't a lot of research that's been done to prove whether or not they're healthy.
Laura Simonson, co-founder of the Vancouver-based Dogg pet food company, is trying to bridge the gap.
Simonson is part of a team behind aiming to develop a plant-based dog food. The group has partnered with several local veterinarians to run feeding trials on 20 dogs.
She says so far there haven't been any health defects or declines in energy, and, in many cases, there have been improvements.
"We've had really excellent results with respect to skin and hair issues, which actually reversed," she said, adding that dermatological problems are often linked to high-protein diets.
The blend is made from whole foods including chickpeas, lentil and sweet potatoes. She says they also add food supplements to ensure the meal is balanced.
"There's no question the emissions have come from factory farming. [Plant-based food] can make a huge environmental impact and restore animal welfare."