Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vegan Dog Food : Just Plain Wrong

On my Facebook page, I share various articles, blog posts, etc of interest to my fans.  These include news, crime & punishment, action alerts, pet food warnings (such as the chicken treats made in China), pet food recalls, and more.

Recently I shared an article about Ellen DeGeneres’ new dog food.  In the case of Halo pet food, not only is Ellen DeGeneres its celebrity endorser, she's also a co-owner.  The problem with Halo is that it is VEGAN.  Dogs are carnivores, and as such, they will not thrive on a vegan diet.

The reason for this post is the comments/questions posed by people who read the article title and my comment with the link, but maybe didn’t read the article itself.

I know dog are carnivores but couldn't they derive the protein from another source?

Not really.  Carbohydrates from plant matter require more time to break down, which requires a more complex digestive system.  Dogs’ intestinal tracts are much shorter than humans and plant-eating animals (such as cows), so they can’t process plant matter easily.  This is why whole (or chunked) vegetables tend to look very much coming out like they did going in.

Their teeth are designed more to tear than to chew.  Look at your dog’s teeth and compare them to yours, or those of a horse or cow.  We (and other plant eaters) have flat molars that grind up vegetables and grains.  Dogs don’t.  Dogs also don’t produce the salivary and pancreas enzymes necessary for the breakdown of the carbohydrates and starches found in plants.

Also playing into this is the bioavailability of protein from plant sources.  Only about 20% of the protein found in most of the vegetables and grains we might give to our dogs is available for biological use.  Animal protein varies between 70 and 80% bioavailable, and the protein in eggs is 100% bioavailable.

What about tofu/soy protein?  Unless it has been fermented, soy protein contains potent enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion. This can create significant amounts of gas, in addition to promoting pathological conditions of the pancreas, including cancer.  Soy is also high in allergens (some 28 different proteins present in soy have been found to bind to IgE antibodies). It's also worth noting that the more soy protein you eat, the more likely you are to develop allergies to it -- and the more severe those allergies are likely to become. Soy also blocks the absorption of important minerals such as calcium unless the phytates have been removed.

So while there is protein available in vegetables and grains, it’s not all that available (or good) in terms of nutrition.

I've read in many places that dogs are actually omnivores, like humans are.

Humans are true omnivores.  Dogs are scavenging carnivores, meaning they can survive eating vegetables and grains, but they are not designed to utilize them properly or thrive on them.

There’s a BIG difference between surviving and thriving.  Surviving means just getting by – getting just enough food and nutrients to not starve to death.  Thriving means the complete opposite – not only getting enough, but getting enough of the RIGHT food and nutrients to be healthy, energetic, beautiful, and in great condition (appropriate waistline as well as fat to lean ratio).

Many people, including human and animal doctors, tend to view animals’ nutritional needs in terms of human physiology and needs.  This is just plain wrong because animals do not have the same physiology or nutritional needs as we do.  Mother Nature created all species to consume and utilize specific diets.  This is why teeth, digestive systems, and nutrient utilization are different for all of them/us.

The bottom line is that feeding your dog a vegan diet will do more harm than good.  Dogs need the protein, fat and essential amino acids from animal meat.  Protein is a crucial component of every cell in your dog's body. Essential amino acids from high quality animal protein build healthy cells, organs, muscles, enzymes, and hormones.  Dietary fat provides energy, essential vitamins and fatty acids. Fatty acids from animal sources are important for healing, normal cell membrane synthesis, reproduction and a healthy coat and skin.

I’m not saying you should feed your dog an all-meat diet.  In today’s economy, doing so can be very expensive and more expensive than many of us can afford.  What you should do is buy the best quality dog food you can afford, and be choosy about the ingredients in it.  If you make your own food, like I do, you can include up to 20% (mine averages 15 to 16%) vegetables and grains without compromising your dog’s health.  I do make sure these are ‘overcooked’ (to the stage of being mushy), and puree them to make them a bit more digestible.  I also supplement with fish oil and a multi-vitamin made for dogs.  In the almost 9 months since I started making my pack’s food, their health and condition have improved, their coats and skin have improved, and issues such as yeasty ears, itchiness, and cracked pads have disappeared.  They also do not have any problems with fleas, ticks or other pests.

Most of us try to eat what is good for us to improve our health.  We should do no less for our dogs.  To do otherwise just does not make sense.  One side benefit of feeding your dog right is lower vet costs.  When your dog is healthier, they need to see the vet less.  And feeding them an appropriate diet may prevent major illness and/or disease in the future.  Food for thought!