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Feeding Our Pets a Vegan Diet: An Ethical, Moral, and Legal Analysis by Carrie Faber

Veganism has increased in popularity over the last decade in our society. As humankind ventures to a more “vegan friendly lifestyle”, our most popular pets (dogs and cats) are subsequently joining this specified diet as well. Although there may be some cases where a medical reason for the elimination of animal products in a pet’s diet is needed, which we will further delve into, there are many moral aspects people consider when deciding to include their pet into their vegan lifestyle. Vegan advocate, author, and professor in law and philosophy, Gary L. Francione, even goes as far as to argue “if you think that animals matter morally, then you are committed to being a vegan” (Francione, 2021).

On the other side of the spectrum, there are animal professionals and advocates who warn there is a welfare, legal, and ethical dilemma to consider if choosing to feed vegan diets to dogs and cats. The Veterinary Nurse, an educational journal for veterinarians around the world, posted a peer-reviewed article describing their concerns: “feeding a vegan diet to dogs and cats significantly impacts their welfare as it puts them at undue risk of developing diet-induced disorders, leaving owners liable to prosecution if they are unwilling to adhere to expert recommendations” (Bennett, 2021). At first glance, the concerns on both sides of the “vegan pet” debate seems to be equally passionately argued; we will dissect and analyze if there truly is any ethical concern to feeding your pets a strictly vegan diet based on your associated dietary choices.

Adhering to a vegan diet is often morally driven or motivated by a health goal. Morally, people may choose to avoid animal products in their lifestyle due to compassion for the animals utilized as well as to lessen the environmental effects from meat processing factories for consumption. According to the Statista Research Department, published in January of 2022, about 2% of the United States population are vegan; 60% of the vegans statistically show to be female and it also consists of mostly younger generations like generation z and millennials (Statista, 2022).

Veganism is often a very personal and meaningful decision. Many individuals in the vegan community are enthusiastically committed about their diet and lifestyle, transferring without hesitancy to their children and pets. As the vegan diet gains in popularity, we can also see an increase in vegan pet foods becoming available, specifically for dogs and cats. In the scholarly journal, The Veterinary Record, Josh Loeb noticed that there are more vegan diets on the market than vegetarian diets and, in correlation, fewer vegetarians seem to adapt their dietary views onto their pets than vegans. Loeb “identified two brands of vegan cat food and more than 10 different brands of vegan dog food for sale…one-percent of vegetarians feed their dogs a vegetarian diet, but around one-third of vegans feed their dogs a vegan diet. That suggests vegans are keener than vegetarians to impose their value system on their pets” (Loeb, 2020).

With the uprising in vegan diets available for our pets, we are now observing our society in a new state of conflict. Could it be seen as morally wrong to understand the biological nutritional needs of a species, yet alter their diet with a similar, not as healthy food, so that it aligns with our human values? Can our pets truly thrive on a vegan diet? We are going to analyze the research on vegan diets formulated for cats and dogs, as well as their anatomy and physiology to discover if they can truly, biologically thrive on a vegan diet without any ethical concern for their health.

While interviewed for this research paper, veterinarian and canine health professor of Bergin University of Canine Studies, Dr. Susan Caputo DVM, enthusiastically provided her knowledge and candid opinion. Dr. Caputo stated, “A vegan diet will definitely kill the cat. They are obligate carnivores. They need animal products. That would be an ethical issue for sure. Now the dog is an omnivore. A facultative carnivore that can eat vegetables and fruits, but I don’t know about them thriving exactly without animal products. Even the vegetarian dog food diets I know actually have egg as an ingredient. A dog might survive, but would he thrive? I think that might actually be an ethical issue too. If you are switching just because of your views, with no medical need” (Caputo, 2022).

While looking into the dietary needs of both dogs and cats, Dr. Caputo’s information correlated with my own research. Cats are considered obligate carnivores, according to the literary review, Food Selection By the Domestic Cat, an Obligate Carnivore. “In contrast to pack-living animals such as the dog, and opportunistic omnivores such as the rat, the cat is generally able to maintain its normal body weight even when allowed access to palatable food by taking small meals and adjusting intake according to the energy density of the food(s) available. The most extreme adaptations to carnivory discovered to date lie in the taste buds of the facial nerve, which are highly responsive to amino acids and unresponsive to many mono- and disaccharides” (Bradshaw, 1996). Meat definitely looks to be essential in the cat’s diet; many similar studies further prove this relationship between food selection and nutrition for the modern feline.

In contrast, at initial glance, I did not find the same obvious conclusion when it came to dogs on a vegan diet. Some pet foods on the market are claiming to be vegetarian or vegan with less veterinarian support than it seems these food companies are actually advertising. When looking into the biologically required nutritional needs of dogs, their anatomy is incredibly insightful and the most compelling research on this subject appears to all agree at least on one thing: dogs are facultative carnivores. The definition of facultative carnivore, is essentially equivalent to that of an omnivore. According to the General Biology textbook by Boundless in the Digestive System section, “Facultative carnivores are those that also eat non-animal food in addition to animal food. Note that there is no clear line that differentiates facultative carnivores from omnivores; dogs would be considered facultative carnivores” (Boundless, 2022).

Scientists have come to agree that dogs domesticated primarily from the carnivorous Grey Wolf (Bhadra, 2015). With further analysis, the teeth and digestive system of the dog has been biologically designed through evolution to process raw meats alongside partially to fully digested vegetation in the stomach of their prey in the wild, exactly like their wolf descendants.. Even though we humans have evolved with dogs, manipulating a lot of their DNA by creating different breeds, the internal physiology and anatomy have not changed (Feldhamer, 1999). It is common knowledge in early sciences and veterinary medicine that the structure of the gut, teeth, and jaw are telltale signs of the diet of any species.

Dogs have a plethora of biological evidence that they exhibit carnivorous attributes such as a shorter digestive tract that is designed for breaking down proteins from bone and meat, large fangs and sharp molars that have been evolutionarily perfected for capturing, shredding and tearing up flesh; they have a jaw that can only move up and down instead of typical omnivores and vegetarian animals that primarily consume greens by grinding side to side. Founder of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy, Dr. Jeannette Thomason described that carnivores uniquely omit much chewing, unlike most other types of omnivores, due to having such acidic stomachs, they are designed to easily process large crushed chunks of meat (Thomason 2012).

Furthermore, all other omnivores produce a specific enzyme in their mouth called amylase, responsible for breaking down the starches and carbohydrates. Amylase is not found in the saliva of dogs, so even the starch heavy commercial dog foods might not be particularly in line with their true biological design after fully delving into the canine anatomy. A heavy carb diet requires the pancreas to perform more work than it was typically designed to do, leading to an increased risk of pancreatitis, dental disease, kidney disease, heart disease, bloat, cancers, and obesity (The National Academies Press, 2018).

You will still find some people, including veterinarians, who are adamant that dogs are designed to be highly adaptable dietarily with humans over the thousands of years we have had them. In fact, while researching where the bulk and loudest of these claims originated from, I was not surprised to see mostly pet food companies were defending the formulas they are creating; following the next diet trend, further blurring the line of what dogs should eat to live long and healthy lives, as well as potentially misrepresenting the results of actual research studies.

Vegan and vegetarian dog foods such as Wild Earth and V-Dog, are advertising “completely balanced proteins” in meals that are “100% plant based” with claims that studies are showing how optimal their formulas are, however I do not see as many legitimate scholarly literary reviews actually provided to further support their claims.

I emailed Wild Earth, an all vegan dog food company, asking for scientific studies that they could provide that backed their advertised claims; not only were most of the studies and articles written by themselves (created by their own food company bloggers), but the language is so heavily saturated in a commercially selling fashion that it looked like more of an advertisement arguing against their competitor, meat.

Wild Earth provided vague reasons why meat can be terrible for dogs, without clear scientific evidence to truly support their claims. In fact, the beginning of their response was, “The most dangerous ingredient in meat-based dog food is the meat itself. There have been over 180 recalls in pet food since 2009 and almost all of them are from the meat ingredients. Toxic chemicals, euthanasia drugs, animal growth hormones, and harmful bacteria are just some of the things found in the meat in dog food today. Read our series on the state of dog food” (Wild Earth, 2022). The language in Wild Earth’s responses intermixed with offered discounts to try their food, ensuring it is made from mushrooms and yeast, with more information posted on their own website to support their own claims.

Wild Earth mostly provided links that directed back to their blog, however they did provide one study that stood out to be more legitimate as a supportive piece of literature for them to use, as it actually came from a different source from their company. A 2016 study found 236 dogs with allergies to animal-based ingredients versus only 77 with allergies to plant-based ingredients (PLOS, 2022).While it is true that most food allergies in dogs usually surface from animal proteins like chicken, most dogs are also eating a diet with meat in it regardless, so the claim needs further inspection; it is common to see dogs with an intolerance to a particular protein, but not necessarily see sensitivity to another, like turkey or venison. It also is difficult to pinpoint that meat is the sole reason for contamination and not potentially residual food from the previous flavor being processed or even chemicals produced by the dog food manufacturing plant system.

Today, commercial dog food is vaguely regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), yet it still contains chemicals (carcinogens and synthetic preservatives) that are harmful such as propyl gallate, propylene glycol, ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene. In Natural Pet Cures, Dr. John Heinerman describes that “there are way too many chemicals in pet food that no one knows the side effects of… the pesticides, preservatives, and additives in pet food reprogram the organs so their functions behave differently. No one knows the full extent of the problem, but it's there, nevertheless” (Heinerman, 1998).

Vegan pet food companies often compare their formulas to companies that have been recalled countless times for poisoning, I noticed, such as Purina Dog Chow or Hill’s Science Diet; perhaps because they are lower in quality, the most popular food brands, and they are often promoted by veterinarians with a compensation for promotion. Wild Earth presented this same pattern, when looking into the scientific claims of them and most other vegan dog foods; they show how meat can be labeled as a hazardous ingredient in a dog’s diet, then provide their own research of dogs surviving on formulas from their own dog feeding trials.

V-Dog is a large vegan dog food company and blog that is often used as a scientific source for other companies or vegan advocates. The vast majority of scholarly research in defense of feeding a vegan diet to a dog are tied to a certain brand of food, claiming that they are safe and balanced in proteins for a dog to live off of. I finally found a thesis of master of science graduate, Lukas Andreas Kiemer, who designed a study that specifically tested the bloodwork and nutritional levels of dogs switched to a vegan diet (Kiemer, 2019). Although this study was found advertised from a vegan centered website, it looks to be a legitimate study that compared the health of 40 dogs, half eating vegan and half eating a meat-based diet, concluding that vegan diets could be as adequate as other commercial diets. I was suspicious, however, after reading the acknowledgement section that his research was heavily sponsored by vegan companies, including VegDog, for the vegan trial. Vegan advocate and veterinarian, Uwe Romberger, provided a lot of information, advice, and also volunteered some of his dogs to the study that already were accustomed to a vegan diet, which could be seen as providing an unwanted outlier or bias to the experiment.

All in all, the conclusion of Kiemer’s study was that there may be some concerns “when feeding a vegan diet, but there are also concerns when feeding a meat-based diet. In the six-week vegan trial, no significant differences were observed between the vegan or meat-fed group (p > 0.05). There are a multitude of factors influencing the quality and bioavailability in foodstuff, regardless of the source…however, as observed in the results of this study, a dog can be fed a vegan diet that is well-balanced and nutritionally adequate. Vegan dog food companies are continually improving their formulas, making it easier for consumers to feed a nutritional, well-balanced vegan diet” (Kiemer, 2019). I did notice that most vegan pet food companies will provide information comparing to not just meat-based diets, but typically heavily processed poor quality commercial meat-based diets that have a lot more nutritional concerns than the meat itself like Dr. John Heinerman had described.

If formulated vegan diets are providing trials that “prove” they just barely meet the same quality, if not better, than the popular commercial dog foods on the market today, does it matter what side of the spectrum you feed your dog? Processed kibble, despite it being vegan or not, is still being heated up and formulated in a technique that shows the quality of ingredients degrades (Carter, 2014). Perhaps there is more room for studies to compare vegan diets with fresh, balanced whole foods (including meat and vegetables), to see if there is a larger difference in health results.

The closest I could find was a study called, Vegan versus meat-based dog food: Guardian-reported indicators of health, which stated, “Dogs fed conventional diets appeared to fare worse than those fed either of the other two diets. Dogs fed raw meat appeared to fare marginally better than those fed vegan diets. However, there were statistically significant differences in average ages. Dogs fed raw meat were younger, which has been demonstrated to be associated with improved health outcomes. Additionally, non-health related factors may have improved apparent outcomes for dogs fed raw meat, for three of seven general health indicators” (Knight, 2022). They openly acknowledge their limitations, that some of their data might not have been the best, but they conclude explaining that “the healthiest and least hazardous dietary choices for dogs are nutritionally sound vegan diets.” Euro News also published an article that uses this study as a warning against the insufficient amount of research on vegan dog foods (Hurst, 2022).

President of the British Veterinary Association, Justine Shotton states, “There is currently a lack of robust data mapping the health consequences of feeding a vegan diet to a large number of dogs over many years” (Hurst, 2022). We may need more research on dogs truly thriving and perhaps even increasing longevity on a vegan diet as time moves on, since there has not been enough time or data to know for certain.

Although there is plenty of support that fruits and vegetables are beneficial for the dog, I am discovering a lot more articles supporting the nutritional need for naturally occurring nutrients found in meat, warning away from the trend in vegan feeding to dogs. Nutritional Inadequacies in Commercial Vegan Foods for Dogs and Cats, shows that dietary deficiencies are a very serious concern and can lead to health risks for both species. They further warn vegan food manufacturers to “review their formulations to ensure the nutritional adequacy” of their food to prevent many health problems (Zafalon, 2020).

Regardless of the type of food you are providing for your dog, it must legally meet all of the nutritional requirements. As previously stated, AAFCO is an organization responsible for regulating safe practices in the pet food industry; it consists of government officials that dictate how and which animal consumables can be sold; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also regulates pet food manufacturers. It is not uncommon to hear about people suing dog food companies that have been recalled for contamination, or for owners to sue companies for false advertisements and claims; pets getting sick after consumption looks to be the most common reason for lawsuits against pet food companies. Regulators like AAFCO, have also been in the legal spotlight for questionable practices. In 2017, AAFCO was subpoenaed to provide information to a law firm that was going to represent a dog owner suing Ainsworth Pet Food/Racheal Ray Nutrish for mis-marketing with words like “natural” when they utilized synthetic preservatives and artificial additives (GRIMM v. APN, INC, 2017).

Emails from AAFCO were leaked, prior to their subpoena response to the pet owner’s attorney, showing their representative providing advice to Ainsworth’s attorney regarding the coming lawsuit; this information caused a lot of mistrust and scrutiny towards the organization (Thixton, 2020). Some of the questions explored whether a large organization with such authority should communicate with a pet food company in regards to a consumer lawsuit. Furthermore, many pet food companies that are sued and in need of yet another recall, such as Hill’s, Purina, and Racheal Ray don’t seem to change much of their practices or misrepresentations of ingredients when back to selling more. According to the FDA, Blue Buffalo has the most recalls out of the major pet food companies, yet still remains one of the most advertised brands on the shelves at your local pet store (FDA, 2022).

On another side of the spectrum, there is an increase of cases and fines to pet owners that do choose to feed their dogs vegan. In Australia, it was reported that some families have received fines up to $6,000 and even have had their pets taken away. For one particular case, it took multiple reports to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and visits from their officers to eventually charge the family for animal cruelty based on their obvious malnourished state from feeding a strictly vegan diet. Upon the home inspections, it was described as seeing the dogs “emaciated” and were suffering from many medical conditions including severe calcium deficiencies, after veterinarian Dr. Paul Matthews evaluated them. One out of the two dogs, ended up being euthanized for his life-altering medical conditions; the owners were also banned from owning dogs for three years (Lock, 2021).

Most animal cruelty cases, especially when it comes to malnourishment, veterinarians are consulted to evaluate and relay their professional diagnosis and recommendations for treatment; there are a lot of concerns expressed from veterinarians about the quick popularity of vegan pet foods. Sherry Sanderson, an animal nutrition professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia described her concerns with vegan pet foods and is not comfortable recommending them just yet. There are some ingredients such as kelp and legumes that can produce very similar proteins, however, dogs need two fatty acids that are found in fish oils and Sanderson states that it would be too risky and would “be very difficult to feed a truly vegan diet to a puppy or a pregnant bitch. Right now, DHA [docosahexaenoic acid] and EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid] are only required in the diet for puppies or pregnant bitches, but my guess is that down the road, that’s also going to be a required nutrient for adult dogs.” Sanderson warns that not enough time has passed for research to truly show the health effects (Capstone, 2019).

The FDA has been investigating the possible nutritional ties to legumes and Diolatedcardio Myopothy (DCM), which leads to congestive heart failure. Whatever the true cause may be, this example of pet food trends from grain-free to vegan diets not being fully tested or on the market for long enough periods of time to understand their true effects. Sanderson blames the “irresponsible science from pet food producers for the increase in cases. You need extensive and long-term studies done in dogs to show that it’s going to be providing what it needs and not causing problems. What we’ve seen right now with the surge in all these [diets] is they formulated foods and then used consumers’ pets as their test subjects.” (Capstone, 2019). Veterinarians and nutritionists seem to be concerned with the quality of research that is going into many dog foods today, but especially drastically altered diets such as vegan and vegetarian; it looks like we might have to see how the health and overall longevity is for those that choose to feed a vegan diet under the guidance, hopefully, of a veterinarian or nutritionist.

Overall, it looks to be a fairly controversial debate on whether we should continue to explore and further evolve the diet of our canine companions towards a vegan diet. Unlike our obligate carnivorous feline companions, dogs do seem to be capable of living off of a scientifically balanced vegan diet; they will not die within days or weeks. According to most canine professionals, however, I do see a common concern for the quality of the research some food companies are currently using to support their claims. If companies are going to continue selling this diet for dogs, I would like to see larger and longer-termed studies referenced to delve deeper into how it may help or hinder their health and longevity. Furthermore, I think it would be beneficial for more of these types of feeding trial studies to compare to a completely balanced fresh (or cooked) whole food diet and see what the results may tell us.

Works Cited

  1. Bennett, Lauren Katie. “The Legal, Ethical and Welfare Implications of Feeding Vegan Diets to Dogs and Cats.” The Veterinary Nurse, vol. 12, no. 3, 2021, pp. 108–114.

  2. Bhadra, Anandarup, et al. “The Meat of the Matter: A Rule of Thumb for Scavenging Dogs?” Ethology Ecology & Evolution, vol. 28, no. 4, 2015, pp. 427–440.

  3. Boundless. “Digestive Systems - Herbivores, Omnivores, and Carnivores.” General Biology, Davis, CA. LibreTexts Libraries.

  4. Bradshaw, John W.S., et al. “Food Selection by the Domestic Cat, an Obligate Carnivore.” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology, vol. 114, no. 3, 1996, pp. 205–209.

  5. Caputo, Susan. “Vegan Pet Food.” 3 Oct. 2022.

  6. Carter, Rebecca A., et al. “Awareness and Evaluation of Natural Pet Food Products in the United States.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 245, no. 11, 2014, pp. 1241–1248.,

  7. FDA.“Recalls & Withdrawals.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Medicine Center for Veterinary, 16 Nov. 2022.

  8. Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999. Print.

  9. Francione, Gary L. Why Veganism Matters: The Moral Value of Animals. Columbia University Press, 2021.

  10. Heinerman, John. Natural Pet Cures: Dog & Cat Care the Natural Way. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall Press, 1998. Print.

  11. Hurst, Luke. “Should Dogs Go Vegan” Euronews. 14 Apr. 2022.

  12. Kiemer, Lukas. “Vegan Diet and Its Effects on the Dog’s Health.” Integrated Studies of Veterinary Medicine, 2019.

  13. Knight, Andrew, et al. “Vegan versus Meat-Based Dog Food: Guardian-Reported Indicators of Health.” PLOS ONE, vol. 17, no. 4, 2022.

  14. Lock, Samantha. “Couple Who Fed Puppies Only Vegan Food Are Banned From Owning Pets, Fined.” Newsweek, 5 June 2021.

  15. Loeb, Josh. “The Trouble with Vegan Cats and Dogs.” Veterinary Record, vol. 186, no. 7, 22 Feb. 2020, pp. 197–197.

  16. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2018.

  17. PLOS. "Vegan diets for dogs may be linked with better health, and could be less hazardous, than meat-based diets: Survey findings may support nutritionally complete vegan dog diets over raw or conventional meat diets." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2022.

  18. Statista. “Topic: Veganism and Vegetarianism in the U.S.” Statista, Statista Research Department, 28 Jan. 2022,

  19. Thomason, Dr. Jeanette. "Dogs are Carnivores." The Whole Dog. Web. 28 Mar 2012.

  20. Thixton, Susan. “One Email That Questions Everything About AAFCO.” Truth About Pet Food, 22 Oct. 2020.

  21. United States District Court Central District of California. GRIMM v. APN, INC. 2 Oct. 2017. Class Action.

  22. “Wild Earth.” 10 Nov. 2022.

  23. Zafalon, Rafael Vessecchi, et al. “Nutritional Inadequacies in Commercial Vegan Foods for Dogs and Cats.” PLOS ONE, vol. 15, no. 1, 2020,

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