Of course, Churchill said, it’s always wise to consult your vet about dog food products, vegan or meat-based. The market is full of them, she noted, but they are not all equal in quality.
The current study, funded by the food awareness organization ProVeg International, included more than 2,500 dog owners. Most, 54%, said they fed their dog conventional meat-based diets. One-third reported using raw meat diets, and 13% vegan diets.
Respondents generally used commercial pet foods, rather than homemade, according to lead researcher Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor of animal welfare at the University of Winchester Center for Animal Welfare in the United Kingdom.
Overall, half of respondents in the conventional-diet group said their dog had some type of health issue, versus 43% of those who used raw meat, and 36% in the vegan group.
Dogs eating raw meat made fewer visits to the vet. But that does not necessarily mean they were healthier, all three veterinarians stressed.
Vets generally warn against giving dogs raw meat, because of the risk of contamination with pathogens. So people in that raw-meat group may have tended to shun veterinarians’ advice, the experts said.
According to Knight, a growing number of companies are making high-quality vegan dog food products.
“We have sufficient confidence, scientifically, that dogs can be healthy — and indeed, thrive — on nutritionally sound vegan diets,” he said.
Churchill cautioned, though, that she would not recommend vegan diets for still-growing puppies or pregnant dogs, whose nutritional needs are greater. Plant-based diets, she noted, are less digestible because of the fiber content.
Again, Churchill said, it all comes back to talking to your vet about what products are right for your dog, and understanding that will change based on life stage.
Talking about portion size is a good idea, too.
“Dogs gorge, by nature,” Churchill said, and when they are constantly “seeking” food, that can be misread as true hunger.
Obesity is one of the top canine health issues. While there are multiple reasons, Churchill said, overeating and lack of exercise are prime contributors.