What It’s Like To Raise a Vegan Dog

Chewy Vegan Dog Sweet Potato Treat

Our decision to adopt a dog, let alone having a vegan dog was not something we took lightly. We see the commitment of raising an animal not too dissimilar to raising a child.

Any living being that we bring into our home, we want to ensure that they have an enriched life.

However, for us, there’s another layer of requirements. For Maša and I, our goal each day is to live out our values, specifically minimalism and veganism.

At the same time, we felt compelled to bring a dog into our home. It’s something we had been thinking about for years up until this point. It was time…

But one thing that was holding us back was the uncertainty of raising a vegan dog.

In the end, our emotions overcame our values, and we brought Chewy into our lives in May 2017.

We adopted him from his previous family at the ripe age of 11 months.

It took some weeks for Chewy and frankly, for us to acclimate to each other. In that process, we fed Chewy the leftover meat-based dog food the previous family gave us.

Even though the ingredients of this food horrified us, with all the change that was happening in Chewy’s life, we wanted to keep some familiarity with his food at least.

As he settled into our home, the trial and error towards a vegan diet began.

Fear led us to conformity (feeding our dog meat).

 

Like most new dog parents, we did a lot of research online and in person about breed tendencies, best food, toys, beds and everything in between.

I remember our first visit to a large retail pet store in our neighbourhood. We were overwhelmed by the massive range of dog food on the shelves.

At the time, we were experimenting with how Chewy responded to different raw foods, whether it was carrot sticks, rice crackers, mincemeat, or fruit. The results were mixed, and the pet store assistant insisted that this is quite normal, particularly for Oodle (dogs with some level of Poodle DNA) breeds, as they tend to be picky eaters.

So with this knowledge, we continued to buy meat-based dog food because we were too fearful to switch Chewy over to a full-blown vegan diet.

But now that we were on this meat path for our dog, we wanted to give him the best of the best—which leads us to the next evolution of our journey towards raising a vegan dog.

We fed our dog raw meat because we thought that was the best thing to do.

 

In the midst of Chewy’s transition, we watched a documentary on Netflix called Pet Fooled. The film looks at the unregulated pet food industry and its negative impact on animals’ health.

It was eye-opening at the same time not surprising of the studies found regarding the pet food industry. It’s quite disgusting to know that a lot of the food we intrust on the shelves are actually harming our furry friends.

In any case, the key takeaway from the documentary was that a raw meat diet was optimal for dogs.

The prospect of this idea was horrifying to us. Packed traditional dog food was testing in itself, but buying and preparing raw meat in a vegan household was hard to swallow.

But again, our love for Chewy overcame our values, and Maša proceeded to source organic meat from a local butcher.

I remember the night that we first fed Chewy raw meat. Keep in mind that up until this point, he was still getting used to his new home, and the stress of such change crippled his appetite.

So when Maša put raw bit sized chunks of beef with some grated veggies in his bowl, we didn’t know what to expect. What happened next, was spectacular. Chewy inhaled the food in seconds, licking his bowl until it was shiny. This moment produced so much internal conflict for us.

On the one hand, we felt relieved that we found a formula that was not only scientifically healthy and “natural” for our little dog, but it was also a meal he was clearly passionate about.

Conversely, having raw animal flesh in our home as vegans was a slap in the face.

We couldn’t handle bringing raw animal flesh into our home.

 

We were challenged in so many ways to feed our dog meat, especially after being vegan for three years at the time. It pushed us so hard to the point where we questioned whether we made the right decision to adopt a dog.

For a couple of weeks, this was our process:

  1.  Go to the butcher to buy raw organic pet meat
  2.  Scoop it out of the plastic bag and put it in his bowl
  3.  Store the meat in the bottom of our fridge
  4.  Sometimes we would buy meat from the supermarket and cook it for him

Now to a non-vegan, these steps don’t seem like a big deal. But for us, it was one of the most challenging experiences we’ve faced so far as vegans.

The touching of the meat, cutting it with our knives, scooping it with our spoons, washing meat down our drains, and the smell. Oh, the smell! It smelled like death. I guess because that’s what it is.

But even after this brutal process of feeding our dog meat, after a little while, Chewy went Oodle on us and stopped eating his meals.

Those picky, picky Oodles, huh.

We were frustrated but at the same time relieved. Chewy’s pickiness gave us some hope that we could experiment with a plant-based diet. At this point, we would use any excuse to avoid dealing with dead animal flesh.

We started researching vegan dog food.

 

We know from DNA studies that dogs evolved from wolves around 15,000 years ago.

And of course, we know that wolves are carnivores. They have pointy teeth instead of a boxed jaw like omnivores and herbivores. Wolves also chop their food instead of grinding their teeth when eating.

Based on this logic, it’s safe to assume that dogs like their ancestors are carnivores.

However, we’re talking about 15,000 years ago! Dogs have evolved to enjoy non-meat food.

They show omnivorous tendencies despite being technically considered carnivores. We’ve domesticated them so much that they don’t resemble the wolves that they once were thousands of years prior where they hunted their own food. Most dogs these days wouldn’t survive in the wild.

In fact, in 2013 a Collie by the name of Bramble lived to 27 years (189 dogs years!) held the Guinness World Record for being the oldest dog at the time, living on a vegan diet of rice, lentils and vegetables.

Vegan Dog Bramble copy

This was enough evidence for us to explore the benefits of a vegan diet for our dog. Of course, everyone’s situation is different and I would encourage you to do your own research and consult with your vet regarding the specific needs of your pet dog.

If you’re interested in reading up on studies on this topic, check out this paper.

The next challenge was finding a vegan dog food that was not only healthy for Chewy but also something that he would eat.

A conversation at the Naturally Good Expo.

 

After we researched the benefits of plant-based foods for dogs, we needed to find a go-to vegan dog food product.

When we were running our online store, we would attend an annual event in Sydney called the Naturally Good Expo. It’s a supplier exhibition for natural health products and brands.

In 2016, before having Chewy, we connected with a vegan dog food brand called V-dog. Even though we didn’t have a dog at the time, we were curious about what ingredients they used in their products.

So in June 2017, only a couple of months after adopting Chewy, we had another opportunity to check out V-dog. But this time with the goal of finding a solution.

We spoke to their rep who was this down-to-earth young guy who had four rescue dogs at home, all eating V-dog. It was V-dog that gave two of his dogs another life, after being sick, which ultimately inspired him to work for this company.

But what was impressive was the ingredient list in their vegan kibble which you can check out here. We had experience researching ingredients from our business so we were pleased to see that this product ticked all of the boxes.

Note: We’re not affiliated with V-dog, we just love their brand and what they stand for. If you’re interested, click here to see a list of alternative vegan dog food brands.

The challenge of getting an Oodle to eat vegan dog food.

 

So we were sold on the V-dog, but was Chewy?

We did the same thing most responsible dog parents would do to prevent digestive problems, and gradually mixed V-dog into his current diet.

Initially, Chewy would eat around the vegan food and occasionally nibble on it. Eventually, we lost patience with him and after we ran out of his old food and gave him no option but to eat V-dog.

It was a war of attrition which required willpower to not give in to our stubborn pooch. On day two of the standoff, he gave in and started eating the kibble.

From that day on, he persisted with the food with the addition of regular plant-based treats as well as bite-size servings of the food we eat.

This is not a blissful story of how our dog suddenly fell in love with this mix of food. It was a persistent grind, but well worth it in the end.

We didn’t do this to make Chewy’s life hard. It’s quite the opposite. We know that in the long run, as evidenced by 27-year-old Bramble, that a plant-based diet was going to improve Chewy’s overall health. His energy is high, his coat is very healthy, and his digestion is excellent.

Chewy Vegan Dog Broccholi Stalk Treat

Dealing with judgement when you have a vegan dog.

 

I remember when I first became vegan, I would avoid telling people because I hated the feeling of being judged.

Over time, I became comfortable talking about my values and why I choose to live a cruelty-free lifestyle.

That was nothing compared to the judgement you receive when people discover your dog is vegan. Sure, if you decide to make these choices, that’s on you. But when you are responsible for a being that is dependent on you, i.e. pets and children, things get personal.

You know what though, I totally understand why people would feel horrified that we don’t feed our dog meat. But at the end of the day, we take full responsibility for our decisions whether it’s for Chewy or ourselves.

I will say, however, that the misconceptions people have about a vegan diet for humans a true for dogs as well. Tribal knowledge has penetrated our culture so profoundly that we struggle to broaden our perspective when the status quo is challenged.

In the end, we only tell people our dog is vegan if they ask. If a stranger at the dog park offers Chewy a non-vegan treat, we politely decline without an explanation.

Friends and family see how healthy and happy Chewy is and while they have their reservations they can physically see he’s doing well.

We know that vegan dogs will become more widely accepted as the veganism movement continues to grow.

The impact of vegan dogs.

 

There are approximately 500 million pet dogs on the planet, and the pet food industry in the US alone spends over 40 billion dollars on dog food each year.

Think about how many animal lives could be saved each year with the adoption of vegan dog food. The potential impact is massive!

What’s exciting is that new products and brands are coming out all the time to help our furry friends. We’re only just getting started.

Now I say all of this not to be ignorant. I’m just excited that dogs can thrive on a vegan diet. In saying that, Masa and I have heard the odd person express that they have had some issues transitioning their dog to a plant-based diet. We didn’t probe to find out exactly what they were feeding their dogs, but as humans, it’s possible that a strict vegan diet is not suitable for every domesticated dog.

Now, over to you.

What has been your experience raising a vegan dog? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

28 comments… add one
  • Bronwyn 29/07/2018

    This is a wonderful article. Thank you for sharing your experiences and for the useful resources!

  • Johnny D 29/07/2018

    Akin to the comments of Bronwyn – wonderful article, resources and above all open honesty. Thank you, the 3 of you 🙂

  • Sally 29/07/2018

    Thank you for this fantastic, informative and encouraging article. We live in Portugal and we have two very happy and healthy vegan dogs, Bunny and Sheba. Bunny does catch the occasional lizard! but she loves the vegan food (mostly home made) . Sheba is a puppy and at the moment we feed her organic eggs we buy in our local market to supplement her vegan food…but your article has encouraged me to slowly wean her off the eggs. We give them both a really good vegan supplement which comes in a powdered form…( I can send details of the German supplier if anyone would like to find out more) and we have introduced them to the vegan kibble, which they like and which makes food preparation less time consuming. Thank you again for your post this morning and for sharing so much of your experiences as minimalist vegans…. Chewy looks really lovely and happy!

    • Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, Sally. It sounds like Bunny and Sheba live a wonderful life! We would love for you to share your German supplier for vegan supplements. Thanks again.

  • Lyn 29/07/2018

    Very interesting article, I struggle with this same decision. Our 7 month old Labradoodle just went raw. I considered vegan, but there’s new evidence showing heart issues in dogs that go grain free, and they think it has to do with the high use of other carbs. So I’m afraid to try it…

    • Hi Lyn, I totally understand your concerns. When an animals life is dependant on you, it adds pressure. I would encourage you to continue to do your own research and perhaps introduce some plant-based foods in addition to the raw foods? All the best!

  • Hope 29/07/2018

    Hello!
    I’ve had 3 dogs all raised on vegan foods. They love VDog and I also use Honest Kitchen base mixes to add different flavors and variety for them. Sadly, I be lost 2 of my pack to issues unrelated to their diets, but I see no reason to continue my future pups on a vegan diet. Thank you for touching on the issue of ‘judgement’ from others. I have experienced a little of that, however my dogs’ overall great health and appearance are proof that dogs can thrive on a plant based diet.

    • Hi hope, thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. Sorry to hear about the loss of dogs. I think you’re spot on. Great health and energy dogs display are strong indicators that a plant-based diet can work.

  • Joane 29/07/2018

    I don’t have a dog, but I have two cats. I’m vegan, but they’re not. I honestly don’t know if I would ever raise a dog vegan, though. My ideals are mine and mine alone, but that said, I DO agree that the pet food industry is destroying our beloved furry friends. ???? For that reason alone (independent of my personal ethics) I would consider a vegan diet for my cats..and while some cats thrive as vegans, it’s too risky, especially for the males (of which I have one). Until I see very strong CONSISTENT evidence that my babies won’t ever be harmed on a plant-based diet, I have to keep giving them what they’re designed to have as obligate carnivores. I just wish there was a better way that I knew would work for sure, because the pet food industry truly sucks. ????

    • Hi Joane, I get your internal struggle with this topic. We don’t have cats and haven’t done much research, so I can’t comment on what is optimal for them. There’s a lot of information out there, so it does make it hard to know what is best. It’s not too dissimilar to human nutrition 😉 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Rhea 29/07/2018

    I am allergic to both dogs and cats. I have two pet rabbits. Nicholas is a shelter rescue; Daffodil, a county fair “rescue”. She might have been in a stew pot or used for breeding if we didn’t buy her that day. Both are naturally vegan. We share a carrot in the morning. It’s delightful to sit down on the floor with them in the evening and share a basket of fresh berries. Nick is like a cat and is often aloof. Daffodil is social like a dog and is happy to greet me when I get home. Shopping for their produce helps me remember to purchase more for me and avoid becoming a junk food vegan.

    • Nicholas and Daffodil sound adorable, Rhea! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m sure Daffodil is grateful every day for what you did her.

  • Anja 30/07/2018

    I’ve had a similar journey of overcoming my own fears and at times very hard judgement from (now past) friends when transitioning my four rescue dogs to a vegan diet. Many people simply don’t want to believe it is possible to feed dogs on a carefully designed vegan diet (a) because it makes them somehow feel good about themselves to ffed raw meat (call it the sexy factor) and (b) there are prominent online vets with loud and persistent voices telling folks it’s cruel and harmful to feed vegan. To be sure, these vets have discovered it’ much easier to make a living by working for an online business (e.g., mercola) and perpetuate common main stream ideas, i.e., telling people what they want to hear. You best bet when it comes to animal nutrition is to consult an independent, board certified veterinarian. Tufts university, e.g., has some interesting info. Not tha they advocate for vegan, however, they do confirm (as many other truly science based sources) that it is possible to feed dogs a healthy vegan diet. A major problem with a vegan diet is that many folks feed a home made diet which is almost guaranteed to lack in vital nutrients, regardless of whether its vegan or not. Ive been feeding vegan now for over two years (and Very low meat in the years prior), and my vet, who was sceptical at first has been impressed with my dogs’ health.

    • Hi Anja, thank you for sharing your experience. It would’ve been tough dealing with all of that judgement when transitioning four dogs. You’re absolutely right about designing a vegan diet for your dog, to ensure they’re getting all of the nutrients that they need. And much like a vegan diet for humans, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there which we all must work through. Thanks again.

  • Courtney 30/07/2018

    What a wonderful article! I have been a vegan for two years and have a 6 year old Japanese Spitz who I feed on a vegan diet. I’ve had a lot of people react badly to the idea of feeding my dog vegan food and people love to comment on how dogs are a carniverous species, which forces me to tell them that they are actually omnivores and repeat the story about the oldest living dog being vegan which usually makes them grumble but shut up in the end.

    I did so much research before transferring my dog to a vegan diet to make sure it was healthy for him – after all it is my choice and not his. But my dog loves vegan food and I feed him vegan pet which I get delivered. Luckily he will eat pretty much everything I give him (except leafy greens – he hates those!) but he is unfortunately a bit of a hunter. He loves to chase possoms, cats, and kangaroos and I once saw him kill a rat in front of me. Needless to say I was very mad at him that day and told him, “Don’t you know you’re a vegan?!”

    In the end, you have to be comfortable with what you feed your dog. It’s not his choice but in the same way we grow up with values embedded in us these are the values I will give to him. As long as its healthy and sustainable for the dog being a vegan, and you pout the time and effort into researching what you are giving them having a vegan pet is a wonderful choice!

    • Hi Courtney, thank you for sharing your story and for bringing so much passion! Your right in saying that we need to own our decisions once we’ve done the research. Regarding the hunting, animals are going to do what they’re going to do. Chewy isn’t a hunter but he like any dog, he likes to track down bones when we’re out on walks. Thanks again for sharing.

  • melissa 31/07/2018

    Wow! I was so surprised to see this article in my email today, but a great kind of surprised.
    I’ve actually had so many issues with my lovely 13-month-old Shih Tzu for the past two months after trying to wean her off puppy food and onto a good adult kibble. I tried salmon based food, I tried turkey-based food, and I tried a lamb-based food — all of which are touted as the best foods for a dog her breed. However, all of these foods left her itchy, scratchy, with dull hair, and indigestion. She also had developed a yeast infection which I believe was exacerbated by a certain brand of food, which I will not name here but is highly-advertised at Petco as a “holistic” brand of dog food.

    At my wits’ end, and also just feeling very strongly in my gut that a no-meat diet was going to be the best diet for her, I ended up purchasing a bag of Halo’s vegan dog kibble. My little Olivia was resistant to it at first, but after two weeks she was inhaling the kibble and back to her normal self! I am so happy with the results of her vegan diet (I’ve never given her meaty treats before this either, just dog-safe fruits and veggies as snacks) and I am never feeding her meat-based foods again. I also am glad you guys shared the bit about the oldest dog in the world! I had no idea that a dog could live past the traditional 8-15 years life span that I’ve read about online. Thank you for sharing this and for having common sense to do what’s best for YOUR furbaby.

    • Hey Melissa! I’m so glad you got a nice surprise in your inbox this week 🙂 We loved hearing about how you transitioned little Olivia to a vegan diet and more importantly, she’s healthy and happy!

  • Lyn 31/07/2018

    Please consider reading Dr Richard Pitcairin’s 4th edition of Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. They have included a lot of new and valuable information on the vegan approach. I have also just written about my experience moving from vegan processed food to vegan homemade food. I can highly recommend looking into this option for optimal health.

    • Hi Lyn, thanks for sharing the book. I can’t say I’ve heard of it before but looking at the description and reviews, it looks like an important read regarding a vegan diet for dogs and cats.

  • Debbie 02/08/2018

    Thank you so much for this article! It is perfect timing 🙂 I am in the midst of transitioning my two, raw fed , dogs to V-Dog. There is so little information in this area. I think the turning point for me, was hearing Dr. Pitcairin’s talk on a vegan diet for dogs. I have a maltipoo and a havanese who actually love veggies. Their various health issues were certainly never helped by their raw diet. It’s a learning process and I am so happy to hear it being discussed!!

    • Hi Debbie! Glad this post came at a good time for you. I’ve heard of Dr. Pitcairin’s a few times now, so I’m definitely keen to check it out. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Deborah 14/09/2018

    Thank you for this inspiring story. We recently adopted a dog, a once-abused Pit Bull, sweet, gentle and desperate to please humans, the first dog to enter our lives since we went vegan almost twenty years ago. I have never had trouble telling the world that I am vegan, but I have been surprised to find myself reluctant to say that I intend to feed my dog a vegan diet. The first time I said it, I was scolded, and the judgment put a dent in my resolve. So I have been fence-straddling with her food: I give her mostly V-Dog or Halo Vegan as her dry food, but I have been mixing some meat-based food (also made by Halo) into it. Unlike your Chewy, our Shelby Lou is a plate-cleaner. She was starving when she was rescued, and all food tastes good to her. But I am determined to stop that mixing. It is hypocritical and makes me worry that by deferring to tribal food norms, which i have happily discarded for myself, I may actually be compromising the quality and length of the life of a dog I intensely love. Your post has given me that much-needed nudge to care for my dog in full harmony with my conscience. Thank you again.

    • Deborah, wow, what a share! It’s fascinating to see your internal struggle of how to best feed Shelby, especially after being vegan for so long. I’m glad that this post has inspired you to have the confidence to raise your dog in line with your values. It’s a bonus that Shelby loves plant food. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Zoe 30/09/2018

    What a great article. and your dog is such a cutie. I have been wondering what I will do when I get a dog. I was a vegetarian as a teenager but our dog still ate regular dog food. Now I am vegan and I would like to get a dog again. But I was hesitant because I didn’t want to have to buy meat for my pet. It would be like feeding other pets to my pet.

    • Hi Zoe! Fancy seeing you here.

      This second time around could be so different. How exciting!

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. And yes, Chewy is adorable 🙂

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