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Vegan dogs

This article first appeared in our Organic September issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 14 September 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Dogs fed plant-based diets could live up to 18 months longer than those on traditional meat-based pet food, according to a new study published in the journal Research in Veterinary Science.

In the research, scientists from the University of Guelph found that dogs on plant-based diets had a mean lifespan of 14.1 years, based on 103 responses, compared with a mean of 12.6 years for those on meat-based diets, based on 907 responses.

The research is the latest in a string of studies that support the idea dogs can get everything they need from a diet based purely on plants.

It’s a perspective advocated by Lucy McKinna BVSc MSc MRCVS, director of McKinna PlantLabs Ltd.

‘Two recent large-scale studies indicate that dogs on vegan diets may live longer and may suffer from less illnesses than those on non-vegan diets’, Lucy explains. ‘While both rely on owner-generated data, and there can be no denying we need clinical data, it certainly seems more than plausible to me that dogs not fed highly processed animal by products – like those found in most processed pet foods – could well be healthier, and therefore live longer and have less illness along the way.’

Pets and meat

Lucy, who has followed a vegan diet herself for 10 years, was working as a full-time vet when she started to develop Noochy Poochy, her own line of plant-based dog food.

‘Buying meat-based food for my dog was starting to weigh heavily on me’, she tells us. ‘I was sure that I could make dog food that was delicious, had a list of recognisable, high-quality ingredients and all the nutrients my dog needed – but with no animal derivatives.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the people buying Noochy Poochy for their dogs are themselves vegan, though a recent survey showed 51% of all pet owners – vegans and non vegans – had a concern about meat-based dog food.

The top three concerns were listed as animal welfare, the environment and the sourcing and processing of the meat it contains.

‘While the pet food industry has long been considered sustainable, it is actually far from it’, Lucy tells us. ‘The dry food pet industry alone is responsible for annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the 60th-highest country in the world. It is estimated that if companion animals went vegan, their environmental impact would reduce by 66-75%.’

Getting nooch in your pooch

According to Lucy, all domestic dog breeds can thrive on vegan diets – though striking the right nutritional balance isn’t easy. She advises homemade vegan food should be avoided unless a recipe from a veterinary nutritionist is followed to the letter. ‘Otherwise there’s a risk that crucial nutrients, like the amino acid methionine, for example, will be missing from your dog’s diet’, she explains.

Alongside these nutrients, Noochy Poochy dog food contains a surprise ingredient that gives the company its name: nutritional yeast, or ‘nooch’ – a familiar cupboard staple for anyone on a plant-based diet.

‘Nutritional yeast packs an impressive 48% protein punch’, Lucy tells us, ‘and contains zinc and selenium. It also gives a cheesy base flavour without any need for dairy.’

Other ingredients in Noochy Poochy are reassuringly familiar: responsibly sourced soybean and chickpeas are star ingredients in the two current recipes.

The 12mth+ version for adult dogs is blended with herbs for a cheesy herb flavour, while Noochy Puppy & Adult, for all ages, blends extra-small kibble with a second yeast for savoury umami flavour.

Dog diets of the future

When it comes to price, Noochy Poochy is comparable with some of the more premium meat based pet food brands, despite the fact that high-quality plant protein is more expensive than rendered animal protein.

‘We do everything we can to keep our price as affordable as possible’, Lucy explains, ‘and also offer our customers subscription deals and regular special offers.’

Affordability is important, as Lucy believes all dogs will be moved to a vegan diet in the future. ‘I think in 10 years everyone will be shaking their heads and wondering why we didn’t question feeding highly processed animal by-products to our dogs’, she says.

In the meantime, Lucy will continue to develop healthy, sustainable recipes that challenge the status quo and give the meat industry a run for its money; ‘they’ve had it good for long enough’, she says.

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