Vegan diets for pets raise many questions, study finds: ScienceAlert

Vegan diets for pets raise many questions, study finds: ScienceAlert

Vegan diets for pets raise many questions, study finds: ScienceAlert

The impact of vegan diets on the health of our pets is generating heated debate from people on both sides.

But so far, we haven’t had a formal assessment of the scientific evidence. In a new study published today in Veterinary Sciences, we have compiled health results from 16 studies of dogs and cats fed vegan diets.

So if you’re wondering if 2023 could be the year your best (pet) friend embraces a meatless lifestyle, read on to find out the benefits and risks, and what we still don’t know.

Ethical food?

In recent years, people in many parts of the world have increasingly adopted vegetarian or vegan diets, spurred by ethical concerns for animal welfare, sustainability or based on perceived health benefits.

Pet owners may also wish to feed their pets according to these dietary choices.

In fact, one study found that 35% of owners who don’t feed their pets vegan diets would consider them, but find too many barriers.

The main concerns were nutritional adequacy, lack of veterinary support, and few commercially available vegan diets.

It has traditionally been considered that the vegan diet of primarily carnivorous species goes against their “nature” and has serious health effects.

There has even been a debate about whether feeding vegan diets to pets amounts to animal cruelty. But what does science really say?

Necessary nutrients

Dogs and cats are carnivores. Dogs are facultative carnivores, which means they can digest plant matter and survive without meat, but they may not thrive.

Cats, on the other hand, are obligate carnivores. By definition, this means their diet is over 70% meat and they cannot digest plant matter.

The gut anatomy of dogs and cats also clearly indicates their carnivorous lifestyle.

Their teeth are designed to crush and grind meat and hold prey. Their intestines are also short with less capacity relative to body size since, unlike herbivores, they do not need to ferment plant matter to digest it.

One of the main concerns with vegan diets for pets is that grain or soy proteins (the main plant proteins) contain fewer essential amino acids, for example omega 3 fatty acids or taurine, and do not not have all the essential vitamins. These nutrients are needed to maintain good heart, eye and liver function.

A series of studies have examined the nutritional composition of vegan diets for pets, and some are insufficient.

Homemade vegan diets are particularly at risk of being nutritionally deficient, but some commercial diets may also not meet the requirements set by various nutritional guidelines for pets.

But all of this considers vegan diets using an input-based approach – it’s based on predictions. If we really want to know the impact of these diets on health, we have to measure it in animals.

The evidence is lacking

We performed a type of study common in evidence-based practice called a systematic review. These studies provide a summary of all research on a topic; its quality is assessed, allowing us to assess how certain we can be when making evidence-based recommendations.

Only 16 studies have looked at the health effects of vegan diets in dogs and cats. Cats were only included in six of them, despite being the species most likely to suffer from nutritional deficiencies.

A number of these studies used owner reports of health as a measured outcome, for example, perceived health or body condition. These are likely to be subjective and could be subject to bias.

In the few studies that measured health directly by examining animals or performing laboratory tests, there was little evidence of adverse health effects from vegan diets for pets.

Nutrient levels were generally within the normal range, no heart or eye abnormalities were detected, and body and coat condition were normal.

However, it is important to note that these studies often involved small numbers of animals, with vegan diets only given to animals for a few weeks – so the deficiency may not have had time to set in. develop.

Additionally, study designs were often considered less reliable in evidence-based practice, for example, without a control group used as a comparison.

Owners’ perceptions of the health benefits of the diets were overwhelmingly positive.

The benefits cited were reduced obesity, smellier breath, and reduced skin irritation. The only downside was the increased fecal volume, which seemed tolerable for most owners.

Proceed with caution

All in all, it seems the jury is still out on whether or not feeding our four-legged carnivorous friends vegan food is actually safe.

What we can be certain of is that pro or anti-vegan pet food arguments are potentially flawed and unsupported by evidence.

For now, owners who commit to feeding their pets a vegan diet should take a cautious approach. Use a complete and balanced commercial vegan diet formulation and schedule regular health checks with a veterinarian.The conversation

Alexandra Whittaker, Senior Lecturer, University of Adelaide; Adriana Domínguez-Oliva, Animal Welfare Researcher, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Mexico), and Daniel Mota-Rojas, Researcher

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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