Vegan diets for dogs, part deux

Here’s a comment I got on the first entry:

Dogs are not carnivores. They are scavenger omnivores. They can be vegetarian or vegan just fine, which is why many major name-brand dog food makers provide vegetarian or vegan versions.
You can make your dog food, too, with tofu and rice and a supplement or lentils and a vitamin. It’s simple.

First, I want to thank you so much for commenting, and I give HUGE kudos to anyone who makes their own dog food.  I also want to thank you for reminding me that there are some things I didn’t write enough about in the first entry, so I will take some time to address them now.

Let’s go through her points–which, I would add, based on my experience in almost ten years of feeding a raw diet, are the objections that are the most common among people I’ve spoken or written to.

What I am NOT going to do is link to a whole bunch of other Internet sites. That’s not because they’re not true or valuable, and it’s not because you shouldn’t read other people. In fact, I strongly urge you to google “dogs are carnivores” and see what you get–there are some very good sites out there. You can also look up the hunting behaviors of hyenas, jackals, wolves, bears, and raccoons to see how the varying hunting styles give clues to diet.

I’m not going to do it because I want readers to understand that I am not regurgitating Internet knowledge. I’ve been doing this for a long time with a lot of dogs, and by “this” I mean feeding a certain way and also observing behavior among single dogs, packs of dogs, and competing groups of dogs when it comes to whole and even live prey animals.

So everything I’m going to say will be something I’ve directly observed, produced, or documented.

1. Dogs are not carnivores. As I’ve said, everything about their teeth, digestive systems, pack hunting behavior, enzyme release, and so on does indeed point to the fact that they’re carnivores.

2. Dogs are scavenger

3) omnivores.

This is actually two assertions, so I want to treat them separately.

Are dogs scavengers? No. Dogs–and, I would add, just about every living thing–are opportunistic. It takes a lot of calories to take down game, and a very few calories to eat something already dead. So virtually all consumer animals (that is, animals that eat other animals, even as part of their diet) will try to eat anything that’s physically possible to consume. Lions will eat jackal kills, coyotes will eat trash, cats will try a tomato. It just makes sense, since those animals evolved on the razor edge of starvation, to gain calories anywhere you can.

But that does not mean that those animals can thrive, or even survive, on opportunistic diets. While a dead-but-not-yet-rotten thing is quite welcome, most of their caloric intake comes from live kills.

Again, you can support this via your own research. Here’s my story (one of many, many, but this one is the most dramatic):

I sold two Great Danes, in non-consecutive years, to the same family. Lovely dogs–the older bitch was a certified therapy dog, the younger dog was a great goofy puppy. These were show-bred Danes, parents both show dogs, as perfect and rare a pedigree as you could ever want. The family, which had a lot of money, fenced in a huge area, around three acres of woods and fields, for the dogs. Very soon, they observed that the dogs were coordinating hunting efforts. The young male would sweep in wide circles and together they’d happily chase whatever he scared up. Or at least the family thought they were just happily chasing them.

One day, as the family was watching their dogs running around the big area, a full-grown white-tail buck came sailing through the woods and jumped the fence into the dog pen.

Fifteen seconds later, the buck was dead.

The dogs were on him instantly, took him down, killed him before the owner could even get to the fence line. And, immediately, they started to eat him. This was not a fun or accidental kill, this was a coordinated and elegant and extremely effective hunt.

This actually turned into quite a thing, because of course it’s illegal to hunt deer with dogs, especially off-season, and they had to get the police and the game warden to verify that the deer was a self-kill and so on. And the owners built a MUCH smaller fenced area so the dogs would not repeat the action, and when they were in the big field they were supervised.

But the lesson for them was rather dramatic. Since these are registered dogs and Danes are a very old breed in the AKC and KC, I can say with pretty good accuracy that the last time, as far as I know, any relative of these dogs were used for hunting was in the early 19th century. But the instinct and the ability are extremely persistent.

(This is actually pretty common in Danes; most show breeders have a story of a sweet floppy Dane “turning on” and attacking a large animal, often a pig–they are extremely good at killing things despite 200 years of almost zero opportunity to hunt.)

Or let’s look at my little corgis, natural herders. Herding is nothing more than a hunt without a kill at the end. They sweep around things and bring them to me because their brains are wired to sweep around animals and bring them to the waiting cache of wolves so the animal can be killed. These are not the techniques of scavengers.

Dogs have a pack structure because they require it to hunt–i.e., to bring down large game. Dedicated scavengers like vultures do not live or hunt in packs; in fact, group scavenging would be a liability. Even when the scavenger nests or warrens with a larger group, the hunt is solitary. You don’t need to develop complex group behaviors to hunt something that’s already dead and reeking.

OK, now let’s look at whether they’re omnivores. Keep in mind that every animal will try to eat anything. My cat chews on crayons; he’s not therefore a waxivore. I have a couple of dogs that love to chew hairbrushes; they’re not plasticivores. The question is whether the animal does and should consume a wide variety of plant and animal matter.

We actually have two very common omnivores that are also large mammals, so it’s easy to compare. One is the pig and one is the bear. Each of them has a mixed set of teeth–pronounced canines, but then wide, cupped molars. Each of them chews food thoroughly, using their molars to grind and pulp plant matter. Each has behavioral mandates to eat steadily and slowly throughout the day. Each has a digestive system that is long and can extract nutrition from plant matter.

Dogs have none of these. Their teeth and jaws are dramatically POOR at pulping plant matter. They have virtually no occlusion surfaces on their teeth; their teeth do not meet, but instead slide past each other like the two blades of a scissor. They hunt, binge, and then fast. They have short digestive systems.

Again, a personal story:

I feed as much whole prey as I can. This has included really giant stuff, deer and cow parts and sheep and so on. On several occasions, I’ve brought home whole (intact, unemptied) cow stomachs for the dogs. Dogs LOVE this. They start howling as soon as the car drives up. And when I have given the group of them an intact and full cow stomach, they always behave the same way. They rip it open, furiously shake the contents out, then eat the remaining muscle and fat. They do not like or consume the contents. They will, several days later, if I have fasted them, pick through what they left on the ground and nibble at it, but they do not eat it unless they are extremely hungry. They are not natural or instinctive consumers of vegetable matter, even partially digested vegetable matter.

4. They can be vegetarian or vegan just fine, which is why many major name-brand dog food makers provide vegetarian or vegan versions.

Let me be very clear on this: the major dog food companies will make absolutely anything that will make money. This isn’t because they’re evil; it’s because they’re big business. It would be stupid to not cash in on whatever trend was hot. And vegetarian foods are cash cows. You make turkey food (see the prior post), but instead of charging $12 for a 50-lb bag, they charge $25 for a 15-lb bag. All you have to do is add some cheap spray-on vitamins as the food comes out of the extruder and you’re set. For a company that already has millions of pounds of raw ingredients and giant food mills, AAFCO recommended levels of nutrition are ridiculously easy to meet, which is why Dad’s and Ol’ Roy are “100% complete and balanced.”

Trust me, if there were a market for dog food made out of cardboard and pine needles, the major companies would put out Piney McWoof for the supermarket shelves and Choice One Green for the high-end market and make millions.

5. You can make your dog food, too, with tofu and rice and a supplement or lentils and a vitamin. It’s simple.

I think that making your own dog food is wonderful. However, you need to take a huge amount of care in formulating a diet if you’re not going to feed the dog what it was designed to eat (prey animals). For example, let’s look at tofu and rice.

A Lab-sized dog would get about 20-25 oz of meat (and bone and organ), if you were feeding a prey-animal diet. Using a VERY conservative estimate of 5 g of protein per oz of prey-animal food (it’s about 8 g/oz for pure meat, so we’ll reduce to take into account the fact that the dog is eating some bone too), that means a protein consumption of 100 – 125 grams per day.

Tofu has about 11 grams of protein in each 1/2 cup serving. That means that a Lab-sized dog would have to consume FIVE FULL CUPS of tofu to meet that basic protein requirement.

Calories: Dogs need 30 calories per pound of body weight per day. For a Lab-sized dog (60 lb or so–and yeah, I know everybody has a 96-lb Lab, but that’s not what they SHOULD be), that means 1800 calories per day.

Tofu has about 100 calories per 1/2 cup serving. So a dog would have to eat NINE CUPS of tofu to get enough calories, more if the dog is active.

And keep going down the list. You need to know the dietary needs for each essential amino acid, for each vitamin, for fats, calcium/phosphorus ratio, potassium content, and on and on and on. And you have to keep in mind that absorption levels differ. Eight grams of egg protein is not the same as eight grams of tofu protein; the dog only gets about half from the tofu but almost 100% from the eggs.

And, unfortunately, you’ll find that most homemade diets that don’t contain meat are sadly deficient, or would require volumes that are incredible. I don’t think anyone is prepared to feed nine cups of tofu to a dog, at least not every day.

Does this help answer your question? I do want to reiterate, if I haven’t been clear enough already, that I do not object to humans choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet. If you can meet your own nutritional needs that way, I applaud you. However, I don’t think that the choice to put a dependent predatory anmal on a vegan diet is one that should be made lightly, and, unlike we humans, it is an unnatural choice and one that is–and I don’t think this is an exaggeration–a very risky one, nutritionally.

Part Spam is here.

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4 thoughts on “Vegan diets for dogs, part deux

  1. My cat chews on crayons; he’s not therefore a waxivore. I have a couple of dogs that love to chew hairbrushes; they’re not plasticivores.

    This made me snort with laughter. I miss you SO MUCH at that board where we used to post together.

  2. Pingback: Vegan diets for dogs « Ruffly Speaking: Railing against idiocy since 2004

  3. Thank you for these posts. People are always very surprised when they find out that both my husband and I are vegetarian, yet we feed our dogs raw, prey model.

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