Vegan dog food in the UK has a fascinating history and such an exciting future!
It all started with Bramble - the dog who wanted to live forever
It all started with a dog named Bramble owned by vegan activist Anne Heritage who grew up in Somerset in the 1970’s. Bramble in her 20’s (!) was still “alert and active and went for a walk four times a day and swam once a week”. She apparently “loved exercise” and “had a real passion for being outdoors”. Anne also stated when Bramble was still alive, that, “She can be a thorn in my side when she’s restless, but it’s what keeps her going.” Read her book here.
Anne Heritage chose a lifestyle very early on that included cooking homemade, homegrown food daily for both herself and her numerous rescue dogs who over the years were her life. They were fed just once daily on organic lentils, brown rice, homegrown vegetables and herbs, and textured soya protein. Every choice that she made over the decades of dog ownership was based on her dogs and she chose homes and jobs to fit around her daily 3 – 4 hour routine of walking her dogs. This remarkable lifestyle gave us our first glimpse into the power of feeding non-processed, homecooked vegan dog food and a fresh healthy outdoor life, as Bramble lived until she was 25 years old, and 2 other dogs under Anne’s care lived until they were 19 and 20!
The rise of commercially produced vegan dog food
The first commercially produced and marketed vegetarian dog food in the UK was “Happidog”, founded in 1980. The Happidog brand was later changed to “V-dog” due to a trademark dispute. Please read our views on V-Dog as it is a very popular brand but we have our concerns about it
In 2005, a vegan-family business in Hampshire launched Benevo which has been the most popular vegan brand in the UK for all these years. It is exported to 40 countries now and we commend this company for its success, however, they have not changed their recipe since it was first formulated by them (not a vet nutritionist) in 2005. Our main concern with Benevo, is that they sell a tinned dog/cat food. The nutritional requirements of both these species varies so considerably so one of them or both of them are going to lack essential nutrients if fed this diet. This leads us to query all the foods they produce.
They only declare Vit D2 in their food, there is no addition of Vit D3 which is vital for calcium absorption, and their organic wheat-free brand contains no taurine and l-carnitine which is so important for heart health with dogs on a plant-based diet. There is also no mention of the addition of methionine in the food – an amino acid that is only really found in meat products and helps to acidify the urinary tract. Dogs eating only Benevo are at a greater risk of developing painful struvite crystals as happened with Rupert.
Other brands became available in the UK over the years such as Ami (imported from Italy) with similar ingredients to Benevo, and a more organic brand using non GMO ingredients – Yarrah which is imported from the Netherlands. Both these brands remain very popular and have been sold in the UK for many years, but in 2020, Yarrah lost its licence to be called a vegan food as they had to add sheep wool cholecalciferol to satisfy the strict FEDIAF requirements of Vit D3 in their food. They are still very popular and reasonably priced and although they do not declare methionine in their ingredients, they have added it in.
The first published proof of the benefits of plant-based in working dogs
In 2009, Brown and colleagues studied 12 sprint-racing Siberian Huskies who were fed either a commercial diet recommended for active dogs, or a meat-free diet formulated to the same nutrient specifications. These diets comprised their sole nutrient intake for 16 weeks, which included 10 weeks of competitive racing. Regular veterinary checks and blood tests were performed. All dogs remained in excellent physical condition with normal blood results throughout. This was the first published proof that a plant-based diet was certainly possible in not only our pets, but also in working sled dogs.
Further published proof of the benefits of a vegan diet in our pets by Prof Andrew Knight
In 2016, Prof Andrew Knight, a professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Winchester, published the very first proof that pets on a balanced plant-based diet could be healthier than those fed on a typical meat-based diet.
Prof Knight’s studies showed how transitioning animals to healthy vegan diets can result in increased overall health and vitality, decreased incidences of cancer, infections, hypothyroidism (a hormonal disease), ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice and mites), improved coat condition, allergy control, weight control, decreased arthritis, diabetes regression and even cataract resolution.
His studies have made us very aware of the need for all modern plant-based commercially produced foods to have the valuable addition of the amino acid methionine as he made us aware of the dangers of alkaline urine in our pets and the increased likelihood of painful urinary tract infections and struvite crystals. It then goes without saying that when choosing to produce a homemade wholefood diet for your dog, you must choose a supplement with methionine added in to prevent having to regularly check your pet’s urine pH.
First veterinary recommended vegan diet becomes available
Veterinary-based dermatology company Vetruus started selling Solo-Vegetal towards the end of 2018. It was initially brought in as a diet for dermatologists to use in exclusion trials as all the other diets were still animal based and didn’t guarantee helping diagnose food allergy as 40% of dogs still react to hydrolysed animal protein diets. As far as they saw it, it was the only vegetable based veterinary diet so realised it was quite unique and may offer a useful alternative for skin cases.
The enormous popularity of 100% balanced Solo-Vegetal has grown substantially over the last year, as owners choose to feed their dogs solely with this food who are perfectly healthy and suffer from no skin allergies as the food is so palatable and so well balanced. They have also started a very tasty tinned food range that we are happy to announce; we are selling in our JUST BE KIND shop as our own dog loves this food so much!
The rise of grain free diets and concerns over dilated cardiomyopathy benefitted vegan dog diets
Interestingly the controversy surrounding grain-free diets and ‘alternative diets’ have contributed to a better understanding of the requirements of a balanced vegan dog food diet. In 2018, the FDA claimed that there was a rise in the genetic heart condition dilated cardiomyopathy with breeds that were not normally at risk of this disease suddenly showing signs of lethargy and a reduced lifespan. These included breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Spaniels who were suddenly at risk. The foods to blame were grain-free diets and those containing legumes or potatoes as their protein source.
With the amount of interest and research that this generated, it became clear that a lack of taurine in the diets of dogs eating these ‘alternative’ diets was the solution. When lentils and other legumes are used as the primary source of protein, it is important to add even more taurine to the diet as legumes contain ‘anti-nutrients’ called phytates that can prevent the absorption of valuable nutrients in your dog’s digestive tract. This is why we highly recommend soaking all lentils prior to cooking as well as sprouting them to reduce the level of phytates and enable maximum absorption of the important nutrients when homecooking.
Published proof that dogs can digest starches
A fascinating published study in 2013, proved how mutations in key genes occurred allowing increased starch digestion in dogs relative to wolves.
These results indicate that early ancestors of modern dogs could thrive on a diet rich in starch which constituted a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs. This also strengthened the theory that dogs have lived alongside man for 40 000 years + and they have fully adapted to our way of eating genetically, and are more likely to benefit from our healthy plant-based diets than from a high meat-based ancestral diet.
The first big petfood company to produce a vegan brand
In November 2020, one of the very first big meat-based pet food companies Lily’s Kitchen brought out a vegan range. We are so hoping that this is the start of these large meat-based pet food companies realising that the future is in plant-based dog food as their demand has been so high in 2021 for their Vegan Rainbow Stew tins; that they are constantly out of stock!
The Vegan Rainbow Stew food is not balanced however and could not be fed solely as a plant-based food source, but Lily’s Kitchen are aiming more at the market of pet owners who want to choose a meat-free Monday.
New exciting brands launch in 2021!
We are so pleased to fully support UK based independent vegan companies. The first to launch in February 2021, is the very ethical company Hownd who took 2 years to produce a very palatable and 100% balanced tinned food – Hownd Hearty Quinoa and Pumpkin Casserole.
We are so excited about their dry Superfood which is due to launch in July, as it will be the very first UK produced vegan dog food that contains all the essential nutrients in it, as well as containing plant-based Vit D3.
We are encouraged too by 2 new independent companies starting up and both owned by UK vets – Noochy Poochy owned by vet Lucy McKinna, and Omni owned by vet Guy Sandelowsky. Unfortunately both these products contain Vit D3 from sheep wool (lanolin) so both foods are vegetarian rather than vegan. Both vets have assured us that they are working hard on getting this changed so that they can advertise their food in the future as 100% vegan.
Freshly made vegan dog foods launching in the UK
We are DoGood is an independent UK-owned business which will be producing the first freshly made vegan dog food in the UK! We are so impressed with the owner Steve Hutchins who has managed to fund the company on his own and start it from scratch whilst ensuring that the food is 100% balanced with tasty superfoods as well as having plant-based Vit D3. They are due to launch this month so watch this space, and sign up today if you do not have the time to homecook for your dog. (We have signed up and cannot wait to let Ruff taste-test this food!)
The developments continue with plant-based feeding in our dogs!
As developments progress rapidly in human nutrition, so too are we seeing such rapid developments with supplementing homemade wholefood plant-based dog food diets. As we now know, dogs definitely need supplementing with Taurine and L-Carnitine for heart health, Zinc and Vit B12 for skin health, Methionine for urinary tract health, Vit D3 for correct absorption of Calcium as well as a healthy immunity; and Omega 3’s that are vital in the body and needed for stabilising all cell membranes, making hormones and acting as potent anti-inflammatories throughout the body. They are of even more importance in our elderly pets with their often painful swollen joints who need that extra natural help with the best type of anti-inflammatory there is – EPA & DHA found in its purest form in Algae oil
It was previously thought that when homecooking for your dog, the best source of Omega 3 was to be found in seeds such as flaxseeds or chia seeds. These seeds contain the less potent form of Omega 3 ALA. ALA needs to be converted to purer DHA to be effective, and this conversion does not happen well in our pets so they do not obtain the necessary amount of DHA using only flaxseeds. The purest and most effective forms for both us and our pets is Omega 3 from Algae oil – and they like the ‘umami’ flavour of these capsules!
*With all this recent development, the choice now to feed your dog plant-based is looking VERY promising for the future!*
The majority of foods we eat and feed to our pet (especially plant-based) are healthy and good for them, but these are the few exceptions to be aware of
We recommend these Omega 3 capsules above the other brands as they …..
I have been contacted by so many owners feeding their dogs plant-based and some of their dogs have had issues with painful urinary crystals…..
We have Bramble the dog who wanted to live forever as proof that vegan diets help our pets live longer healthier lives
Owners of dogs on plant-based diets do report that their pets appear happier and calmer
We are so passionate about plant-based feeding in dogs, that we want to support you and hopefully make it affordable for you
Only by convincing vets that it is the way forward, will we together have any success as plant-based feeders of ensuring that it becomes a very viable and superior option to feeding our dogs
The maned wolf really blows the theory of our pet dogs needing meat in their diet completely out the water
An online survey in 2019 revealed that around one in three owners may be willing to consider switching to a vegan diet for their pet in the future
This is one of our biggest concerns as pet owners that we are not getting the balance just right for the health of our pet
When we choose to change our dogs onto a vegan diet, worrying about what other people think is a huge concern to us
You are being a compassionate owner by feeding your dog a plant-based diet