Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

How to Switch Your Dog to a Home Cooked Vegan Diet

Published on January 31, 2012 by   ·   28 Comments Pin It
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Meat nearly killed my dog.  First, a little history…

We adopted our Chow/Shepherd mix, Knish (yup, that’s his name!) in 2006 and fed him good old fashioned commercial dog food; kibbles and canned meat.  But we found that our boy had quite the sensitive stomach.

For months we tried different commercial brands to try and ease our pup’s testy tummy, changing them slowly and gradually, but to no avail.  It was diarrhea city for our baby.

At the time I was vegetarian (now vegan) and busy working as a lawyer.  While I didn’t eat meat for years because I was a huge animal lover, I was fairly ignorant about the horrors of factory farms and definitely didn’t think a non-meat diet for a dog was even possible.

Because of my dog’s queasy stomach I started researching what goes into commercial dog food…

“Meat byproducts” (lungs, kidneys, brains, bones, intestines, etc.), “meat meal” (zoo animals, road kill, and even other euthanized dogs and cats; say what?).  Big companies certainly get creative in making profits off of things that are “unfit for human consumption”.  Add in loads of chemicals, preservatives, and cheap fillers, mix it with big bucks for a happy healthy dog ad campaign, and you have disgusting products that look pretty and make millions.

I had read enough.  We decided to try home cooking his food to see if it helped to harden up his stool.

We cooked him brown rice with cooked meat and veggies.  Again, I hadn’t eaten meat in years so it was not fun for me, but at the time I didn’t think a dog could go without meat and I no longer trusted dog food.  This new diet solved his stomach problems completely and we did this for almost 2 years.

And then one day, we fed him the wrong meat…

He began throwing up uncontrollably, over and over again.  Then the diarrhea started. We rushed him to the vet with it coming out of both ends all the way there.

The vet kept him overnight, certain it was some kind of food poisoning.  The next morning when I arrived, it was as though he aged 10 years overnight.  By now he was throwing up and pooping blood.

Two more days and nights later… The vet said he was doing well on the meds and IV and could go home.  I took one look at my boy and expressed my doubts.  He looked like a dead dog walking.  I’ve been around animals my whole life and I have never seen an animal get that sick.

He told me to try.  Knish hadn’t eaten in 3 days and he thought he might relax enough to eat something at home.  Within one hour of being home, no eating, and 2 diarrhea bathroom breaks, I walked out onto our porch and found my baby lying in a pool of blood.  It was literally pouring out of him.

My heart broke, my stomach dropped to the floor, and panic ensued.  I rushed him back to the vet crying the whole way.  Three more full days and nights of treatments and IVs and a hefty vet bill to boot.  Finally, he was able to go home.

Our vet said they could not identify the exact bacteria that got him sick without doing invasive testing.  All we knew was that it was caused by his meat because that was the only thing he had eaten in the previous 24 hours and we had just purchased it.

Two days later, the article on the cover of the New York Times was about a massive meat recall due to an E. Coli outbreak.  I had my answer.  He had all the symptoms of E. Coli poisoning.

By this time I was vegan and well educated on factory farming.  Feeding my dog any type of animal had grown more and more difficult for me and more expensive as we tried to purchase locally farmed products.  So I researched feeding your dog a home cooked vegan diet.  After much experimentation and vet consults, we got a formula down that works for him and us and we’ve been doing it for about a year and a half now.

Knish is the perfect weight, in perfect health, and fit as a fiddle – lean and muscular – with a nice shiny coat.  And I might add, his breath is awesome :)

Ingredients for My Dog’s Home Cooked Vegan Dog Food:

Note: Every dog is different and transitioning your dog to a vegan diet must be done with veterinary supervision.  Diets must be catered to your dog’s breed, size, age, health issues, etc.  You also need to do yearly blood tests to make sure they’re getting the nutrients their organs need.  Nothing in this article applies to cats as feeding them a vegan diet is much more complicated and dangerous.

  • Brown Rice (we cook this in our rice cooker)
  • Protein: A different type of bean every week to vary the nutrients (i.e., black, pinto, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava, lentils, red kidney, etc.). You can also use tofu, tempeh or seitan but we find that isn’t as cost efficient.  Sweet potatoes are also a good addition but should not replace the beans.
  • Note: Our dog likes lentils the best so we use them frequently (green, yellow, etc.).  They’re small so you don’t have to worry about mashing them up as much and they seem to digest the best.  For bigger beans, you must mash them.
  • Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health: I learned about this from The Kind Life.  It’s an excellent holistic dog food pre-mix made from 6 organic grains, 9 vegetables and 14 herbs.  It’s dehydrated so all you have to do is add hot water (it looks like oatmeal with veggies in it).
  • Alternative Option: You can also steam veggies with nutritional yeast and then puree them.
  • Olive Oil: For their coat.
  • Natural Balance Vegetarian Canned Formula: The above ingredients are all we used for quite some time but per a vet’s recommendation, we now supplement his food with this canned food.  Before we started using this we gave him supplements (i.e, Taurine, L-Carnatine, and VegeDog Supplement) but I always worried about whether or not we were giving the right amounts for his breed, size and age.  Because this canned food is a balanced diet we no longer need to worry about adding supplements (and according to the vet, giving supplements on a balanced diet can be harmful due to over toxicity).  There are other vegetarian canned dog foods but my dog only likes this one.  If you don’t want to use this you need to work with a pet nutritionist to determine the right balance of supplements.

Preparing all of this may sound like a pain but once it becomes part of your routine you get used to it.  To me, my pup and my peace of mind are well worth the effort.  To make our lives easier we make one huge batch that lasts about 6 days for our 60 llb dog.  We feed him twice a day which we were told is better for dogs on a vegan diet.

We use a 48 oz bag of brown rice, a 16 oz bag of beans, a large bowl of Dr. Harvey’s, and 2 cans of Natural Balance.  We then add in the oil (sorry, we don’t measure that!), mix it all together, and his food is done for the week.

Tip: If we run out of time or haven’t made it to the store we’ll sometimes substitute the home cooked beans with canned beans, canned vegetarian chili, or canned lentil soup.  The veggie chili and canned soup also helped us transition him to this new diet as he seemed to enjoy the flavors.

Our dog is insanely picky about what he eats (he turned down many brands of commercial dog food!) so I was surprised by how quickly he took to this diet.  He’s happy, healthy, and fit.  And when he kisses me his breath doesn’t send me to the floor!

It eases my heart to know I’m not cooking him meat or giving him dog food I don’t trust and so far we certainly haven’t had any more emergency vet bills.  It takes some effort but it’s been so worth it.

Veterinary Resources for Transitioning Your Dog to a Vegan Diet:

  • School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California Davis (www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu; (530) 752-1393/7892). They will create a home cooked food plan for your dog based on blood work.  You must submit a Nutrition Consult Request Form and a Diet History Form (along with blood results).
  • Dr. Armaiti May, DVM (www.veganvet.net) – She is a vegan vet who does phone consultations.

Liz Longacre is the founder of the Gentle Living. Gentle Living covers everything involved in living a gentle but powerful life.

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Readers Comments (28)

  1. Rhoda says:

    While I think it’s a noble attitude to get your dog to be vegan, in reality dogs are descended from wolves, who are absolute carnivores. I don’t believe the long term health of your dog will be as good as it would be if it were eating meat.

    • MollyG says:

      Dogs are omnivores, just like humans. If we can thrive on a vegan diet, so can a dog. As long as the diet is well-planned, researched, and approved by someone qualified – which it is clear from what Liz wrote above that her dog’s meals are – the dog can thrive.

      • Susan says:

        No, dogs are not omnivores. They are obligate carnivores. They are primarily meat-eaters, but can survive on plant matter. Please note that “survive” is not the same as “thrive.” Check out your dog’s teeth. You’ll find sharp canines, plus scissor-like teeth designed to rip and tear at flesh. An omnivore would have wide, flat molars, like humans do, to grind up plant matter. A dog’s jaws aren’t meant for grinding. They’re meant to open wide and then clamp down on prey animals. If you were able to look into your dog’s digestive system, you’d find a short and simple digestive tract made to move food through quickly. Unfortunately, a dog’s body doesn’t hold vegetable matter long enough to break it down properly. Even feeding it the best vegetable matter will not ensure that those nutrients actually make it into your dog’s system, since the food passes through too quickly for all the goodness to be absorbed. As a matter of fact, most of the nutrients in plants are useless in terms of nourishing your dog. Sure, you can keep your dog alive on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but your dog will in no way thrive, and that’s just nature. It’s particularly poor animal husbandry to inflict your personal choices on a creature designed to operate quite differently. Have some compassion for your pet and feed it the way nature intended, with animal proteins.

      • Brian says:

        And you went to vet school…..where, exactly?

      • Claudia says:

        Actually dogs are omnivores. In the wild they would supplement their diet by foraging for plants as do most carnivores. They do thrive on vegan diets and do to allergies or poor health some dogs can only eat a vegan diet. My dogs are healthy and happy. They get excited when its feeding time where as before they could not have cared less about their food no matter what brand I used. A lady who’s dog was feed a vegan diet lived to be 27. I believe that’s one of the oldest living dogs recorded.

  2. Jamie says:

    We feed our boys Evolution diet food, which they love. But, I’ve been considering changing, or at least adding some home-cooked food as well. I’m just concerned about L-Carnatine. Does the Natural Balance have that Ingredient? It’s not listed on their site. Anyone know, for sure?

    • Liz says:

      Jamie, I would consider contacting the vegan vet listed above. She does phone consultations for a very reasonable price and can help you make sure your dog is getting the right amount of nutrients.

  3. Shelley says:

    We have a vegan dog and I make all of her food, fresh, everyday. We adopted her 2 yrs ago, she was 3yrs, and had chronic health issues. We are both vegan.. we were surprised, and kind of laughed at the serendipity, to find out that she was allergic to all meat products. We did extensive allergy testing over a 6mo period and because of the large array of allergies, it became apparent that I had to make her food to control every item she ingested. After over a year, all of her ailments are gone, her energy and strength is through the roof, her blood work shows she is getting everything she needs and is not lacking nor wanting for more. For our dog, a vegan diet is what is saving her life. I think it shows that a dog can be healthy and active on this lifestyle, if one chooses to transition their dog over.

    I have written about her, which, if interested, you can find here: http://www.rosewaterandthyme.com/2011/08/ms-cleo-aka-bbd/ I have my recipe posted for those interested.

    Great post and Thank You!!!

  4. Rob says:

    Our pit bull has been on a combination of V-dog brand vegan dog food (kibble) and fresh lighly steamed veggies for nearly two years since we brought her home and is so healthy physically and behaviorally that people constantly stop us on the street to ask about her.

    • Liz says:

      Love that Rob! People always stop to ask about mine as well, especially in my current neighborhood – all the dogs are extremely overweight here for some reason…

  5. Jaya Bhumitra says:

    this is a terrific article liz! we feed our dog a vegan diet (natural balance plus home cooked stuff for variety) and they are thriving. i did recently try humane choice just to mix it up and they seem to prefer natural balance, but it is another great dog food. i am also fond of evolution. your tips are truly fantastic–thank you for putting the effort into creating this very useful resource for me and other dog guardians.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Jaya! Glad it was helpful. Natural Balance definitely seems like a dog favorite. I’ll have to try Evolution some time since everyone seems to like that as well!

  6. Jenni Griffith says:

    our dog gets a home cooked vegan meal everyday!

  7. Babs says:

    My dog suffered from the same bloody stool and puke — one of the most frightening experience I’ve been through. When you say it was just pouring out of your dog — been there done that and i never want tomagain. We had recently switched to a raw meat diet after hearing how well other dogs did (being a vegetarian this took a bit of thought). The vet said it was probably from the food, but they couldn’t tell me for sure what the exact cause was. $1200 later…We went back to dry food… But after hearing about your story… I’m intrigued. Not sure I have enough guts to try. I’m almost afraid to rock the boat since he’s finally back on track. One thing I learned was if your dog starts to puke water… Do not give him anymore. And take the dog to the vet before they close.. So you don’t have the emergency fees! :)

    • Liz says:

      Babs, you’re the first person I’ve heard of who went through what we did. It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced with an animal as well. Maybe you could try supplementing the dry food with some cooked, just to see how it goes. Either way, so glad your dog is okay.

  8. Beckie says:

    I’m new to veganism (for humans as well as dogs) so forgive me for asking this question. Why do you mix Knish’s food with all-ready made dog food? You listed Dr. Harvey’s Health and Natural Balance. Why aren’t these enough on their own? Is it the size of your dog? Thanks.

  9. Julianne says:

    For the love of God…..DOGS ARE NOT OMNIVORES!!!!!! Are wolves omnivores? NO! Are cats? NO

    Canus Lups, under the order CARNIVORA in the family of Canidea. They are carnivores, just as wolves. Humans are to blame for the evolution in their diet….but dogs eat meat. Dogs want meat. Unless you have one of those crazy inbred dogs that’s allergic to meat (another problem thanks to human involvement) that’s all they should be eating! Please, do your homework before you spread your moral values onto your carnivorous dog.
    The #1 ingredient in the dog food you listed, is RICE. And after that, barley and oats. That’s a recipe for a skin allergy disaster! I mean seriously, vegetables aren’t even the main ingredient in vegan dog food? That’s pathetic.

  10. [...] out how Knish fared—and get the recipe for his vegan dog food—at the GirlyGirlArmy website, click here. [...]

  11. Louise says:

    Great piece and Knish is so handsome. Please ignore the ridiculous comments from people who are suddenly “experts” on dog nutrition when you tell them your dog is vegan. I have asked at least a dozen vets over thirty years about a veg diet for dogs and everyone of them said it was perfectly fine. Who cares what some of these commentators say, your dog will live a long healthy life and.no animals will have to die to feed him. Sounds good to me!

  12. Gail Roberts says:

    Just as a matter of fact – the longest living dog in the world – according to the Guiness book of records was a Border Collie who was fed mainly lentils.
    That information made me switch my dogs to lentils as well as other vegetables and some poultry and eggs. They are in great shape and very healthy.

  13. brit says:

    re the Border Collie that lived so long, please keep in mind that he lived on a farm and probably scavenged some wild life to eat to make up for anything missing. I am vegan but I do feed my dogs a little meat and fish because I know from working at a vets that lack of amino acids like Taurine and L-Carnitine can cause heart problems and also a vegan diet can cause bladder stones, this was enough for me to know my dogs deserve a diet that is best for them regardless of how I feel about adding animal products.

  14. VeganInLA says:

    I wish I knew how much “a large bowl of Dr. Harvey’s” is so I could make this for my dog. So far she likes beans, rice, veggies and the vegan canned food.

  15. BoboBonobo says:

    There is a special circle of hell reserved for the animal abusers who force dogs to eat a vegan diet.




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