Can Dogs be Vegan? Interview with Leni Lecker about Vegan Dog Nutrition

Can dogs be Vegan?

This is an interview I had with Pawshake.

With the growing population, we are experiencing a trend towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Diet is a big part of that. 

With more people following a vegan lifestyle, plant-based dog food is becoming more popular. 

Dogs originate from wolves which are carnivores. With that said, many of us wonder if dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet?

Interview with a Vegan Dog Food Expert

We have spoken with Leni Lecker – founder of Vegan4Dogs – to find out more about a plant-based canine diet.

Vegan4Dogs was found in 2014. Could you tell us more about how you started developing a vegan-based diet for dogs?

In December 2012, Edgar from Falkenberg, our black Labrador shepherd mixed breed, called Eddie, came to us from the Berlin animal shelter. I myself became vegan in August 2012 and out of curiosity I checked if dogs can be fed vegan. In my research I found out that dogs are not carnivores but omnivores.

The ready-made vegan food at that time did not convince Eddie or us, and because I have a great passion for cooking and also want to know exactly what is in the food, I was happy to cook for Eddie myself.

To prepare homemade vegan dog food a supplement is necessary, which for example provides vitamin B12 and D. The only product on the market for this came from the USA, was always hard to find and did not quite meet our expectations. We developed V-Complete from personal need, and because other people in Germany and Europe also want to cook for their dogs. We were keen to offer an up to date product, which meets the current scientific standards. Among other things, we consulted the Veterinary Department of the Free University of Berlin, worked together with a veterinarian and took into account the specialist literature.

The advantage of home cooking is that each owner can meet the taste of his dog and add a little variety to the menu. Also intolerances can be taken into account.

I myself was quite surprised what dogs eat. Eddie is a rather choosy dog and not everyone likes to eat the same things as other dogs, apart from the small all-eating barn dogs, such as our dear dog friend Lola (French Bulldog), who enjoys all kinds of food.

Since you don’t always have time to cook yourself (although the food can be prepared very well for a few days in advance and kept in the fridge) we wanted to offer a dry food. After some test productions we had developed the final recipe of Greta. Eddie and Vriends are of course always the test eaters. Without their OK nothing happens. The fine tuning of spices and nutrients is very important to me. That’s why Greta went to the laboratory for a thorough analysis. After all, a food not only has to taste good, which is of course very important, but also contain all the necessary nutrients and be well tolerated.

To bring even more variety to Eddie’s diet and when time is short to prepare it ourselves, we have developed our wet food Pauline with a lot of patience and love. Also here several attempts in the kitchen were necessary and sometimes we almost wanted to give up, as it took 2 1/2 years until all factors like consistency, taste, smell, appearance, nutrients and poop heaps fulfilled my expectations. Such a dog food is just more than the sum of the different ingredients, since also the many experts (animal and human) have to be brought together.

Do you feel vegan dog food is becoming more popular in Germany and the rest of the world?’

There’s been a lot going on there lately. When we started in 2014 we were the first in Europe with V-Complete, a supplement for homemade vegan dog food. Greta was also the first vegan complete kibble for dogs from a vegan company in Germany. We offer exclusively vegan products, because for us animals are feeling beings just like us and do not belong in food. Meanwhile the market is a bit more lively on both sides. More and more dog owners are interested in plant-based food for dogs. This also brings the topic into focus for other manufacturers. The interest in vegan dog food by the holders is among other things also owed to health topics. We have many customers whose dogs do not tolerate animal ingredients and for this reason are also dependent on vegan food, even if they are not vegans. In spite of all this we are still a small group of interested and courageous people who have set out on this path, but every new development has started out small. We are confident that our vision ‘Animals Say Yeah!’ will come true.

Why do owners feed their dogs a plant-based diet?

There are several reasons. Reason number one is definitely: Because love of animals does not stop with dogs.

Then there are health reasons that suggest a vegan diet, such as allergies, but also Leishmaniosis, as we experienced with Eddie ourselves. Shortly after we got him out of the shelter we found out that he has Leishmaniosis, a disease that we didn’t know existed until then. So he benefited from the lower purine level of the plant-based food, even though we decided against the classic therapy with Allopurinol, because it harms the liver and kidneys. His skin improved considerably, which was also confirmed by many other dog owners with their dogs.

Also the better body odor of the dog is a not to be despised reason to feed your dog vegan.

For dogs with constipation, a vegan diet is also interesting, because more fiber increases the stool volume, the consistency is slightly softer and the faster passage of food in the intestine makes it easier to defecate.

How have you formulated your plant-based dog foods? Are you working together with vets and nutritionists? Do they support a vegan diet for dogs?

We developed the recipes based on our experience and needs and then adjusted them with the experts in the field of animal nutrition. For me, the maxim for nutrient supplements such as vitamins and co. is ‘as much as necessary, as little as possible’. I am the vegan expert and my consultants are experts in the field of conventional animal nutrition. Both sides can learn from each other. For example, I am interested in the addition of carnitine, taurine and essential amino acids such as methionine and tryptophane, which are not necessarily on the agenda in conventional nutrition. Some of our consultants are also rather sceptical about vegan nutrition, but I think this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows for a pro and con discussion. But even the sceptics see in some cases (e.g. health reasons) a vegan diet as beneficial.

What are the main ingredients, vitamins, and minerals that vegan dog foods must contain in order to provide all the required nutrients to our furry friends?

Vegan dog food is similar in composition to human food. The main components are protein source, carbohydrate source, vegetable/fruit and fat. Dogs get more protein than we do, because they have a lot more hair, which is made of protein. Suitable protein sources are legumes such as peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas. Seeds such as sunflower seeds, hemp seeds or linseeds also provide protein and can be added to the food in ground form. The legumes should be minced, as dogs tend not to chew them, otherwise the pulses remain sealed and interfere with digestion. As carbohydrate source you can feed noodles, couscous, bulgur or also gluten-free e.g. rice, polenta, fried sweet potatoes and millet. With vegetables and fruit there are hardly any limits. Some dogs like sweets like bananas or fresh food like cucumber. But Eddie, for example, doesn’t like that. Carrots, kohlrabi and beetroot are very popular for him. Grapes, garlic and onions as well as chocolate are things you should avoid.

Furthermore, fat should be added to the food, which provides essential fatty acids and serves as energy source. Fat is very well digested and can be used to increase the caloric value of the food. Rapeseed oil, linseed oil, thistle oil or corn oil are particularly suitable. When cooking at home, a supplement such as V-Complete should be used, which contains minerals such as calcium and trace elements such as copper in addition to the classic vegan vitamin B12. This completes the homemade dog meal. A vegan complete food like Greta and Pauline already contain all necessary nutrients so that nothing more needs to be added.

We at Pawshake are a pet sitting company that connects dog owners with dog sitters. Local pet sitters can be a great alternative to local dog kennels or dog hotels. If our pet sitters needed to cook a quick and nutritious vegan meal for their guest dog, what would be your homemade “go-to” recipe? And is there anything that they should be supplementing it with?

A delicious and quick recipe that comes to mind. Complemented with V-Complete to round off the meal.

Sweet Potatoes
With Tanned Lentils and Kohlrabi Cornershere. And a variety of other recipes here in our recipe section.

A popular way of feeding your dog is the so-called “BARF” diet. What are your thoughts on a BARF diet compared to a plant-based diet?

There are many ways to feed your dog. For me the right way is to give my dog vegan food. It is good for his health and it tastes good.

With the word species-appropriate I have difficulties. For me species-appropriate is only liberty. In the end, every feeding of a pet is decided by humans, just like when he goes to the toilet and where he sleeps. Dogs have been living together with humans for about 30,000 years and have adapted to their diet ever since. In 2013 scientists at the University of Uppsala have found out that dogs have developed the ability to digest starch compared to wolves. This makes plant-based food possible. And if we take a look at the recent past, when meat was still a luxury good for humans, dogs at best got the bones from Sunday roasts. So dogs have been living mainly vegetarian already at this time. If they would live in the wild, they would hardly kill pigs, cattle or even horses and ostriches, which are not unusual in conventional feeding (even with Barf). On the menu would be more likely carcasses and small animals such as rats, which can be hunted themselves, and the waste from humans. In the end, everyone has to reconcile this with his own understanding and knowledge for himself and his dog. For me personally, Barf is out of the question, because love of animals simply does not stop with dogs.

Are there any downsides to feeding dogs a plant-based diet? Are there cases where a vegan diet for dogs might not be a good idea?

Of course there can be knock-out criteria. If the dog does not like it, he should not be forced to do this. For me the challenge is to find the right recipes to make the dog like it. 

There are also diseases that make a vegan diet more difficult, such as kidney problems. Here I would recommend a nutritional consultation that creates recipes tailored to the individual dog. Such a ration calculation also makes sense for lactating bitches and growing dogs, as they have an increased nutritional requirement that is not covered by our products, for example. Greta, Pauline and V-Complete are adjusted to the nutrient requirements of healthy adult dogs.

Vegan nourishing consultation service is offered for example in Germany by veterinarian Lisa Walther or veterinarian Dr. Romberger.

Do you have recommendations on ‘how to transition a dog onto vegan dog food’

It is recommended to sneak in the new food. More and more parts of the new food are mixed with the previous food and the latter is slowly replaced. This gives the dog time to adapt physically and taste-wise to the new food. Because dogs, like humans, are habit animals. A little patience should be brought along in some cases and not be given up immediately.

Helpful in any case is the own positive attitude to the food. It makes a huge difference whether I offer my dog his new food with enthusiasm or with a bad conscience and concern. What is also fun for dogs is to get to know their food playfully through a food ball or by searching. For example, I like to hide Eddie’s bowl in the apartment and let him look for it. So the food becomes something special. And it also trains his nose skills.

Eating together with a dog friend is always a great motivation to get to know a new food.

What surprises many is the increased amount of stool in comparison to conventional food. The consistency is also slightly softer. But this will slowly balance out over time.

What are your company’s future plans? Are you planning to add anything else to your product range?

We have many ideas. But we found out that it takes time to make such ideas come true. For us, the result and quality are always more important than the fastest possible realization. Let us surprise you😊

Leni Lecker
Animals Say Yeah!

Leni Lecker

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