The importance of the nutrients provided by fruits and vegetables has become more apparent in recent years, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating that half of a person’s daily caloric intake should come from these plants. On top of that, new studies show how sourcing meat proteins impacts the environment. Because of these, along with other reasons, more people are leaning towards vegetarian and vegan diets, and in return looking for the same options for their dogs.
"We are seeing booming growth in the numbers of people opting for a vegan lifestyle—especially among millennials," says Werner von Pein, president at Halo.
The Tampa, Fla.-based company produces its Garden of Vegan dog food in both wet and dry formulas. Halo also makes Garden of Vegan dog treats in Peanut n’ Pumpkin, and Sweet Potato, Carrot & Quinoa.
"As more and more humans reduce or eliminate their meat consumption for health and environmental impact reasons, it’s inevitable that some of these people will also choose that diet for their dogs as well," adds von Pein.
This trend toward vegan and vegetarian foods in humans has opened up the door for pet food companies to create meatless meal options for dogs.
"As human diets continue to trend towards healthy and environmentally sustainable, the pet food industry is beginning to recognize plant-based diets for dogs are not only nutritionally acceptable, but better for our planet and all animals," says Lindsay Rubin, vice president at v-dog, based in San Francisco.
The company has been making kibble, biscuits, mini bites and breathbones, which all include 100 percent animal-free products, since 2005.
When it comes to vegan and vegetarian diets, one of the major hesitations among pet parents is whether dogs can get all the nutrients they need without animal protein.
"A common concern people have with a plant-based diet is whether it meets protein requirements," says Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, nutrition manager at Petcurean.
The Chilliwack, B.C., Canada-based company’s GATHER Endless Valley vegan recipe features certified organic and sustainably grown peas. It has no rendered ingredients, no animal ingredients and is non-GMO.
"Petcurean’s vegan GATHER Endless Valley recipe is formulated to provide all of the essential nutrients dogs require, including amino acids from complementary plant-based protein sources," says Adolphe. "It is the amino acids found in protein, rather than the protein itself, that is required by dogs."
The varied plant proteins provide dogs with the amino acids required for a healthy diet, and omega-3 and -6 from flaxseed and sunflower oil support a healthy skin and coat. Adolphe adds that the company spent years formulating the recipe to ensure that it is nutritionally balanced and palatable.
Halo worked closely with animal nutritionists to ensure the company’s formula meets the nutritional needs of canines.
"It is important to realize that dogs do not have specific ingredient requirements—they have specific nutrient requirements," says von Pein. Halo’s Garden of Vegan utilizes pea and chickpea protein, as well as antioxidant and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies, to meet these requirements.
It’s no easy feat creating a meat-free formula that meets all of these nutritional needs, so many companies bringing in help from a variety of sources.
"Our team includes veterinarians, nutritionists, food scientists, ingredient specialists, food engineers and packaging engineers," says Brian Ng, vice president, marketing for Natural Balance, based in Burbank, Calif. "All involved play a role in delivering food that meets all [of a] dog’s nutrient needs in an appetizing format."
The company produces vegan dog food in both dry and wet formulas, with omega-3 and -6 to support a healthy skin and coat; high-quality brown rice, oatmeal and potatoes for energy; and green peas for protein.
"Ingredients are screened for purity, nutrient content and production feasibility," says Ng. "After preparation, our team considers the nutrients provided by each ingredient and their bioavailability to ensure foods are delivering all essential nutrients at adequate levels. All ingredients need thorough vetting and the finished product needs to be tested to make sure it provides all essential nutrients to a dog."
Vegan and vegetarian diets are not only good for pet parents looking to feed pets similar diets to their own, or for parents who are worried about the environment. These diets can also be beneficial for pups that have allergies or protein sensitivities.
"Our formula is hypoallergenic, as most allergies develop from the artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and specially from the animal content of the food," says Jordi Verite, managing partner at Ketunpet. "We also are gluten-free, antibiotic-free and very, very low in sodium."
The Miami-based company makes its formula from 100 percent vegetable protein. The adult formula is made with 22 percent protein per serving to ensure the nutritional needs of pets are met. The food also includes chia and quinoa, which provide omega-3 and -6; taurine, which benefits the heart and vision; and L-carnitine, which helps with muscle development and maintenance. Other ingredients include beet pulp, chicory root, tyrosine and selenium, all of which are contributing nutrients needed for a healthy pup.
Take it Slow
When it comes to switching a pup from a traditional protein-source diet to a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s not something that can be done overnight. Manufacturers recommend a gradual transition toward a fully meat-free diet.
"First and foremost, pet owners should consult with their veterinarian to properly understand their dog’s recommended diets," says Ng. "Once confirmed, as with any dietary transition, introducing a new food may take up to 10 days. Slowly increase the amount of the new food and reduce the amount of the old food until your dog is eating 100 percent of the new food without any signs of adverse health or tummy upset."
Virite also notes that results are not going to be immediate, so pet parents shouldn’t worry if their dog’s allergies or health problems don’t disappear right away.
"The sooner you start with the healthy diet, the better; and you have to consider that it will take between three to four months to see the results," says Verite.
But in time, symptoms such as upset stomachs and skin issues may disappear once a pet is transferred to a plant-based diet.
"We see tons of itchy dogs with tummy troubles experience complete turnarounds shortly after switching to v-dog," says Rubin.
As more pet parents are switching their pups away from a meat diet, retailers should educate themselves on the benefits of a plant-based diet, and understand the nutritional value of these foods.
"We offer new retailers an online deck with lots of information on v-dog and plant-based diets for dogs, as well as an open line of communication via phone and email if they or their customers ever have questions or concerns," says Rubin.
Petcurean also provides retailers with the knowledge they need to successfully market plant-based diets, benefiting both the company and pet specialty stores.
"In the cluttered marketplace, consumers are seeking the guidance and peace-of-mind that only a trusted, well-educated retailer can provide," says Adolphe. "It is our responsibility as a manufacturer to provide retailers with informative resources and in-person training seminars to equip them with the knowledge needed to not only explain the nutritional benefits to consumers but to confidently be able to answer questions."
Von Pein also notes that it’s important to educate customers about the different needs of various pets, because while cats are carnivores, dogs are omnivores, and therefore can be fed a protein-rich vegan diet.
As consumers become more aware of the benefits of a plant-based diet for their pups and more concerned about their carbon footprint, this trend will continue to grow, and retailers should be sure to take advantage.
"Pet food industry trends closely mirror the human food industry, and therefore, as plant-based eating continues to grow in popularity with humans, the pet food industry will follow closely behind," says Adolphe. "In addition, due to the challenges of sourcing meat ingredients and their impact on the environment, we predict an increased desire for plant protein sources in the future." PB