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Vegan Dog Food. Ingredient analysis and comparison with affco standards

dog no vegan

dog no vegan Recently I got an interesting fb message from a Vegan who mostly feeds their dog a vegan diets. I know this is usually frowned upon for cats (as they are scientifically listed as  100% obligatory carnivore). But I was surprised Vegan dog food was becoming accepted as normal in Australia. If you are vegan look away now, for the rest of you I will present the rare analytical analysis of vegan dog food and some of the reasons that it might not be ideal for dogs.

Science and I know that the dog’s digestive system is still evolved to mostly eat 80% – 90% animal products,  but with most dog food at 30% meat, it was likely to be a small step for people to eradicate meat entirely. It has always been in the dog food manufactures best interest to include the cheapest ingredients in your kibble.

But vegan means ZERO MEAT. This is highly undesirable for the domestic dog species still mostly classed as carnivore by digestive processes.  In this article we explore exactly HOW and WHY vegan dog food exists, and why you should probably avoid it. Even if you are a vegan or vegetarian. For your dog’s health.

IF we ignore the dog evolution from wolves (carnivores) 20,000 years ago, and how bio availability still means dogs cant digest vegetable matter anywhere near as easy as meat,  if we ignore their primal needs to eat bones and meat … It is still important to know the HOW and WHY of vegan dog foods.

Dog food companies LOVE plant matter in their kibble. At 10% or lower the cost of meat, plants make very good economic sense for corportations to convert owners and dogs over to Premium priced products that cost them almost nothing to manufacture. However our previous analysis showed that NO NATUAL source of plant mixes comes anywhere near the minimum essential amino acid requirement by AAFCO (the ‘voluntary’ dog food standards organisation in America). So how do they make vegan food aafco compliant ?

As mentioned in that article:  “ The TOTAL protein amounts in the most popular ingredients typically are:  Beef 55%, Chicken 67%, Wheat 14%, Rice 8%, Sweet potato 7%, Pumpkin 10%.  Even the highest plant source on the list, WHEAT, fails to meet FOUR of the essential amino acid minimum levels. ”  And the total protein requirement is 18% (regular dogs).

The reason that we talk about essential amino acids is that these TEN out of the 22 total amino acids that comprise any protein are not easy to add to products like vitamins and minerals are.  And yet, magically the non species appropriate VEGAN dog food exists.

In fact a pro vegan article says ” A dog food which consists of 18% protein from meat may be adequate to meet your dog’s protein requirements, whereas a dog food which has 18% protein from corn may not be adequate. When choosing vegan dog food, choose options with higher protein percentages to compensate for the lower assimilation of vegetable proteins.” REF 1

Then I found how the vegan ‘breakthrough’ was made.  You can trace much of it back to a little paper written by several universities in Australia about “An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs” REF 2  in 2009

They say in this extract “A dog’s nutrient requirements can theoretically be met from a properly balanced meat-free diet; however, proof for this is lacking. Exercise places additional demands on the body, and dogs fed a meat-free diet may be at increased risk of developing sports anaemia. ”   Their results were ” No dogs in the present study developed anaemia. On the contrary, erythrocyte counts and Hb values increased significantly over time (P < 0·01) in both groups of dogs. The present study is the first to demonstrate that a carefully balanced meat-free diet can maintain normal haematological values in exercising dogs.”  It is noted in later paragraphs that they say that other studies did actually show erythrocyte counts were below acceptable for the vegan food trials.

Now while many university projects purport to be fully independent it is worth knowing that for this particular study ” The present study was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to which Mars Petcare Australia contributed as the industry partner.” A project sponsored by a major dog food company, giving positive results to vegan diets, gives great (bought) legitimacy to their quest to create premium priced, low quality vegan dog foods in the future.

VEGAN DOG FOOD – main ingredients

” The experimental meat-free diet (manufactured at the Mars Petcare pilot plant, Wodonga, Vic, Australia) contained maize gluten and fine soya meal (passed through a 1 mm sieve) as its main protein sources, which together made up 43 % of the pre-extrusion ingredients. The meat-free diet was coated with stabilised vegetable oil,” Ref 1

What you should take from this is that NO DOG would be that interested in a lump of maize gluten or soya meal on its own.  Its only through careful manipulation of smell and added flavours that dogs are fooled into eating this product.

But again you might ask WHY these specific ingredients?

feedipedia  says:  ” Corn gluten meal is a by-product of the manufacture of maize starch (and sometimes ethanol) by the wet-milling process. Corn gluten meal is a protein-rich feed, containing about 65% crude protein (DM), used as a source of protein, energy and pigments for livestock species including fish. It is also valued in pet food for its high protein digestibility. In the USA and Canada, corn gluten meal is also used as a fertilizer and pre-emergent weed killer ”

Now a lot of vegans are interested in minimal processing of their foods. Over processing of food destroys its nutriton value.  How does this sound:

” The wet-milling process of maize …  yields 5 main products: maize starch, maize germ oil meal, corn gluten meal, corn gluten feed and maize steep liquor. After cleaning and removal of foreign material, the maize grain is usually steeped in water with sulfur dioxide (SO2) for 24-40 hours at a temperature of 48-52°C. The role of sulfur dioxide is to weaken the glutelin matrix by breaking inter- and intramolecular disulfide bonds. Steeping at 45-55° C favours the development of lactic acid bacteria that produce lactic acid, lowering the pH of the medium and thereby restricting growth of most other organisms. At the end of the steeping phase, the maize kernels contain about 45% water, having released about 6.0-6.5% of their dry matter as solubles into the steepwater, and have become sufficiently soft to be pulled apart easily with the fingers (BeMiller et al., 2009). After steeping, the maize kernels are coarsely ground so that the germs are separated from the endosperm and used for oil extraction. The extraction of oil from the germs yields maize germ oil meal. The remaining steeping water is condensed into a steep liquor. The endosperm undergoes further screenings that separate the fibre from gluten (protein fraction) and starch slurry. Fibre (bran) is mixed with steep liquor and maize germ oil meal to create corn gluten feed” (feedipedia  )

You are now feeding your dog: bulk livestock food.

Vegan dog food ingredient ” soya meal”

I then wondered why soya meal was used as the ‘perfect’ vegan dog food ingredient.

intechopen says ” The world production of the soybean seeds in 2009/2010 season carried out about 260.6 mln ton ( Rynek rzepaku, 2010) and the same importance producers of seeds and soybean meal are USA, Brazil, Argentine as well as China, which produced about 87% total quantity of soybean seeds.”  On direct consumption is appropriate about 10% of harvest and about 90% of soybean seeds is use as feeds for animals. The production of soybean meal on world is amount over 160 mln ton 

So how minimal is the processing for soya meal?

” The soybean seeds are subjected of different processing so the oil industry supplies many kinds of by-products (cakes, expellers, oilseed meal), which are used in animal nutrition. After preliminary processes of type the cleaning, smashing, dehulling, conditioning, flaking, boiling or toasting of soybean seeds, the oil is extracted from seeds by mechanical method or by solvent extraction. Most of all wide spread is solvent extraction. In results of this process the raw oil and defatted flakes are obtained. In order to elimination of anti-nutritional substances the flakes subjected on high temperature (toasted) and the soybean meal is obtained. To the obtained flakes, sometimes the hulls are added back and obtained soybean meals contained different quantity of protein and fiber. When the hulls does not add, the high protein products are obtained, which used mainly in poultry nutrition. The other meals containing more or less of hulls application are used in nutrition of another animals ” (ref intechopen)

” About 46% of soybean by-products are appropriate to poultry, 32% to swine, about 9% to dairy and beef cattle respectively. ” (intechopen)

You are now feeding your dog: bulk livestock food.

THE ONLY REASON your VEGAN DOG is being feed this highly processed livestock food (that mostly herbivores eat) is that its cheap and can be sold at a premium price.  UNLIKE any natural plant source like wheat or sweet potato (see table below), these highly processed by products in ABSOLUTE terms have similar total PROTEIN and essential amino acid levels to MEAT.  This means they dont need any essential amino acids added, keeping the costs down. But the over processing and lack of meat micro nutrients are still an issue. It looks like meat, but is NOT meat.

Below is a comparison of the essential amino acids found in two main MEATS used in dog food: BEEF and CHICKEN,  the wheat and sweet potato low proteins sources, and the high protein high processed sources of corn gluten and soybean meal.

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACID PERCENTAGE values with 10% water included in source

Essential Beef CHICKEN wheat sweet Corn


Soybean meal AAFCO DOG
AMINO Cooked roasted duram potato Adult Maint.
ACID Minimum
water % 10 10 10 10 10 10  
protein % 55 67 14 7 61 44 18
OTH % 35 23 76 83 29 46  
Tryptophan 0.34 0.78 0.18 0.15 0.45 0.75 0.16
Threonine 2.09 2.82 0.37 0.40 3.90 2.03 0.48
Isoleucine 2.37 3.52 0.54 0.26 4.00 2.78 0.38
Leucine 4.15 5.01 0.94 0.44 14.60 3.92 0.68
Lysine 4.41 5.67 0.31 0.31 3.50 3.22 0.63
Methionine 1.36 1.85 0.22 0.14 2.20 0.69 0.65
Cystine 0.67 0.85 0.29 0.10 0.00 0.00 0.65
Phenylalanine 2.06 2.65 0.69 0.42 5.80 3.00 0.45
Tyrosine 1.66 2.25 0.36 0.16  
Valine 2.59 3.31 0.60 0.41 4.80 2.67 0.49
Arginine 3.37 4.03 0.49 0.26 4.00 3.78 0.51
Histidine 1.67 2.07 0.33 0.15 2.10 1.32 0.19
Alanine 3.17 3.64 0.43 0.37
Aspartic acid 4.75 5.95 0.62 1.81
Glutamic acid 7.84 10.00 4.79 0.74
Glycine 3.18 3.28 0.50 0.30
Proline 2.49 2.74 1.47 0.25
Serine 2.06 2.30 0.67 0.42
Hydroxyproline 0.55 0.00 0.00 0.00

Key:  Essential amino acid,   AFFCO Min % adult dog maintenance


If you are unable to walk your dog off lead twice a day.

If you live in a conventional house and your dog doesn’t hunt regularly with a large pack of dogs.

If your dog has very little that is actually natural in its life  the ONE THING you can provide it is meat via their main meal (around 80% plus) or meat based dog treats.

Besides the PRIMAL nature of them ripping and shredding jerkies with their teeth and holding it with their paws, the treats clean the dogs teeth, add species appropriate food (including many micro nutrients not readily available in plant matter, and some can be used for medicinal use such as joint support.

Below is the difference in what vegan dog food suppliers have to do to mimic a meat based dog food diet.

This is the difference between a TRUE raw feeder AND a  vegan dog food ingredient list

1              RAW MEAT FEEDER example:  meat, offal, bones.  I add fish oil, sunflower oil and a multivitamin …  but compare to the ‘alternative’

2              VEGAN DOG FOOD EXAMPLE:   Wyson vegan dog food example

Brown rice, corn protein, extruded soybeans, potato protein, soybean oil, flaxseeds, molasses, peas, dicalcium phosphate, montmorillonite clay, sesame seeds, salt, coconut oil, taurine, lysine, L-tryptophan, choline chloride, L-carnitine, chia seeds, rice bran oil, calcium propionate, dried kelp, organic barley grass, blueberry, citric acid, apple pectic, yeast extract, mixed tocopherols, rosemary extract, chicory root, hemicelluloses extract, yeast culture, carrots, celery, beets, parsley, lettuce, watercress, spinach, minerals (potassium chloride, zinc proteinate, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, iron proteinate, copper sulfate, copper proteinate, manganese sulfate, manganese proteinate, sodium selenite, calcium iodate), calcium carbonate, vitamins (ascorbic acid – source of vitamin C – vitamin E supplement, niacin, calcium pantothenate, vitamin A, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, Vitamin D2, biotin, vitamin B12, folic acid), dried bacillus licheniformis fermentation product, dried aspergillus niger fermentation product, dired enterococcus faecium fermentation product, dried lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dried lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried bacillus subtilis fermentation product, dried lactobacillus plantarum fermentation product, dried lactobacillus lactis fermentation product, pepper.

As you can see there are many more ingredients required to do a ‘simple’ dog food meal. Complicated a great deal because THEY are trying to emulate a carnivore diet without meat. It will never be the same, as good or healthy or easy to digest for your dog.

While most commercial dog foods have to have a lot of added vitamins and minerals to reach the high affco’ levels (ensuring a commercial dog food monopoly) ..  There are other things you should know about the above vegan list.

Some of the Strange Ingredients that are include in Vegan dog food:

taurine, lysine, L-tryptophan  These THREE essential amino acids (source unknown) have to be added to this vegan recipe, because it tries to use inadequate plant matter.

dicalcium phosphate is added instead of your dog eating bio available small raw bones. If this additive compound is not chelated, it won’t be easily used by your dog.

Montmorillonite Clay (yes your dog is eating clay because it has manganese, silica, calcium, iron, sodium and potassium)

It uses flaxseeds for Omega 3, that are nowhere near as bio available as salmon fish oil OR the omega 3 in roo and fish dog treats.

It includes molasses to add that sugary taste to convince the dog that the food is worth eating – but not ideal if your dog is pre diabetic from already eating too many grains (carbs).

The mass of ” fermentation product,”  products are because plant matter is not dog species specific and is required to assist digestion of inappropriate food.

These are all band aid patches to a plant based food that is just trying to mimic a simple animal meat based diet.


The Vegan article on plenteousveg says that

“But here is the problem: dogs don’t assimilate vegan protein as well as meat protein. The article gives a digestibility index for comparison, without citing the source, and other sources give plant matter generally a lower rating. ” Ref 1

FOOD Digestibility index
Egg whites 1
Muscle meats (chicken, beef, lamb) 0.92
Organ meats (kidney, liver, heart) 0.9
Milk, cheese 0.89
Fish 0.75
Soy 0.75
Rice 0.72
Oats 0.66
Yeast 0.63
Wheat 0.6
Corn 0.54

As you can see, plant matter sources all have LOW dog digestibility. Your dog is working much harder to try and digest innappropriate food or it is passed through as waste.  This is just one of the articles we have written on this matter:  

the Vegan article says that “ Egg whites are used as a benchmark and given the value of 1 because they are so easy for dogs to digest.”  REF 1   Though this is a superficial look at how eggs should be used with dogs. Of course as a vegan you wont be using any eggs, but just so you know the level of analysis we use to gain our understanding of dog nutrition …   we have found that the eggs need to be cooked and only feed a maximum of about three times a week.   This is because of the interaction of chemicals in the egg white and yolk and is explained in details here:

They say ” A dog food which consists of 18% protein from meat may be adequate to meet your dog’s protein requirements, whereas a dog food which has 18% protein from corn may not be adequate. When choosing vegan dog food, choose options with higher protein percentages to compensate for the lower assimilation of vegetable proteins…    experts generally recommend around 25-30% protein for active and growing dogs..”  Ref 1

the vegan article gives a special note on:

Taurine and L-Carnitine

“These amino acids deserve special attention.  They are not considered essential because dogs can synthesize them in their livers. However, some dogs may have trouble synthesizing enough taurine and L-carnitine to meet their nutritional needs. These amino acids are not found naturally in any vegan foods”  REF  1  So unlike meat based meals, vegan meals might need to have these added.

They give a note on Carbohydrates

“Dogs technically do not need carbohydrates because they can use protein and fat for energy. However, carbohydrates are still an important source of energy and can also provide fiber, minerals like iron, and antioxidants (such as when carbs come from whole grains or fruit). If the dog doesn’t get enough carbohydrates for energy, it can start to use protein (and muscle!) as an energy source.” REF 1

The reality is that dogs 100% do NOT need carbohydrates.  SUGAR (carbs) may well be the main reason that many carnivore dogs develop diabetes and some forms of pancreatitis. No one is paying a lot of money for research into this (ie ZERO), but you may gain more knowledge from this article:

A savvy dog nutritionist will know that Protein and Carbs have essentially the SAME energy amount, gram for gram.  The vast difference between carbs and animal meat food is that Animal protein can be used for the essential amino acids AND  energy needs of the dog. Meat is NOT filled up with EMPTY CALORIES (sugar)  (like a human sugar soda drink). Dogs can get fibre from animal skin, bone material (ash) etc.

Meat is a SUPER FOOD for dogs.

The ONLY reason I feed my dog a small amount of kibble is to give them easy access to plant FIBRE to assist firm stools. If you don’t feed your dog whole animals for food, then FIBRE is about the only thing that grain or vegan dog foods are useful for – but you might also want to make sure its the right kind of fibre.

The VEGAN take on starches

“Note that starches need to be thoroughly cooked in order for the dog to utilize them. Otherwise the starches can start to ferment in the large intestine and cause health issues. Any starches you give your dog (such as lentils) need to be cooked until very soft and ideally mashed.” Ref 1

And this is the big hurdle for commercial dog food makers.  If you cook meat or plants at high temperatures they denature the proteins and many other nutrients in the mix.  Dried dog treats can be dried at much lower temperatures than most dog food pellets are cooked at – because they dont need to super cook the starches to make them digestible.

And if a plant isn’t fully digestible it will either cause gas in the dog’s intestine or give it malnutrition through loose stools or at least passing through its system up to 5 time faster than a herbivore like a COW.  And yes, for those needing a refresher on the difference between dog digestion and cow digestion.


 Vegetarianism and veganism is a choice for humans who are omnivores at their core.

Dogs are carnivores at their core, with a tolerance for some plant matter. NOT ZERO MEAT.

In short some of the reasons we propose a mainly animal (meat) based diets for dogs are:

  • DIGESTION:  Carnivore teeth, stomach, acid, short intestine
  • BIO AVAUIABLE:  essential amino acids are maximum  digestibility
  • Low processing of ingredients required. Aiding increased digestibility
  • PRIMAL nature of ripping  animal jerkies and biting bones (ie satisfaction)
  • Natural health aspects of low fat, high Omega 3, joint support etc.

IF you are vegan and still require vegan dog food, we can always provide meat based treat supplements to fill in the holes in the nutrition.

The ‘rock and the hard place’ vegan food conundrum seems to be that you can either feed your dog highly processed livestock feed (meant for herbivores) as the main ingredients in your vegan dog food (corn gluten and soya etc) – that by their extensive processing de nature the amino acids and vitamins considerably requiring many extras to be added.

OR you can go the more ‘natural’ plant based route of traditional grains or vegetables. But as you can see from the above analysis of just one vegan product, the ingredients are just trying to mimic meat, bones and offal. They need the addition of some essential amino acids, probably from the livestock over processes plant mixes, because they don’t have enough nutrition in them to feed your dog upfront. Plus the numerous nutrients found naturally in animal products.

The real point here seems to be that even science is struggling in 2019 to Frankenstein a decent digestible plant based dog food for vegans.  So in the meantime they are throwing as many ingredients as they can at the solution, which will also boost the price considerably for an inferior (low bio availability) product.

This article wont convince any core vegan or vegetarian of the need to feed their dog, meat based foods. BUT if you are sitting on the fence of considering following another expensive trend (like gluten free dog foods, grain free (full of other plant matter) or hypo-allergenic dog food (for dogs that don’t have any defined food allergies) you might also want to give your dog a pass on this vegan ‘dog food’ trend. Your dog deserves better.

The issue I have with the ‘ethics’ of veganism, is that NO DOG choose NOT to eat meat. That is what the wolf does, and most dogs prefer from birth, until they are taught otherwise by humans. It is NOT unethical for a carnivore based animal (our pet dogs) to eat MEAT.  In fact, it is highly unethical to impose a vegan diet on a carnivore based species.

We look forward to the next trend that the commercial interests offer up, from something they have dreamed up in the lab (like artificial meat) …  to convince dog owners dogs don’t deserve a mainly meat based diet.  The sad thing is that most dog owners only become aware of the nutrition deficiencies when their dog reaches the mature stage (typically seven plus) when mystery illnesses occur and need expensive vet treatment.

The more natural you keep your dog (ie comfortable environment at home), regular off lead dog walks and meat based diet .. the more likely you will see the true satisfied nature of your dog.  

PS – Be aware that randomly tossing your own homemade dog food together is rarely the solution. Most online recipes we have seen are: one third rice, one third veggies and one third or less cooked meat. While that has about the same amount of meat as many commercial dog foods, it won’t have sufficient essential amino acids. It doesnt have the high vitamins and minerals of offal like raw lamb kidneys, it won’t include the right amount of phosphorus and calcium for bone maintenance, or the plethora of vitamins and  minerals recommended by affco to meet their ‘standards’. And you will need to add your own mix of fish oil (omega 3) and Omega 6 oil.

This is why for most people we suggest continuing with the highest meat component commercial dog food, and supplementing with meat based dog treats. Treats for nutrition for ‘occupying’, and for teeth cleaning, joint support etc.




2              An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs  2009

3      –  for Essential amino acid  raw values

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