Controversial: Could a Vegan Diet Have Contributed to One of the Oldest Living Dogs?

Dogs can live on a meat-free diet, but does that mean they should? It’s not surprising that conversations surrounding companion animals and veganism are entering the mainstream. As global attitudes towards animal agriculture evolve, and the environmental impact of pet food production rises further still (The Guardian, 2018), a move away from carnivorous pet diets seems logical – especially amongst vegans and environmental campaigners. There is no greater champion of this shift than Anne Heritage, whose Border Collie Bramble lived to 25 years old on a diet of rice, lentils and textured vegetable protein (V-dog, n.d).

Pet veganism remains a contentious issue, but the question of whether Bramble’s long and happy life can be attributed to her diet is intriguing. Despite a distinct lack of evidence into the long-term health benefits of plant-based pet nutrition, the studies that do exist give merit to the possibility of meat-free diets as a nutritionally sound option for companion animals (Knight and Leitsberger, 2016). What’s most important is that vegan or vegetarian canines are fed a combination of all 10 essential amino acids (Veterinary Practice, 2014). 

We know that in humans, balanced plant-based diets are linked to reduced rates of cancer and heart disease. Studies also suggest that these are two of the leading causes of death amongst pedigree dogs (Adams, Evans, Sampson and Wood, 2010). Although humans metabolise foods differently to animals, it’s not implausible that canines like Bramble might experience some of the same health benefits of plant-based eating. Further evidence comes from a 2002 study concluding that diets rich in antioxidants (which are plentiful in plant sources) reduce cognitive dysfunction in dogs (Cotman et al., 2002).

While Anne spotlights Bramble’s vegan diet as the driving force behind her long lifespan, there may have been other factors at play. For instance, with daily walks exceeding two hours, Bramble also exercised considerably more than the average UK dog (The Independent, 2018).

Additionally, Anne took a very holistic approach to Bramble’s nutrition. By swapping packaged dry and wet food for vegetables and whole grains, she was able to remove any trace of processed ingredients containing hormones, antibiotics or preservatives from Bramble’s daily meals.

Of course, it may be possible to attribute Bramble’s good health to a lack of processed meat, rather than complete avoidance of meat and other animal products. Nevertheless, there is little evidence to suggest that even fresh meat (or ‘raw meat’) diets are nutritionally superior to vegan diets. In fact, a critical review of studies evaluating the health benefits of raw meat for pets concluded that it ‘poses a substantial risk of infectious disease’ to both cats and dogs (Schleinger and Joffe, 2011).

So, the question remains. Could a vegan diet have helped Bramble secure a place amongst the oldest living dogs? Most likely, yes! 

Despite the limited research in the field of canine health and veganism, it isn’t far-fetched (pardon the pun!) to suggest that a vegan diet like Bramble’s could ensure a long and happy life. A low-fat, fibre-rich diet of brown rice and lentils, combined with an active lifestyle, likely played a significant role in staving off cardiac and inflammation-related diseases. However, this may not be evidence that veganism is suitable for every dog, but one thing’s for sure – a plant-based diet certainly didn’t compromise Bramble’s quality of life.

References

Adams, V., Evans, K., Sampson, J. and Wood, J., 2010. Methods and mortality results of a health survey of purebred dogs in the UK. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 51(10), pp.512-524.

Cotman, C., Head, E., Muggenburg, B., Zicker, S. and Milgram, N., 2002. Brain aging in the canine: a diet enriched in antioxidants reduces cognitive dysfunction. Neurobiology of Aging, 23(5), pp.809-818.

Knight, A. and Leitsberger, M., 2016. Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals. Animals, 6(9), p.57.

Schleinger, D.P and Joffe, D.J., 2011. Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 52(1), pp.50-54.

The Guardian. 2018. Pet food is an environmental disaster – are vegan dogs the answer?. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jun/26/pet-food-is-an-environmental-disaster-are-vegan-dogs-the-answer> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

The Independent. 2021. The average dog owner walks their pet 1,000 miles in a year. [online] Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/average-dog-pet-owner-walks-miles-year-calls-name-plays-fetch-a8230826.html> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

V-dog. 2021. Bramble the Collie’s Secrets to Living to Age 25. [online] Available at: <https://v-dog.com/blogs/v-dog-blog/bramble-the-collies-secrets-to-living-to-age-25> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

Veterinary-practice.com. 2021. The importance of vegetable protein. [online] Available at: <https://veterinary-practice.com/article/the-importance-of-vegetable-protein> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

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