Dog-food fight

Locals create vegan dog meals; others prefer meat and bones

After trying V-Dog, Leroy the Office Pug refused to eat meat ever again.

After trying V-Dog, Leroy the Office Pug refused to eat meat ever again.

Photo By nick miller

Vegans—those among us who consume nothing derived from animals or their byproducts—may try and convince the rest of society to join their crusade against animal cruelty and the wanton waste of resources inherent to producing meat and dairy. Some of us may join, others reject.

But if you happen to be a dog, you basically have no choice in the matter. Yes, a growing demographic of vegans wean their animals onto dog-food formulas made of whole grains, herbs and supplements. V-Dog, founded in Sacramento in 2005, now serves 4,000 clients and their vegan dogs nationwide, and is growing at a rate of almost 20 percent every year, according to co-founder David Middlesworth.

“Health is a key component to this,” says Middlesworth, who says in five years his company has had to give just three product refunds. “Vegan dogs smell better on both ends. The other component is that you’re not killing animals to feed animals.”

Some veterinarians vouch for vegan dog food. Dr. Armaiti May, a UC Davis-trained veterinarian who makes house calls in and around Santa Monica, is a vegan herself, and believes many dogs should be, too.

The ethical reasons have much to do with her beliefs.

“Food choices made for dogs are as important as the choices for our own diets,” says May. “I don’t think it’s responsible to ignore the ethical ramifications of choosing a meat diet for yourself or your dog.”

She cites the unpleasant lives and deaths of 10 billion farm-raised land animals per year in the United States that die so others can eat them.

UC Davis clinical veterinary nutritionist Jennifer Larsen believes there are many “right” ways to feed dogs, and she says meeting the nutritional needs of a dog with a vegan diet “certainly is possible.”

But on the other end of the dog-diet spectrum is an international community of pet owners who model their animals’ diets upon those of their wild relatives. Tom Lonsdale, a guru of the subject and author of 2001’s Raw Meaty Bones, a bible of the movement, says that anything less than a raw meat and bone diet for carnivorous domesticated animals fails to meet their physiological needs.

“If people are going to take on a carnivore as a pet, then they have obligations and they can’t sidestep those obligations,” says Lonsdale, who lives in Australia.

Lonsdale has produced peer-reviewed articles documenting positive results—very often dental—that dogs and cats experience when placed on all meat and bone diets.

But May regularly prescribes several vegetarian or vegan brands, including V-Dog, as medicine for dogs exhibiting food-allergy symptoms, usually in the form of skin conditions. May, in fact, believes that many dogs suffer allergic reactions to meat-derived proteins.

The domestic dog, Canis familiaris, falls in the order Carnivora along with such mammals as skunks, weasels, cats, pinnipeds and bears, and some scientists even place domestic dogs in the same species—lupus—as the gray wolf. Lonsdale, for one, points to the wolf as a model of appropriate diet for pet dogs.

Larsen and May both believe domestic dogs have diverged so far from wolves that basing their diets upon wolf feeding habits can be a recipe for error.

“The life goals for my dog are very different than those of a wolf,” Larsen says. “Anyway, wild wolves are not always so healthy. It’s a romantic idea that nature’s way is always the best.”

The V-Dog kibble recipe includes whole wheat, whole corn, quinoa, oats, soybean oil, beets, pasta and parsley, plus various supplements, meeting the pet-food nutrient profile guidelines of the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

But Lonsdale discounts the very industry forces that regulate pet foods, warning that they facilitate “government-endorsed mass poisoning of animals.” He disapproves not only of vegan dog foods but also of commercially produced mainstream products.

May and Middlesworth also doubt the virtues of mass-produced dog-food brands, and this point may be the only common ground between the opposing sides. May even gives some credit to diets of raw meat and bones.

“Any diet that isn’t full of chemicals and diseased animals may be healthier for our dogs,” she says.

But Lonsdale sticks to his guns.

“Feeding dogs anything less than what they would be eating in the wild is unfair, it’s unhealthy, it’s cruel.”