Vegan Dog Food, Grain Free Dog Food and Hypoallergenic Dog Food: What Is Best For Your Dog?

Finding the best dog food for your pooch can be tricky.

There are so many options on the market – new foods promising the world appearing every day.

In this post we look at the 3 most common alternative dog foods available.

All of these alternatives are talked about as ‘healthy’ options, and as dog lovers trying to do the best for our dogs, it is easy to be drawn in by such claims.

Today we’ll be examining plant-based/ vegan dog food, grain-free dog food, and hypoallergenic dog food – whether they are as good for your dog as they claim and what you should look out for when choosing between them.

In the interests of simplicity, we will examine only the extruded, dry (i.e. what is often referred to as ‘‘kibble’) forms of each of the foods – this also makes them more easily comparable.

growing fruit crops

Plant-based / Vegan Dog Food

First up is vegan and plant-based dog food.

Through years of research, development and consultation with industry professionals, we have developed what we believe is the most comprehensive, and the most delicious (according to dogs!) plant-based dog food on the market.

Noochy Poochy is the only dog food brand to use the protein-packed superfood nutritional yeast – loved by vegans and vegetarians all over the world, to give our food the amazing cheesy flavour that dogs just love.

Not only does Noochy Poochy have the highest protein content of any plant-based or vegan dog food on the UK market – but with our choice of specific proteins and supplements – all 10 essential amino acids dogs need to survive and thrive are all plentifully provided – including the amino acids methionine and taurine.

Don’t believe us?

“Our dog Bear loves Noochy Poochy. We tried to slowly introduce it into his diet but he went straight for it and never turned back and it definitely feels good giving him plant-based food!” Rob Da Bank – Radio 1 DJ

You can order your first pack of Noochy Poochy now , to see what all the fuss is about!
happy dog in a field

Can You Really Feed Your Dog a Plant-Based/ Vegan Diet?

With more and more commercial plant based options on the market, if you are thinking about making the switch, you want to know if it is truly OK for your dog.

The short answer to the question is yes.

A vegan or plant-based diet can fulfil all of your dog’s nutritional needs, as long as it is fully balanced. We get asked this question a lot at PlantLabs and we’re always here to reassure our customers.

You might be wondering how you can ensure the food is nutritionally balanced.

In a nutshell…

Choose a high quality, commercial plant-based dog food that’s labelled as ‘complete’. You should also make sure there’s a particular amino acid called Methionine (also known as DL- methionine) in the ingredient list – which means it’s been supplemented.

Although all ‘complete’ dog food will contain the 10 essential amino acids dogs need, Methionine – the one that’s found the least in plants compared with the others, is the one that is likely to be a little lower in a vegan or plant-based dog food than is optimum. We would suggest always making sure methionine is supplemented by looking at the ingredients.

We would also advise that the overall protein content of the food is 24% or above to ensure it’s providing the best food for your dog.

In this section we will examine and disprove some of the most common arguments against feeding your dog a plant-based / vegan diet.
history of dogs as wolves

Where Did Dogs Come From? A History Lesson

A common argument against plant-based diets for dogs is that dogs are descended from wolves, and so need meat to survive.

This is based on the misconception that the dogs we have today are actually obligate carnivores like their wolf ancestors, and require meat based sustenance to survive.

This is not actually the case at all – the dogs we share our homes with today are not only genetically different from wolves, they also have a 14,000 year history (at the very minimum) of living side by side with humans which has given them more specific genetic adaptations for digestion of a plant-based diet.

We know that wolves and dogs split into two distinct genetic lineages somewhere 27,000 – 40,000 years ago and also that the domestication process occurred somewhere 14,000 to 40,000 years ago.

What we still don’t know is which came first – initial domestication or genetic splitting – or whether they were pretty simultaneous. However, what we DO know is that domestication was started by hunter-gatherers, when the climate was colder and covered in ice.

It is proposed that the domestication process may have started through hunter-gatherer humans sharing excess meat with wolves (or, if there had already been a genetic split, dogs); perhaps even taking in orphan pups.

It’s also possible that genetic changes at the time of the split made dogs less wary than their wolf counterparts and that this trait enabled humans and dogs to associate more closely.

Perhaps the oldest agreed-upon archaeological evidence for the domestication of dogs is the burial site of a dog with humans from 14,000 years ago, suggesting dogs were firmly installed as pets at that point.

Not only was the dog buried with 2 humans, analysis of the dog’s remains shows it had survived multiple bouts of severe illness and would have been extremely unlikely to have survived through such illness without being cared for.

3,000 years on ( i.e. 11,000 years ago) the Eurasian ice sheets then melted and regressed. Accompanied by our domesticated dogs, humans realised the food security of the crop farming and stockbreeding that started initially in the Middle East and fanned outwards over the next 6000 years. Hunter-gatherer life reduced until around 5000 years ago and there were no hunter-gatherers left in Europe – only fully farming populations.

This 6000 year agricultural revolution made vegetarian and grain-based food far more easily accessible and potentially even disposable. Cereal grains like barley were farmed early on, with progression to protein-rich foods like peas and lentils.

Humans would have been more likely to share readily available plant-based foods with dogs, as well as meat scraps.

a family posing as the different stages of evolution of man

Where things get interesting…

In tandem with the agricultural revolution and subsequent increase in human starch consumption from plant cereal and grain based diet, there was a change in the human genome that led to significantly increased salivary amylase production i.e. over the agricultural revolution, humans evolved to digest our more plant-based diet more efficiently!

What is incredible…

Throughout the same period, there were changes in the dog genome that led to significantly increased pancreatic amylase production. The evolution of dogs mirrors the evolution changes in humans!

Not to labour the point but…

There was also genetic evolution for more efficient absorption of glucose through the dog’s small intestine.

What this means is that an entire pathway responsible for starch digestion and glucose absorption was altered in the dog.

Like humans, they evolved to produce more amylase. Like humans, they evolved to thrive on a diet rich in starch, in comparison with the protein-based wolf diet.

How incredible to think they were there with us throughout this whole period of history, following us (or our agriculture) and changing because of it, like we did.

How much closer could we have expected our journey with dogs could have been?

As advances continue to be made in the field, driven by consumer demand for farmed animal welfare and the environment, it is not an unrealistic view of the future to consider a vegan and plant-based diet for dogs to become the new normal.
Noochy Poochy dog food bag

Pros of Vegan Dog Food

There are lots of pros to feeding your dog a plant-based diet. As well as making you feel like you’re doing your bit to save the planet, vegan dog food provides your canine companion with the nutrients they need.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits…

Vegan Dog Food is Ethical

Without getting into too much academic theory around ethics, the top and bottom of the ethical question for pet food is…

“Do you believe that using farm animals for the food of growing numbers of pet dogs in the world, when the nutrients can be provided by plants and there is now plenty of evidence to support this – is wrong?”

Surely there is only one answer?

Vegan dog food is environmentally friendly.

We know that by humans eating vegan, the demand for farmed meat from domestic animals is reduced.

The latest data suggests that emissions from animal rearing and farming practices contributed to up to 22% of all greenhouse gas emissions across the world. This means that animal farming; specifically animal rearing for slaughter, is a major contributor to global warming.

Let’s cut to the nitty gritty…

Dont meat based foods use the off-cuts and the bits deemed unsuitable for human consumption? Doesn’t this make meat-based pet food at least a little ‘sustainable’?

Not according to this 2020 paper:

Edinburgh University Research On Environmental Impact Of Pet Food

‘Even accounting for the use of by-products in pet foods, the feeding of companion animals plays a role in environmental change. This is a topic that has been previously overlooked, but we have shown that pets and how they are fed should be considered alongside other actions to reduce climate change and biodiversity loss’ – Dr Peter Alexander

So even if the cut-offs are used, meat-based dog food plays a huge role in our environment.

Unfortunately, in tandem with pet dog numbers increasing across the globe, more consumers are opting for premium meat based diets, made with prime meat (i.e. the same meat that would be deemed suitable for humans).

What does this mean?

As there is more demand for prime meat, more farm animals are bred and slaughtered.

Vegan Dog Food is Nutritious

At Noochy Poochy, we check packaging and weigh up the ethics and environmental impact of products we buy against other factors including taste, time to prepare, and cost.

As a result, we have taken great pleasure in creating something that we feel fulfils the high standards for the world and animals that our customers want.

We knew Noochy had to be pretty perfect before it gets into your shopping cart, never mind your dog’s bowl, so all of our products contain 30% organic content.

On top of being able to call Noochy Poochy a ‘complete’ dog food we also supplement both amino acids Methionine and Taurine. In addition, we use a special combination of olive oil, rapeseed oil and linseed oil to give Noochy Poochy an Omega 6:3 ratio of 4:1. This is considered optimum for dog health.

Did you know?

Many dog foods on the market have a ratio of up to 20:1 – don’t believe us? Check the back of your current dog food pack then divide the Omega 6 by the Omega 3 and see what comes up.

And.. as the only dog food to harness the delicious cheesy flavour of superfood nutritional yeast, high protein contents, we would go as far as to say that we are the Rolls Royce of plant-based dog food!

3 of our top 5 ingredients are organic and we’re also proud of our wholegrains (naked oats and organic brown rice).

The vast majority of feedback from people who feed their dogs vegan dog food is overwhelmingly positive.

People have reported positive changes such as:

  • Higher energy levels in previously lethargic dogs
  • A gentler mood or temperament
  • A more lustrous quality to their fur, as their amino acid requirements are being met in abundance
  • An overall improvement in all-round health and vitality
  • More healthy, less smelly and regular bowel movements

Cons of Vegan Dog Food

In an effort to be balanced, we tried to find some real negative points about feeding your dog a fully balanced vegan or plant-based diet.

The only thing that really qualifies as a negative is that you’ll probably find yourself justifying feeding your dog vegan dog food to people who don’t necessarily understand dog nutrition or how they significantly differentiate from wolves.

Conclusion?

The evidence to support feeding vegan and plant-based dog food to the world’s growing number of companion dogs is growing, especially in the wake of climate change.

It’s all very well shouting about ‘biological appropriateness ‘ of diets but we would argue that those shouting the loudest maybe haven’t done their research and aren’t looking at the bigger picture.

We need to change the way humans and animals are fed to reduce our environmental impact.
grains growing in a field

Grain Free Dog Food

Next up on the proverbial chopping block is grain free dog food.

In the first instance, the very idea of a grain free diet is a bit of a hangover from the very human trend of adopting a gluten free diet for health reasons. Some humans are allergic or intolerant to particular grains, or gluten, the protein found in many grains.

Dogs are typically not predisposed to having an allergy to any grain.

There is the exception of dogs who suffer Gluten-sensitive enteropathy of the Irish Setter. This is an immune-mediated intolerance to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and is reminiscent of human celiac disease.

Don’t just take it from us though.

Here’s a world renowned veterinary nutritionist’s take on it:

‘Grains are uncommon causes of food allergies’

In the very rare event that a pet is allergic to a specific grain, there is no need to avoid others.

For example, in the uncommon situation of a wheat allergy, a pet should have no problems eating a diet that contains oats or rice.

There is absolutely no need to dismiss grains from your dog’s diet despite there being a lot of misinformation about grains in pet foods.

It’s important to decipher the facts from the fiction when it comes to grain-free diets. Even though a small percentage of dogs are allergic to wheat, why would we cut out ALL grains for most dogs including rice?

Once we are armed with this knowledge, grain free seems a bit extreme and pretty unnecessary. We didn’t want to believe that grain free diets were just a marketing tool to make this option seem better than others, but it seems that is the reality.

Can You Really Feed Your Dog a Grain Free Diet?

Many of us have been feeding our dogs on grain free diets for the last few years owing in part to the huge amount of advertising on dog food packs. This causes a lot of us to think it is the ‘right’ thing to do.

But are our dogs thriving or just surviving?

Let’s look at this huge trend in a little more detail…

As we touched on above, ‘grain-free’ for dog foods doesn’t mean cutting out processed grains- it includes ALL cereals, and also rice!

So we would question, when dogs have at least 11,000 years practice eating the grains we’ve been farming, harvesting and sharing with them, and when they’ve evolved to thrive on a cereal, grain, and rice diet, why would we suddenly start cutting them out?

Somewhere in there, and probably the reason why this trend has held the dog food market hostage for so long, is the lingering notion that domestic dogs are still wolves.

This refers to the evolutionary process that has occurred in domestic dogs over the last 14,000 years with dogs sharing the dinner table spoils with humans.

It seems this has been ignored and people still believe dogs aren’t capable of digesting grains.

Again, don’t just take it from us!

Take a look at what a qualified veterinary nutritionist said:

‘The truth is that the starch (the main carbohydrate) in appropriately prepared grains is highly digestible (usually 95% or greater)’

Ironically, many manufacturers of grain-free diets substitute simple carbohydrates such as potatoes and tapioca for the more nutrient-packed grains, while marketing the diet as being healthier for the pet.

When potatoes and tapioca are compared to grains such as corn and oats they often have less protein and more sugars than grains.

Is grain free at least better for the environment in some way?

Unfortunately there is no evidence to support that either so be aware of different marketing claims.

Pros and Cons of Grain Free Dog Food

As balanced as we tried to be, this is pretty much all a con.

Grain-free diets have held the market hostage for so long, but it looks like the curtain is finally falling. Further investigation into biological appropriateness and an understanding of how dogs evolved dietary adaptations, have proven grain free diets are not the best option.

Worryingly, grain-free dog food is sold as a healthy alternative to traditional dog food.

If you are thinking of moving to a grain free diet for your dog for health purposes, maybe think again.
hypoallergenic dog food

Hypoallergenic Dog Food

Jeez we’re really having a blast here today. Here’s another blow: hypoallergenic, when used in terms of dog food, means next to nothing.

It doesn’t describe anything useful, and tells you nothing about the product- it is purely a marketing and sales device, a term devised in the 1960s in America!

So can dog food be hypoallergenic?

Hypoallergenic is a very interesting word when talking about dog food.

These products claim that hypoallergenic dog foods reduce the components within the dog food that your dog may be allergic to, therefore reducing the likelihood of your dog being ill from the food.

The issue with this sort of claim is that dogs, much like humans, are extremely varied and nuanced creatures.

Here’s a human example:

If you were to produce a food that is free from tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, fish, sesame seeds, crustaceans, gluten, lupins, molluscs, celery, mustard and sulphites, you’d have something that caters for 13 of the 14 most common human allergies.

Arguably, you could describe that product as hypoallergenic.

A peanut satisfies those conditions, but wouldn’t be of much use to someone with a peanut allergy.

Just because something is hypoallergenic, and has lower allergy causing components, doesn’t mean it will stop any and all allergic reactions your dog may have. This is because your dog might be allergic to something the manufacturers can’t box for and accommodate.

Unsurprisingly, the term ‘hypoallergenic’ was created by marketers.

There is a scene in American TV show ‘Mad Men’ where Marketing Executive Don Draper, the main character, is in a meeting trying to think of ways to sell tobacco after a study has proven tobacco to cause cancer. It is set in the 1960s, so this isn’t odd!

In the scene, he asks how the tobacco is processed.

During the discussion it is mentioned that the tobacco is “toasted”.

A marketing idea is built around this by telling people their tobacco is “toasted”, you change the narrative from “their tobacco is poisonous” to something else – something more acceptable.

By reassuring people, you can sell to them.

Whilst hypoallergenic isn’t quite on the same level of deception as the tobacco in a highly stylised HBO series, it’s along the same lines.

Just because something is hypoallergenic doesn’t mean it’s good for you, or for your dog.

Vegan Dog Food, Grain Free Dog Food and Hypoallergenic Dog Food: What is Best For Your Dog?

What you want is for your dog to get all they need.

Unless your dog is allergic to wheat or gluten or you own a red setter, feeding grain-free means that you are removing the cereals (including rice) that your dog’s recent ancestors actually adapted to eat over their 14,000 years living as companions with us – following us and our agriculture around.

Why remove an important and efficiently processed energy source from them if it’s not really necessary?

Bottom grain-free line: All the ‘dogs are wolves, grain-free / ancient grains are biologically appropriate’ is actually all (unfortunately) loose talk and no real hard recent science.

Hypoallergenic food (those available without prescription) is similar. Is it that it lacks dairy or wheat or chicken (the 4 most common food allergens), or something else perhaps?

The term ‘hypoallergenic’ is loosely splashed about, meaning we could have labelled Noochy Poochy as ‘hypoallergenic’ (as it naturally omits 6 of the top 7 food allergens)if we wanted to. However as we’ve discovered, this term basically means nothing.

So why would we bother labelling this on our food?

There is no environmental benefit to grain-free or hypoallergenic dog food, unless the individual company has an environmental policy.

So, if it doesn’t help your dog and it doesn’t help the planet, who is it helping?

We know your canine friend is more than just your pet and you want them to have the very best! Why not look after your good pal and the planet and get your first pack of our plant-based Noochy Poochy range today!