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Thoughts on Plant Based Diets for Dogs

I am thinking, since proposing this idea of changing the diet of dogs to a more plant based one, it would help to explain somewhat what my path to this has been. Many people when first hearing about this react with strong disapproval, saying this is both unnatural and harmful to dogs. Of course we know that the ancestors of dogs, the wolves, were prey animals and mostly ate the animals they hunted and killed. It is easy, therefore, to assume that domestic dogs should be fed the same way. This would be a good argument a couple of centuries ago, but not so much now.

The Problem

We have a problem in the dog world. Overall dogs are becoming more sick with the passing years. I am referring to numbers, percentages. Whatever our system of medicine is doing, it is not bringing about a progressive improvement of health in the dog population. One example, is the tremendous increase in cancer in dogs. Veterinarians that have looked into this say that cancer is now the leading cause of death in dogs and that some breeds like Golden Retrievers will have half of them experiencing cancer in their lives.

The Veterinary Perspective

I am giving just one example of what we veterinarians are facing in our desire to help dogs lead healthy lives. I have been a veterinarian for 50 years and I have seen a lot of change and it has concerned me. I kept looking into what might be causing this to happen (not just cancer, but the decline in health). This led me, over time, into study of nutrition, a re-evaluation of vaccine use (not an easy thing for me to do with my PhD in immunology), and working with alternative methods of treatment. I came to like homeopathy the best.


My study of nutrition opened up a whole new world. I had no idea. What I found you will see in our book along with the nutritional advice that came from my clinical experience. What is different in this last edition of our book is putting much emphasis on feeding dogs a plant based diet or a diet with mostly plant sources and minimal animal products. Many people object to this, thinking it cannot be healthy. I started out thinking the same way but my progression of learning took me to a different view.

Environmental Contamination

I learned that the environment has been very significantly contaminated by substances which are toxic when they end up in our tissues. It did not used to be like this, but with each passing year it has become greater and greater. Part of this is that more and more chemicals are being put into use. There are now 100,000 being used in all sorts of ways, most of them ending up in sewers, in the water, soil, ocean. One of the most toxic materials is the solid stuff that settles out in waste water treatment plants of towns and cities. There was so much of it that there had to be a way to get rid of it. It was expensive to put in a land fill so another solution was thought up. The sewage sludge was renamed “biosolids” and our government approved it being used as fertilizer on our food crops. So the most toxic material we can come up with, with hundreds of chemicals in it, is put on our food for the plants to take up.

It is not just this source that is a problem. As one example, industrial processing has released very extensive amounts of dioxin, which is considered to be the most potent chemical in existence that can cause cancer. Dioxin is throughout the environment, highest in fish, next in eggs, then significant amounts in dairy and beef. It is important to realize that dioxin is not something added to the food, or injected into the animals. It is in the environment, in water, air and soil. So it gets into all animals, even those raised organically.

Do you begin to see the problem? We could go on and on. After all, there are 100,000 chemicals. But you can get the idea. I realized that this contamination was a big deal and that regular feeding of dogs with sources that had poisons in them would be a very important reason whey there would be so much increasing illness.


We could talk about this for a very long time. There is actually much information available. Rather what I would like to do is bring in one more consideration and that is called “bioaccumulation.” The idea is this: the chemicals introduced into our environment are taken up by the plants as they grow. The animals that eat the plants then also get these chemicals but because they eat plant after plant, over months or years, the chemicals build up in their bodies to much higher levels that what is in the plants. Then if there are animals that eat these plant-easting animals, then they too accumulate more of it. This is sometimes called a “food chain” meaning that like a ladder the amount of accumulate chemical gets higher every rung. How much higher at the top? We are talking hundreds of thousands or millions of times more than what is found in plants. So what animals are at the “top” of the food chain and get the most chemical buildup? Human beings, dogs, cats.

Do dogs have much in their bodies? Studies of their tissues tell us that have about one and half times as much as the average human. This is a big load. Many of the chemicals are carcinogens. I will remind you that carcinogen meant a chemical that has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Do you think it possible that if a dog is eating a food that contains chemicals that cause cancer in animals that it might be a problem for that dog eventually? It may take a few years. It might show up as something else, maybe allergies, chronic ear problems, hypothyroidism. Who knows? The veterinary profession is not really interested into looking into this. Even if it were, it would involve injecting some poor dogs with the chemical for a time to see what it would do to them. A nasty thing to do.

Another Idea

How about a simple solution? I admit not a total solution but one that does seem like it makes sense. How about we just don’t feed so much of this toxic stuff to them? Once this came to my mind I had to investigate the possibility that dogs could get by eating less meat and animal products. I was surprised to find studies that showed they could do very well on vegetarian diets, even diets entirely plant based. This investigation took some time as I had my inner resistances just like most of you. But I found that dogs have the ability to eat a variety of foods and do quite well with them. They are not considered to be strict carnivores by biologists and that has allowed them to adapt to a range of diets. Studies of their ability to make enzymes used in digestion has shown us that the have the same ability as humans in this regard. They can eat carbohydrates and digest them very well.

Testing the Idea

Along the way this idea was put into action. I began to recommend to people that they make diet changes and see if there was a favorable effect. It was surprising to see that many dogs with chronic health problems, like allergies, auto-immune diseases, seizures, would noticeably improve in their health when animal products no longer part of their diet. This was unanticipated on my part but was much like long ago when I started having clients prepare their own food instead of using commercial pet foods and seeing improvements there.

Seeing better health in these chronically ill dogs reinforced the idea that this consideration of environmental contamination was an important to understand. I am not suggesting it is the only issue but seem it must be a very significant factor. Even if the chemical buildup is not the primary influence, it must be somewhat weakening to that animal wouldn’t you think?


I am going to close here. As I said above, we could go on and on with information and experience about this. I do want to communicate here that my views about this, whatever their validity, have come about because of a very long time of study and experience in the veterinary field. I started with the desire to help animals, to spare them unnecessary suffering, and this intention has remained all this time. I feel like it was this intention that prompted me to look “outside the box” and consider other ways of looking at this problem of increasing chronic health problems for our poor brothers and sisters.

Blessing to you all.

45 thoughts on “Thoughts on Plant Based Diets for Dogs

  1. I began feeding my dogs raw food 16 years ago as well as found an outstanding homeopathic. Insignificant issues in the health of my dogs for years. Then things changed. Two of my older dogs got cancer. It wasn’t because of vaccines because they did not receive them under my care. My feeling is it was the meat… I believe that the GMOs and Glyphosate in chickens diet were adversely affecting the meat. Prior to feeding raw I did a vegan diet with rice and ( organic) tofu and I ordered a supplement from Bismarck, North Dakota. I don’t feel the dogs thrived on that diet but I am willing to look at a vegetarian diet again especially because unless you know first hand your meat source you could be getting meat that is not good for your dogs.

  2. Cynthia, thanks for sharing this information. That is the sort of thing I have seen to. Dogs will do well on a raw food diet because it is nutritionally good for them, but with advancing years these chronic problems start to show up, like cancer. I think it is because of the buildup of the toxins. Check out our book for recipes as we worked them out very carefully.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  3. Hello, Your book (the 4th edition) has been a god send to me–and not just for my dogs; I treat it as a guide for human health as well. But I’ve been looking for a holistic vet in my area and so far–no luck. Let me clarify. I found one that says she offers homeopathy, but she does NOT agree with veganism for dogs. I have to say…when she used capital letters in her reply to me (NOT), I was turned off. Any advice? The reason I wanted to go to a homeopathic vet is that I really absorbed your chapter on the immune system. One of my dogs (Olive) has mild IBD (still experimenting with the homemade recipes for her); my other little guy (Walter) has had intermittent seizures. He does not lose consciousness, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s either the vaccines, or the flea medicine (nexguard). And I want someone that will work with me. What would you do? Thanks for your time. -liz

  4. Many veterinarians are resistant to feeding dogs a plant based diet. They are not acting from understanding, but rather a cultural belief absorbed when young. People think of dogs like they are wolves, and thus they are animal eaters. Actually wolves and dogs are omnivores and the dog-like creatures in nature eat many plant materials as well — berries, fruits, herbs, etc. When a vet reacts like this it is not from knowledge but, as I say, a belief. This will hopefully change as more information comes out about these issues.
    If you tell me the geographical area where you live I can look to see if I know a vet that I can refer you too. Otherwise check the listing on my web site for referrals and maybe you will find another choice.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  5. Wow, thanks so much for responding so quickly. I live in Richmond Virginia. I always assume that authors of books are famous and as such, I will probably have to wait years for a reply–ha ha ha. I know you aren’t a fan of flea medicines, but do you think it could cause mini-seizures? On the subject of mild IBD, from compassion circle, I have been trying their oats & tofu recipe for my girl. She seems to like it. My plan was to mix it with V-dog vegan kibble until I can get her transitioned. I had written to you previously with a question about ‘natural balance’ vegan food, but I may have done something wrong with the computer…it didn’t take. Anyway, one thing that kind of confused me about your advice on vegan kibble: in one section you say that foods like ‘natural balance’ are good. I think you even say that that particular food is good. But in another section, you clearly state that GMO’s are awful. Just wondering…did you know that ‘natural balance’ contains GMO canola? Thanks again. –liz

  6. Hi again…quick question: when making the recipes in your book, are fats interchangeable? what I mean is, if the recipe calls for 3 tbsp. tahini, can I substitute 3 tbsp. hemp oil? Just wondering because one of my dogs is pickier and doesn’t seem to like the tahini…I think. It’s difficult sometimes to say exactly what’s going on. Also, the picky dog in question was previously diagnosed with mild IBD by the “regular” vets. Per the homeopathic doctor’s guidance (and your book), I decided to take her off the heartgard and nexguard–two meds that prior to the IBD diagnosis, we lived in a very dry state and had no need for them. Lo and behold, after taking her off these drugs, her IBD disappeared. Now maybe I’m jumping the gun here, but have you seen this before in your practice?


  7. Liz, I think you can try different fats. Should be equivalent. I have no calculations with different fats but all are same calories, etc. Regarding the use of the drugs, yes, they have many reported side effects so smart that you figured out how to stop using them.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  8. Hello again,
    What are your feelings on dental cleanings for a 12 year old dog? Is there a remedy for inflamed gums?

  9. If a cleaning needed, then appropriate to do. Yes, there are remedies for gum problems. You will need to work with a homeopathic veterinarian to determine which is best.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  10. Hi Dr. Pitcairn,
    Your book was one of the first I ever purchased for guidance in caring for my dogs (I’m still using the old edition!). I had no idea what homeopathy was at that time but I did change my dogs’ diets to home-cooked with meat. Sadly, one of my dogs passed away two years ago after what I firmly believe was a vaccine-compromised system. I turned to homeopathy but I could only do so much as there are no homeopathic vets in Singapore. I am studying homeopathy now and I was wondering if my studies will help with pets? Or do I need to go through vet school?

  11. You can understand homeopathy without going through veterinary school. Much of what is given you in veterinary school, other than anatomy and physiology, is the method we call allopathic and this is different than the homeopathic system. Study homeopathy and, as needed, learn some of how the body works (physiology) which will help you assess the symptom changes. If you have not noticed there is now a repertory for veterinary use that we published. You can read about it on my website. Called New World Veterinary Repertory. Good luck.

  12. Hi again, I know that you’ve stated before that you’re kind of opposed to dental cleanings, but my Olive’s teeth look pretty bad–red, inflamed, etc. Bones don’t seem to make a difference at this point. What do you think? The vet (non-homeopath) advises me to do it to prevent further gum disease and heart disease. My Olive is 13. I just want her to live as long as possible, and when I look at her mouth, it feels like the right thing to do. –Liz

  13. I am not opposed to dental cleaning when it is necessary. I have cautioned clients that often the reason for the teeth and gums becoming unhealthy is due to the diet and that routine cleaning is not sufficient in itself.

  14. Okay, good to know…I didn’t switch my dogs to your lentils/rice recipe until I discovered it, which was late in their lives. Oh well, you live and learn. One other quick question (I promise): my Olive has IBD, and lately she has had more exacerbations than when she was younger. It’s hard to know what is the culprit that causes this. Right now I’m having to feed her chicken and rice (after a course of metronidazole) to get her gut back to normal, but am slowly transitioning back to Evolution kibble–a dry food that was originally used only for her care when I am out of town, and as it turned out, she tolerated it well. But it’s pricey. Do you think I should try and transition her back to the homemade food? My regular vet says that IBD can get worse with age and that the transition from one food to another has to happen really slowly.

  15. Liz, I have “lived and learned” like you 🙂
    How I treated this bowel problem was to first clean up the diet as it is usually the cause. Of course we are recommending the recipes in the last edition of our book, plant based. Why? As one example, unless you are feeding organic chicken it has been reported that the chicken sold in markets significantly exceeds the acceptable FDA level of arsenic. The poisoning effect of arsenic is chronic diarrhea, intestinal inflammation, abdominal pain, etc. Many of these symptoms are worse at night.
    The other treatment, after optimizing the diet, was to do homeopathic treatment. In my experience these problems could be cured.

  16. oh, thank you so much. I feel guilty now. I bought organic chicken, but last night I went ahead and purchased the so-called “natural” brand to save some money. I’m an idiot. Or maybe I’m not, but I live in a world that is completely driven by money and thus…I’m put smack dab in the middle of the vortex of money vs. quality and the confusion and overlapping of the two that follows–money is quality? quality has nothing to do with money? you get what you pay for? etc. etc. It’s such a crazy world we live in. I take that to mean that I definitely should go back to the homemade recipes. But Evolution is the best dry food I’ve found.

  17. Liz, you are not an idiot. Well, if you are, I am a bigger one. Took me many, many years to catch on to what the chemicals in foods were doing. I don’t know why so difficult to see.
    The “natural” chicken may be OK. The report on arsenic in chickens said the 70% of what is sold in markets contained these levels of arsenic, so maybe what you are using is all right.
    However, there are other chemical concerns which is why we are pushing the plant based recipes. There are 100,000 chemicals in use in our culture and hundreds end up in animal tissue from the air, soil and water we all live in. So even organic will contain these. Changing to a plant based diet will clear up many of the dogs with this problem so this may be enough.

  18. Ok thanks. I promise this is my last question: what is your opinion of fish oil (used for joint discomfort and works great) being a possible cause of IBD flare ups?

  19. Liz, I feel like I am stuck in a repeat loop. Fish oil high in mercury. It sounds like I am stuck on this view but I am telling you that when you look into this issue of environmental chemicals what you find is really shocking. How did we allow our culture to do this to our environment?

  20. Dear Dr Pitcairn
    Would you be so kind to give me a favorite recipe of a plant based diet until I get your 4th edition. I want to start right away. I want my dogs to improve as they age.
    Thanking you in advance

  21. Hi Dr Pitcairn, I want to thank you for your book! I had few questions, I’ve noticed ( I follow the lentil recipe) that my dog has developed incontinence but when she gets pebble non vegan food she is fine, also when I add the vegeyeast she gets ear infections, what do you suggest for the incontinence ? I was using the vegeyeast to help with the incontinence

  22. Cynthia, I don’t think the food is the cause of this. It may be a factor in some way, but these symptoms are indicative of chronic conditions in dogs, especially the ears. If it is possible to you I suggest consulting with a homeopathic veterinarian and if it can be seen what to do to have that treatment. I think it will clear this up.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  23. Thank you. I am anxious to get started on vegan diet. I can’t buy all the supplements needed to complete the diet. I have the beans rice and vegetables. I can get nutritional yeast
    Could I add a little v dog kibble to complete the diet for l carnitine etc till I can afford all the rest.
    Thank you so much for who you are
    And what you do to help us

  24. Dee, yes that would be fine. We are all very flexible and our bodies adapt. You would not want to use an incomplete diet for months, but a few weeks not a problem.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  25. Thank you. I got L carnitine today but I can’t find how much I should include in their food. Thanks again

  26. Hi Dr Pitcairn, thank you. It seems whenever I give the vegeyeast , they (both my dogs)develop this, when I stop it ,it goes away . Also, it seems that when giving her the recipe you recommended( lentil stew from your book) she just seems to always trickle in the house, do you know of any homeopathic vets in Panama city, Panama?

  27. Cynthia, I really don’t know why this happening. It might be an issue of the food source. Are the ingredients you are using organic? If not, there can be significant chemicals and they produce a variety of symptoms. I don’t know a vet where you live but you could check the list of Health Consultants I have on my website. One of them could possibly consult with you.
    Good luck. Hope it works out.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  28. What are your thoughts on this recent diet related cardiomyopathy in dogs. Supposedly it has to do with grain free diets, but one article by a vet says that homemade diets are also not good…would like to hear your take on it.

  29. Liz, it is just speculation. It is an idea put out there with no evidence of any kind. No formal studies, no research. I read the article on this and the dogs that had the highest incidence of this health condition were those eating a primarily chicken diet. Way high. So why not blame the chickens? Instead they ignore the meat which we know contains many harmful chemicals and blame the poor vegetables. Go figure.

  30. Ok great. Thank you for the reply. I’m looking for a holistic vet that has knowledge in plant based diets. All 4 of my dogs have been eating a plant based diet along with vegedog for almost 2 years. The Oldest female (2.5 y/o) seems to have some sort of digestive issue (occasional loss of appetite and mucus/blood covered stool). I’ve taken her to an allopathic veterinarian and the first recommendation was antibiotics. That did not help with her symptoms. Now they are recommending adding animal protein back to her diet. I declined that option and went with b12 shots as their second option. Looking at your referral list I found Marybeth Minter, DVM in Sedona. Do you know if Dr. Minter recommends a plant based diet for her patients? I’m looking to find a vet on the same page. I will drive up from Phoenix if so.

    Thank you sir

  31. Yes, Dr. Minter advises plant-based diet. She also offers homeopathy and is very experienced and knowledgeable. Good luck. There is a vet in Phoenix, Karen Lyons, working from Gilbert. Number is (480) 497-6362. I don’t know her nutrition perspective. Can call and ask.

  32. Pingback: The Environmental Impact Of Vegan Dog Diets | Dogs Naturally

  33. There are over 100,000 chemicals ending up in our environment and hundreds accumulate in meat and bones. If your dog is at the top of the food chain he or she is accumulating these substances which I now think are the major cause of chronic disease in dogs. There is no way to avoid this except by not feeding it to them. Same story with grass fed, it is an environmental problem.

  34. I am new to the concept of a plant-based diet for a dog. My almost two year old pit bull was just diagnosed with severe inflammatory bowel disease, as well as evidence of allergies (the biopsy pathology showed eosinophils in addition to lymphocytes and plasma cells) and his vet internist has explained we need to avoid all animal proteins. I also feel that avoiding wheat would be best. The vet internist recommended a hydrolyzed diet (from the 3 main commercial dog food brands), but I am also considering either v-dog food, or home-cooked meals. My dog is picky (though part of this is probably also just poor appetite from being so sick) and I want him to enjoy his food. But I also want to make sure he’s getting the proper nutrition, and not getting anything that could be potentially harmful. Do you have any suggestions? I’m feeling desperate. Thanks for your help.

  35. Carly, I am sorry to hear of this trouble. If you were my client I would advise using the recipes in our book, the plant-based ones. I have seen good results with them. However, considering how severe this sounds you really should work with a veterinarian directly. There are some listed on my website, the referral menu, for those that have trained with me in homeopathy. That might be a resource for you. I wish you the best. I think he can recover from this.
    With best wishes,
    Dr. Pitcairn

  36. Thanks so much, Dr. Pitcairn! I will start learning about the world of home-cooked dog food, but I will make sure to consult with a veterinarian. I am considering taking him to see a vet nutritionist at UC Davis, but I’ll do some more reading first. Thanks again.

  37. hello, i am not an expert in any way, but my elderly dog was also diagnosed with the same problem at about the age of 7. i followed all the vet’s instructions–the hydrolized diet, tylan powder every day (an antibiotic), along with a probiotic. i eventually had to hand feed her, as everyday she would give me the most pathetic look of disgust i have ever seen regarding her food. and…the treatment never really helped her. so…i’m about to say something that i’m sure will piss off the author of this blog, but i’m going to say it anyway: i decided to give the raw meat diet a try. bones and all (pork and poultry)–raw never cooked. and to alleviate any backlash this comment may cause–i buy from local, pasture raised farmers, that need to off load product, and they sell it for cheaper than the factory farmed stuff. so i do not support factory farms in any way. wouldn’t you know it…my dog has not needed one dose of tylan powder, and she eats with gusto; never has diarrhea; no vomiting, and it’s kind of a miracle. i never thought i would do this raw feeding thing, but in terms of her gut health, and her teeth–pearly white, i’m now a believer.

  38. and if you’re wondering why i’m on this thread, i used to feed my dogs the home cooked plant based recipes. and they loved it. i’m not saying that i’m against the plant based diet. but with my dog’s health problems (similar to yours), the raw meat diet turns out to be better. maybe there’s a happy medium? not sure.

  39. Liz, as you say the raw meat diet really improves the health of many dogs. Commonly seen. It is about as close to a natural diet as you could get. The problem is the environmental chemicals that build up in the meat. I understand about “local, pasture raised” as a good source however the thing is that even these animals will have a lot of chemicals. The chemicals are so widespread, in the air and water, that all animals are accumulating them. There will be somewhat less in the pasture raised but still a significant amount. There have been reports of wild animals, like elk or deer, becoming affected by them. You couldn’t have a more pure diet than what the wild animal eats. So often you will see a dog improve on this more natural diet but with time, months to years, the chemicals have an effect — cancer, chronic disease — and one never connects it to the diet that has been used. Our book, 4th edition, has more explanation of this if you are interested.

  40. yes, the environmental part of it is important. i agree. i’m not sure if it comes down to individual choices that make or break our environment, or if it’s something more sinister–like the ruling class creating a world based solely on profit. sorry went off on tangent there. it’s just hard to watch your dog suffer, and then have the problem “fixed” for lack of a better description (within a week), with a diet change–a kind of simple change–and wonder… if only i had been feeding her this way all along, could i have avoided the horrendous abdominal surgery i put her through? it’s a catch-22 in a way. if it weren’t for my old girl with IBD, i would probably do a combination of the two diets, or maybe once a week with real meat–just to clean their teeth and give them something of their wild past. i don’t know. i’m not trying to be the “i-know-the-true-nature-of dogs” person here. but i have to wonder if some of these diagnoses like IBD is actually caused by the commercial kibble, and that includes the vet recommended “hydrolized protein” kibble.

  41. I understand the confusion about this. It is difficult to determine all the reasons this has come about. However, I think one important thing is that these chemicals could be developed and used without concern as to their effect on other forms of life. We should have been more considerate in that regard. In your situation just do the best you can and don’t feel badly about it. There is not an easy solution.

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