Are shelter dogs ready for all-vegan diet? Celebs urge enlightened canine menu

In stereotypical fashion for trend-setting L.A., animal services commissioners on Tuesday will consider a proposal from a Hollywood screenwriter to feed all dogs vegan diets at city animal shelters.

“I had no idea this would end up being as big a deal as it has; I just thought it made sense,” said Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioner Roger Wolfson, an attorney, screenwriter (“Law and Order: SVU,” “Saving Grace” and others) and political speechwriter who has worked in the U.S. Senate for Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, Paul Wellstone and Ted Kennedy.

Vegan diets for dogs is a relatively new concept, but Wolfson proposed the idea at the commission’s Nov. 28 meeting. Under his proposal that will come before commissioners at their meeting Tuesday., canine diets would be changed to vegan kibble in all six of the city’s animal shelters.

The idea has touched off a spirited debate among veterinarians and pet owners.

“I have two shelter dogs, both from L.A., and they had rings around their eyes,” Wolfson said. “I tried at least a dozen different foods and then I did a little research. Dogs are omnivores.”

Plant-based diets healthier for dogs?

He points to studies chronicling long lives enjoyed by dogs on plant-based diets, and contends that the food fed to shelter dogs now — Canidae Life Stages Dog Food — contains meal, or byproducts, or the cast-off parts, from slaughtered animals.

“Feeding dogs plant-based diets eliminates a huge host of health concerns, allergies and cancers,” Wolfson said.

Among other supporters are journalist, author and former television news anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell and noted civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom.

“It makes no sense to me,” Bloom said of feeding dogs food heavy in byproducts.

She and Velez-Mitchell say they both have seen their own dogs’ health thrive on plant-based commercial dog foods.

Proponents also say there’s a bigger reason to switch to plant-based diets for dogs — curbing the practice of raising livestock to kill and then feed to other animals.

“It’s easier to switch a car than it is to switch your diet,” Velez-Mitchell said, adding that the topic of animal slaughter is often ignored in discussions of climate change and other global issues. “We’re hitting the point of no return and we’ve got to do something about it. The truth is a lot of the meat is being consumed by other animals. It’s madness when you think about it.”

City veterinarian opposed

Not everyone is on board, though, including the city’s own veterinarian, who has recommended denying the change.

“We recognize that individual, privately owned dogs can do well on a wide variety of diets (commercial, vegetarian, organic, grain-free, gluten-free, raw and vegan),” Chief Veterinarian Jeremy Prupas wrote in his board report. “However, that is quite a different population than the group of dogs we encounter daily in our animal shelters.”

Prupas said he contacted three clinical nutritionists affiliated with veterinary schools at UC Davis and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a shelter medicine specialist and a veterinary toxicologist, about the issue.

“None of these veterinary specialists thought it would be a good idea to feed shelter dogs a vegan diet,” he wrote in the board report.

Among the reasons those sources cited, Prupas said, were inadequate protein, calcium and phosphorus levels, concerns about digestibility and palatability and an increased fiber content in vegan diets that could cause challenges in keeping shelter facilities clean.

“The fact that we deal with a lot of injured dogs and dogs with medical conditions (who have increased energy demands) is also an issue,” Prupas wrote. “There was also the added concern over being able to meet energy demands of pregnant and/or lactating dogs.”

Wolfson said he respects the city veterinarian’s position but argues there are many vets who support plant-based diets for dogs.

“I want to build bridges here and I want this to be to be good for everybody,” he said. “The science is on our side.”

An article on WebMD for pets indicates vegan diets can be appropriate for dogs (never cats), but issues warnings and cautions.

“For dogs, certainly vegetarian and vegan diets can be done, but they need to be done very, very carefully. There is a lot of room for error, and these diets probably are not as appropriate as diets that contain at least some animal protein,” veterinarian Cailin Heinze was quoted in the article. Heinze is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and assistant professor of nutrition at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dec. 3 post about the topic was shared on Facebook by the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation, which urged more research. It drew passionate responses, most in opposition. Among them:

  • “Dogs are omnivores. They do need meat. This seems more about appealing to a certain group of people and being ‘on trend’ than anything else. I don’t see this being a good choice for the health of dogs. …”
  • “Since when are dogs vegan, this is quakery”
  • “Dogs can be vegan depending on if it’s properly balanced and you know what you’re doing”
  • “I don’t see an issue with this at all, I say great job LA!”

Tuesday’s board meeting will be at 7 p.m., tentatively at the North Central Animal Shelter, 3201 Lacy St., Los Angeles.


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