Though evidence abounds that dogs are happy and healthy living on a vegan diet, detractors still persist in trying to prove otherwise. To settle the debate once and for all, VegNews spoke with dog health expert Dr. Sarah Dodd, consulting veterinarian for the cruelty-free winner of the 2018 VegNews “Best Dog Food” Award, Halo Holistic Garden of Vegan dog food. Dr. Dodd reveals the whole truth about the healthiest diet for the canines who you love (spoiler alert: it’s vegan).

1. Better overall health
Veterinarian Dr. Dodd explains that unlike their wolf relatives, dogs have adapted to co-evolve with human beings, and with those adjustments, they have an enhanced ability to digest and absorb plant-derived nutrients. “Indeed, there is even evidence which suggests that, in dogs, digestibility of some plant-derived nutrients are even greater than animal-based ones,” she says. In feeding one of her own companion canines a vegan diet, Dr. Dodd saw dramatic changes. She says, “One of the dogs I live with had mild dermatitis and was dramatically underweight and muscle-wasted when I adopted her. She was transitioned to a plant-based diet and her skin- and coat-health improved, she regained most muscle, and her body condition is now ideal.”

2. A healthy, shiny coat
Dr. Dodd adds that many people who feed their companion canines a completely vegan diet notice an improved coat that is healthier and shinier than it was when they were serving their dogs animal-based meals. Science tells us that this makes sense. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, found in plant foods, are well-known, and include skin and coat health. Dodd explains, “Because of the plant-derived ingredients, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and the lack of animal ingredients, the fatty-acid profile of a plant-based diet may be beneficial for a healthy, shiny coat.”

3. Weight-management
A high-fiber vegan diet can greatly help a dog who is unhealthily overweight achieve a leaner body. Many people who have switched to feeding their dogs a vegan diet have witnessed their companion canines go from being weighed down by a few extra pounds to sporting a trimmer and more athletic body. Dr. Dodd says, “By their very nature, plant-based diets often contain a higher proportion of dietary fiber than animal-based diets. Fiber can decrease the nutritional density of a food, allowing the dog to eat a similar volume of food but without increasing their caloric intake.” The expert veterinarian advises that a change to a vegan diet could be all it takes for a dog who is experiencing the negative effects of extra pounds to achieve a healthy weight.

4. Alleviating ailments
A number of conditions that dogs may face over the course of their lives may be helped by transitioning them to a vegan diet. Dr. Dodd says, “Plant-based diets can be therapeutic tools for dogs with certain medical conditions such as hepatic disease, inflammatory bowel disease, adverse food reactions … and some uroliths (bladder stones).” For dogs with medical conditions, Dr. Dodd advises discussing dietary changes with a veterinary nutritionist before making any adjustments. Of course, you’ll want to pick a professional to consult who supports a vegan diet for dogs.

5. A happy home
For those of us with companion dogs, we want to care for them as well as (if not better than) we care for ourselves. As we opt to live a cruelty-free lifestyle that is healthy for ourselves, the animals, and the planet, why wouldn’t we choose the same for the canines in our lives? Introducing your dog to a vegan diet is easy. Dr. Dodd advises, “Transition the diet slowly. Start by replacing about one-quarter of the original diet with the new diet, and mix it together in their normal bowl. Slowly increase the amount of new and decrease the amount of old, over a week or two, until the dog is completely adapted to the new diet. This helps to prevent issues of poor acceptance and adverse health outcomes such as gastrointestinal upset.”

Maya Gottfried is the author of the books Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal and Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary.