The BVA has spoken out against accusations that it continues to ignore the evidence and is taking an “irresponsible” position on vegan diets for dogs.
Publication of the largest study into the health impacts of feeding dogs on vegan rather than meat-based foods sparked widespread controversy when results appeared to suggest that vegan dogs were healthier and required less veterinary care than those fed traditional diets.
Peer-reviewed journal PLOS One published the paper in which researchers led by Andrew Knight, veterinary professor of animal welfare at the University of Winchester, analyzed survey data from the owners of 2,536 dogs fed either a conventional meat, raw meat or vegan diet.
The survey included questions about the dogs’ health, including the number of veterinary visits, use of medications and specific dog health disorders, with results showing vegan dogs in the study suffered less health disorders (36%) that those fed conventional (49%) or raw meat (43%) diets.
Dogs in the study that were fed a vegan diet were also reported to be less likely to suffer from gastrointestinal disease, as well as ear and musculoskeletal problems.
However, following publication of the study, its findings have been hotly contested by some sections of the veterinary profession, with questions raised around the methodology used to produce its results.
However, Prof Knight stands by the findings and has accused the BVA – along with sections of the veterinary profession – of ignoring the growing body of evidence and having prejudicial views on the subject of vegan dog food.
He said: “Our study included health data from more than 2,500 dogs, making it a very large-scale study.
“This has allowed us to achieve a high degree of statistical reliability, and a high degree of scientific confidence in our results: that the healthiest and least hazardous diets for dogs are nutritionally sound vegan diets.
“However, the veterinary profession is a very conservative profession that views itself as very science and evidence-based, but unfortunately it is not really when anything to do with veganism comes up.
“The origins of the profession are very much in supporting animal farming and the production industries, and they are very strong in veterinary schools today and a lot of money does flow from those industries to veterinary schools to do research in these areas.”
Prof Knight added: “So, there is a very strong culture that is very anti anything to do with vegan and while that is fading somewhat, it is still there and unfortunately the truth is there is an awful lot of prejudice out there towards plant- based diets.
“If the BVA is going to represent the profession and put positions out to society at large, I think it has a responsibility to make sure it is accurately representing that evidence and not taking prejudicial positions that are not supported by evidence, and I think that is what is going on here. ”
Referring to comments made by the BVA following the publication of his research, Prof Knight added: “If the BVA’s position does not evolve now that this new study is out then I am afraid its position continues to be contrary to the evidence on this issue.
“Its position is irresponsible when society at large expects the BVA to have a science-based and evidence-based position; this evidence has flaws – all evidence does – but the preponderance of the evidence does not support its position. ”
Lack of data
Responding to Prof Knight’s comments, the BVA welcomed his contribution to the debate around the suitability of novel diets before describing pet diets as a “one health issue” that required further research.
President Justine Shotton said: “There is currently a lack of robust large-scale data mapping the health consequences of feeding a vegan diet to dogs over their lifetimes, so we look forward to seeing further research on whether non-animal protein sources can meet a dog’s dietary requirements throughout life.
“We know there are limitations to owner-reported data, which can only provide one aspect of the picture, so we’re also keen to see future studies assessing clinical data in order to build a more holistic view of the health impact of vegan diets. on dogs.
“As an evidence-based organization, the BVA will continue to follow and assess all emerging evidence regarding vegan, as well as other, novel diets.
“Our sustainable agriculture policy position, which promotes the Less and Better principle, is a progressive example of the BVA and the veterinary profession leading the conversation on meat consumption habits that promote higher welfare and sustainability.”
‘Feeding fads’ session
The BVA also announced it will be hosting a session at BVA Live with Andrew Wales from the University of Surrey exploring so-called “feeding fads” and explaining how to advise clients who are interested in novel diets.
“Feeding fads: raw food, alternative and vegan diets, and the risk clients need to know” will take place at 2pm to 2:50 pm on Thursday 23 June.
Prof Knight has recorded a webinar to summarize his work.