New research focuses on the alleged benefits of a vegan diet for dogs

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Variables associated with owners’ perceptions of their dog’s health: further analysis of data from a large international survey. Credit: PLOS ONE (2024). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280173

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Variables associated with owners’ perceptions of their dog’s health: further analysis of data from a large international survey. Credit: PLOS ONE (2024). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280173

The link between feeding dogs a vegan diet and owners’ perceptions of their health is likely minimal, according to new research from the University of Liverpool. The work has been published in the magazine PLOS ONE.

University scientists have re-examined the data used to claim that a nutritionally sound vegan diet is “the healthiest and least dangerous food choice for dogs.” The findings from this new analysis do not support these previous claims, with the associations between owner perception of dog health and feeding a vegan diet instead being minimal.

The previous study, published in April 2022, used an online survey of dog owners to collect information about them, their dogs and the type of food they fed them. Owners were also asked to remember details about their dogs’ veterinary care (e.g., number of vet visits, medication use, etc.) and to provide an overall assessment of their dogs’ health. The results of this original study implied that dogs fed raw meat or a vegan diet seemed to do better than dogs fed a conventional diet.

However, the new analysis from researchers at the University of Liverpool offers further insights.

Alex German, professor of small animal medicine, said: “When I first read this article in 2022, it was clear that the study was based solely on data from owner surveys and had an observational design, meaning that the associations between the diet type and health of dogs alone could be investigated. suggest a possible correlation and not causation.

“In other words, it was incorrect to conclude that ‘nutritionally sound vegan diets are the healthiest and least dangerous choices for owners to feed their dogs.’ Furthermore, the statistical analyzes used did not examine the effect of possible confounding by other variables, such as the age and breed of the dogs and owner variables, including age, gender, education and diet.

The researchers conducted further statistical analyzes on the original research dataset, using different modeling techniques to examine one outcome variable from the original study: owner views on dog health. They tested the effects of owner and dog diet, as well as other owner and dog variables, while some models also included veterinary care variables.

Owners’ views on dog health were most strongly associated with dog age, with other variables (such as owner age, owner education and breed size) also playing a role. Model fit was improved when veterinary care variables were included. However, in all best-fitting models (with or without the veterinary care variables), the association between owner health beliefs and feeding vegan dog food was minimal.

Commenting on these findings, Richard Barrett-Jolley, professor of neuropharmacology, said: “We know how seriously owners take their pet’s health. By revisiting and interrogating this data further, we were able to gain more nuanced insights. Crucially, we don’t have a firm conclusion about which diet type is actually best for dogs; this was never possible given the nature of the original data set and study design. However, we can conclude that variables other than dog diet are more strongly associated with owners’ opinions about their dog’s health.”

The new study underwent a rigorous peer review process, and per journal policy, the senior author of the original article served as reviewer. Details of the review process, as well as statistical analyzes and the statistical code used, are published together with the article.

More information:
Richard Barrett-Jolley et al., Variables associated with owners’ perceptions of their dog’s health: Further analysis of data from a large international survey, PLOS ONE (2024). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280173

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