Meat-Based Kibble Diets for Dogs: Is Less Meat Healthier?

Age seven was a difficult time for Leigh Goldstein. He was suffering from arthritis caused by hip dysplasia, and he was in constant pain. His caregivers, Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein, gave him medication religiously, but he was still losing his mobility. Dr. Bob and Susan soon realized that they had to take drastic action to improve Leigh’s quality of life, so started cooking him soups and stews with whole plant-based foods as well as giving him fresh juice, weekly massages, and supplements. The lifestyle changes paid off big time. Soon, Leigh was leaping, chasing after tennis balls, and rolling around on the floor for belly rubs.

Yep, Leigh was a golden retriever. He lived back in the 1970s, and even though he wasn’t expected to make it past seven, he ended up living until the grand old age of 17. Leigh’s impressive recovery not only gave his human parents back their beloved companion animal, but it also changed the course of their entire lives. Inspired by Leigh’s successful health transformation, Dr. Bob (a holistic veterinarian) and Susan founded their own holistic company called Earth Animal in the hopes of helping more animals just like Leigh.

Dr. Bob and Susan have long understood that plant-based foods are beneficial for dogs, but back in the late 20th century, the pet food market just wasn’t ready for animal-free food (heck, vegan food for humans still wasn’t mainstream, let alone companion animals). So, for decades, Earth Animal provided animal parents with supplements, treats, and chews, made with plant-based ingredients as well as meat. “Plant-based wellness is not new for us, as we’ve included rainbow foods and greens in our remedies and treats for years,” says Susan. “We’ve also encouraged pet parents to go to the earth for flea and tick prevention, as opposed to harsh chemicals.”

But times have changed since 1979, when Earth Animal first launched. Plant-based food is now everywhere, and a growing body of research confirms what Dr. Bob and Susan have long known—it is not just good for us, but for our beloved animals, too. In early 2024, Dr. Bob and Susan finally got their wish: the launch of Earth Animal’s first-ever, fully plant-based Wisdom From The Seed dog food. The co-founders are now hoping it’s the first product in a journey away from meat completely.

Earth Animal Air Dried Dog FoodResearch suggests plant-based foods can be safe and healthy for dogs.

Is plant-based food really that healthy for dogs?

“Like in humans, healthy diets are about balance,” Philip Steir, Earth Animal’s manager for alternative proteins, tells VegNews. “They need proteins, fats, fiber, minerals, and vitamins in the proper proportions.” Note that he doesn’t mention ingredients but rather specific nutrients. That’s because, just like humans, dogs can get protein from beef, but they can also get it from plant-based sources. “Plant-based diets, when properly balanced, provide all the nutrients dogs need,” says Steir. And like Dr. Bob and Susan, he has direct evidence that dogs can thrive on plant-based food.

“Our plant-based recipe is a testament to the diverse plant sources that can meet a dog’s nutritional needs. The propriety blend delivers 28% protein—higher than many animal-based diets. This wide variety of plant-based protein ensures a complete amino acid profile, providing all 10 of the essential amino acids dogs need.” —Philip Steir, Earth Animal’s manager for alternative proteins

Steir’s dog, Chili, is 16 years old, and for 15 of those years, she has been vegan. “She’s as active as dogs half her age,” says Steir. “We still go on hikes together several times a week, tackling longer and more challenging trails on weekends.”

Chili is a big fan of the new plant-based dog food from Earth Animal, which contains all 10 of the amino acids dogs need to thrive (lentils, quinoa, sunflower seed protein, alfalfa protein, potato protein, fruit, vegetables, and sprouted seeds make up the ingredients list). Plus, the brand has also launched a plant-based jerky chew treat, which is made with sunflower seed protein and pumpkin meal. Just like meaty chews, it is packed with protein.

“Plant-based food has been part of the plan for many years,” says Dr. Bob, who in addition to running Earth Animal, still has a veterinary practice in Connecticut. “Susan and I have seen the health benefits of plants, fruits, vegetables, and herbs in our practice.” Just like Leigh and Chili, many of the animals he has treated holistically with diet and lifestyle changes have made notable improvements. 

VegNews-EarthAnimal-2Earth Animal’s plant-based dog food is gently air-dried in their own craftery in Maryland.

This is likely due to a reduction in inflammation, a central factor of many chronic diseases in humans and dogs, including arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. Some foods—like processed meats—worsen inflammation, while others—like nutrient-dense, plant-based whole foods—reduce it. “Plant-based diets for humans are known to prevent and help heal arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, allergies and other skin conditions, and certain cancers,” says Dr. Bob. “It is our hope that our plant-based dog food will be fed to dogs with cancer, as the disease is epidemic. We believe that Wisdom From The Seed is hypoallergenic, does not incite inflammation (it’s a neutral food), and should be fed to healthy animals as well as animals suffering from degenerating diseases, along with supplements and a healthy lifestyle.”

Research backs up Dr. Bob’s stance. In 2022, for example, one study published in the scientific journal Plos One examined data from more than 2,500 dogs and found that overall, dogs on conventional diets were less healthy than dogs on plant-based diets.

VegNews.EarthAnimal.Chili2023A 15-year vegan, Chili still hikes every weekend with her human family. 

The health and environmental impact of standard kibble and other dog food

Most dogs eat kibble, which is the standard dried food containing meat, grains, and vegetables. However, research suggests that kibble can be detrimental to canine health. In fact, studies show that processed kibble may increase the risk of chronic enteropathy, which is a group of complex, nonspecific gastrointestinal disorders in dogs.

So while Earth Animal’s plant-based dog food looks very similar to ordinary kibble, the difference between the two is significant. Earth Animal’s food is, of course, made without meat, but that’s not the only variation. It’s also air-dried in Earth Animal’s own plant in the farmlands of Maryland, where the gentle temperatures and controlled air help to preserve the nutritional integrity of the food. Standard kibble processing, on the other hand, “subjects the raw ingredients to high temperatures that can cause denaturing of proteins and a reduction of the life force of the food.” In layman’s terms: the heat depletes the nutritional value of the food.

“We believe that when properly balanced, plant-based diets are nutritionally better than meat. Quality of meat is questionable, especially when it comes to factory farming and how animals are fed, treated, and slaughtered.” —Dr. Bob Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal

Earth Animal’s plant-based food production, of course, does not rely on factory farming, which is where much of the meat used in kibble and standard dog food comes from. On factory farms, animals like cows, chickens, and pigs are crammed together in industrialized conditions before being sent to the slaughterhouse. This raises not just ethical issues, but more health problems. 

Antibiotic use is rife due to the need to control the spread of disease on farms, and the medication can work its way into the food system, potentially contributing to widespread antibiotic resistance. In 2021, researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal found traces of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in raw dog food. And in 2024, another study from the University of Bristol found antibiotic-resistant E.coli in raw chicken meat sold for human consumption and dog consumption in the UK.

But standard kibble production is not just potentially bad for dog health, it’s also detrimental to the planet, too. In 2017, one research paper noted that pet food alone is responsible for up to 64 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. This fact is sobering, but it is not surprising when you consider that if dogs and cats in the US alone were a country, they would rank fifth in the world for meat consumption.

VegNews-EarthAnimal-8Earth Animal now offers plant-based jerky as well as gently air-dried food for dogs.

Earth Animal is committed to a more sustainable dog food industry

Earth Animal is changing the status quo in the pet food industry for the animals and the planet. The brand has pledged to make 100 percent of its packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025, and Dr. Bob and Susan hope to soon finally achieve the dream of a 100-percent plant-based dog food company.

Since 2018, Earth Animal has also invested $1 million in impact-driven initiatives to help mitigate their and the pet industry’s environmental impact, says Stephanie Volo, Earth Animal’s Chief Impact Officer. And on top of all of this, the brand is a Certified B Corp—the globally recognized, highly sought-after certification is proof that Earth Animal meets high standards of accountability and transparency, and is continuously improving its social and environmental performance.

“This certification involves a rigorous assessment,” explains Volo. “We must back up our words with actions and operate as a force for good in the way we value animals, people, and the earth alongside profits.” She added that the plant-based dog food launch was a key factor in achieving the highly-coveted B Corp status.

“Alternative proteins must play a role in the future of dog food, for moral and ethical reasons, and for the overall health of the planet” —Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal

“Earth Animal has always been sustainably driven,” adds Dr. Bob, before noting that he hopes the brand can be a “leader in the reducetarian movement.” Like the term “flexitarian,” reducetarian refers to a lifestyle that reduces animal consumption for the planet. “We are hopeful that other companies will follow reducing their need for meat, therefore reducing [the industry’s] carbon pawprint,” he continued.

Dr. Bob and Susan are optimistic that Earth Animal’s plant-based dog food represents a new future for the pet food industry. The brand proves dinner time is not just our dog’s favorite time of day (although there is no arguing with that), it’s also an important opportunity to make them healthier and happier while reducing our impact on the planet. If Leigh’s looking down, there’s no doubt he’s feeling proud.

Thank you to Earth Animal for partnering with VegNews on this story.

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