British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Metabolism and Metabolic Studies

An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs

Wendy Y. Browna1 c1, Barbara A. Vanselowa2, Andrew J. Redmana3 and John R. Pluskea4

a1 Animal Science, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia

a2 NSW Department of Primary Industries, Beef Industry Centre, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia

a3 Mars Petcare Australia, Petcare Place, Wodonga, Vic 3690, Australia

a4 School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Animal Research Institute, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia


A dog's nutrient requirements can theoretically be met from a properly balanced meat-free diet; however, proof for this is lacking. Exercise places additional demands on the body, and dogs fed a meat-free diet may be at increased risk of developing sports anaemia. We hypothesised that exercising dogs would remain in good health and not develop anaemia when fed a nutritionally balanced meat-free diet. To this end, twelve sprint-racing Siberian huskies were fed either a commercial diet recommended for active dogs (n 6), or a meat-free diet formulated to the same nutrient specifications (n 6). The commercial diet contained 43 % poultry meal, whereas soyabean meal and maize gluten made up 43 % of the meat-free diet, as the main protein ingredients. Dogs were fed these diets as their sole nutrient intake for 16 weeks, including 10 weeks of competitive racing. Blood samples were collected at weeks 0, 3, 8 and 16, and veterinary health checks were conducted at weeks 0, 8 and 16. Haematology results for all dogs, irrespective of diet, were within normal range throughout the study and the consulting veterinarian assessed all dogs to be in excellent physical condition. No dogs in the present study developed anaemia. On the contrary, erythrocyte counts and Hb values increased significantly over time (P < 0·01) in both groups of dogs. The present study is the first to demonstrate that a carefully balanced meat-free diet can maintain normal haematological values in exercising dogs.

(Received December 02 2008)

(Revised April 19 2009)

(Accepted April 27 2009)

(Online publication June 01 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Wendy Yvonne Brown, fax +61 2 6773 3922, email


Abbreviations: BW, body weight; CP, crude protein; Cr, creatine; ME, metabolisable energy; PCV, packed cell volume