Once upon a time, our pet cats and dogs would spend their entire lives outside our homes. As time has passed, they have moved into our homes and now even sleep on our beds! As our pets have increasingly become seen as furry family members, it makes sense that we would want to feed them as one of the family.

This often leads to some interesting diet choices for our pets that they wouldn’t necessarily make themselves. We now have cats and dogs eating home-cooked diets, kosher diets, and even vegetarian diets.

Why choose a vegetarian diet?

The popularity of vegetarian diets has increased largely due to the ethical considerations of the animals being kept for their products. There are different types of vegetarianism including;

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarianism (no animal products consumed except for eggs and dairy)
  • Pescatarian (no animal products are consumed except for fish products),
  • Veganism (no animal products of any kind are consumed).

When it comes to vegan diets, the omnivorous dog is able to get all the nutrients he needs from a diet consisting of only plant-based ingredients. However, this might not be suitable for cats that are considered to be obligate carnivores.

Why is the cat an obligate carnivore?

Cats have a unique metabolism, This means they can’t synthesize some of their nutrient requirements from plant sources like humans and dogs. Cats must get these essential nutrients, fully-formed, from animal sources. Examples of these include the amino acid taurine and vitamin A.

They also have higher protein requirements than dogs. Protein from plant sources tends to be of lower quality and more difficult to digest than protein from meat sources.

Is it possible to manufacture a vegan diet that is suitable for cats?

There are currently a few vegan diets for cats on the market. However, many studies have shown that these types of diets tend to be deficient in nutrients; even when they claim to meet the nutritional standards set out by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) recommends getting advice from a veterinarian before choosing to feed a plant-based diet to your cat. 

What does recent research tell us about vegan diets for cats?

There is new research investigating the wellbeing of cats fed vegan diets. The study results showed that many cat owners feeding a plant-based diet did not find it adversely affected their kitty’s health. Additionally, in the study more cats fed a plant-based diet were reported to be in “very good health” than cats fed a diet with animal products.

Healthy cats eating a vegan diet? How can that be so!?

Having a closer look at the study, it is important to note that all data was collected using surveys. All information was reported only by the owners of the cats. No official veterinary records were examined so all measures of health were subjective. In some cases, data was collected on cats that had already died.

This means that the cat owners were required to have a really accurate memory of the dietary history of multiple cats living at different times. Additionally, there were only 117 respondents from the survey who could confirm that their cats were consuming only plant-based products. A subset of cats being fed a vegan diet was allowed outside, where they would have been able to supplement their diets by hunting prey.

In summary, this study reflects no more than the perceptions of health of a small group of people feeding their cats a vegan diet. Based on historical feline nutritional research, it is still not advised to feed cats only plant-based ingredients before consulting with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Hopefully this study will open the door to more rigorous research in the future surrounding vegan diets for cats.

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Reference:Reference: Dodd, Sarah AS, et al. “A cross-sectional study of owner-reported health in Canadian and American cats fed meat-and plant-based diets.” BMC veterinary research 17.1 (2021): 1-16.