One question that’s sure to cause controversy is whether or not you can feed your cat a vegetarian or vegan diet. Vegetarian and vegan owners often prefer to have their animals eat according to their own vegetarian or vegan diets, so it’s natural for them to assume that they can switch their pets over to their lifestyle. Many proponents of feeding vegetarian to cats act as though it is easy to accomplish. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Killing One’s Pet with Ideology
A recent story in the Australian Herald Sun shows how devastating feeding a vegan diet can be to one’s pet. A presumably vegan couple brought in their dying kitten into the North Melbourne Animal Hospital. The kitten was collapsed and nearly non-responsive. The kitten’s diet? Pasta, potatoes, and rice milk. The kitten survived after IVs, being kept warm, and being fed meat. Other cats fed vegetarian foods might not be so lucky.
You may wonder why this could kill a cat. Cats are what are called “obligate carnivores,” meaning that they must get their nutrition from meat. Not only do they need a high amount of protein (higher than dogs), but they can’t make certain necessary nutrients required in their bodies and must obtain them from the foods they eat. They can only obtain these nutrients from meat, not plants. They may be able to get these adequate amounts of these nutrients from supplements, but these supplements are either manmade or derived from animal products.
Cats need a minimum of 26 percent protein and kittens need a minimum of 30 percent protein on a dry-matter basis accord to the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). In comparison, dogs and puppies need 18 percent and 22 percent, respectively. It’s tough to get that much usable plant protein. Even if a vegetarian food does contain that much protein, you need to consider the nutrients a cat’s body can’t synthesize: arachidonic acid (a fatty acid), Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, L-carnitine, niacin, and taurine. This doesn’t include the minerals such as calcium, iron, or phosphorus which are best obtained through meat and not through plants or supplements. For example, cats cannot turn beta carotene into Vitamin A, nor can they use Vitamin D2 instead of Vitamin D3.
Taurine deficiency often appears as blindness, hair loss, tooth decay, muscle and heart problems, and reproductive problems, including infertility and abortions. Vitamin B12 deficiency can appear as anemia, kidney disease, lethargy, loss of appetite, depression, and seizures. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness and skin and coat problems. A cat with too little arachidonic acid in his diet can have reproductive, kidney, and skin and fur problems.
What About Vegetarian Cat Foods?
There are vegetarian cat foods available on the market, but whether they’re truly adequate nutrition for cats is debatable. If performed, the AAFCO feeding trials last only between 10 and 26 weeks, depending on whether the food is for kittens, adults, or all life stages. Most pet foods adhere to AAFCO guidelines by show the nutritional analysis meets or exceeds AAFCO specifications, which may or may not prove a cat can thrive on it. What’s more, there’s no scientific proof that cats who are given supplements can use them properly.
There is anecdotal evidence of cats who seem to be able to live on vegetarian diets. It’s likely that their owners provide supplementation to ensure their health and some cats may be more able to live with these diets better than others. Regardless, these cats are likely to be the exception rather than the rule.
If you truly want a pet who eats vegan, consider getting a miniature goat or a rabbit. Otherwise, you may skip the meat for yourself, just don’t skip it in your cat’s diet.
View more articles written by Maggie Bonham.