Guest Post: Can a cat remain healthy on a vegan diet?

Hi everyone,

Today’s guest post comes from Serena Thomson on the top of suitability of vegan diets for cats.

Can a cat remain healthy on a vegan diet?

Cats are increasingly being brought home as pets and they are quite popular as a pet option after dogs. When bringing pets at home, it is the responsibility of the pet owners to take good care of them. Nutritional requirement of the cats is the major aspect that needs to be taken care of so that your pet enjoys its time and settles well in your household. These days, many people have deliberately chosen to be die hard vegans and it may be due to several reasons. But, many cat owners wish to take it a step forward and want to know whether their cats can also be given a vegan diet, whether it will have a negative impact on their health, can the nutritional requirement of their cats be fulfilled through vegan diets and more. In this post we have tried to answer all these questions in a clear and concise manner.

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Photo Credit: operationcarnivoreconversion

What would be the perfect feline nutrition?
As pet owners, people do their best to ensure a suitable diet for their beloved pets and ensure that they get the right nutrients necessary for their excellent health and growth. Although, vegans believe that their nutritional requirements can easily be completed through a pure vegetarian diet, it is not the case with the cats. They are by nature carnivores and they are unable to get the right nutrients through a vegan diet. Despite giving them a protein rich diet, their specific nutritional requirements may not be met without consuming high quality meat. Plants cannot offer all the nutrients that are needed by them for their healthy growth and development. Thus, it becomes important to pay attention to the source from where proteins are being sourced from. We know that proteins are also referred to as the building blocks of the body and they basically comprise of amino acids. Every protein category comes with a different set of amino acids and to ensure that the cats get necessary amino acids, they must be given vegetable as well as animal proteins.

Taurine- Necessary in right levels in the diet
As discussed, proteins are made up of different types of amino acids and every component has its advantages. One of the amino acids that is very important for a cat and must be available in its diet is Taurine. If the level of Taurine is not appropriate in your cat’s diet, it may suffer from various health problems like eyesight problem, heart disease and others. Thus, it is very important that the cats are given required amount of Taurine in their day to day diet as their bodies are unable to synthesize Taurine on their own. Since, plants do not have necessary Taurine, the cats who are on a vegan diet may be seriously lacking in this necessary amino acid. Taurine is available naturally in meat and these days, various synthetic sources of these amino acids are also available. Since cats are “obligate carnivores”, meaning carnivores by necessity, it is important that they are given a meat diet to meet their nutritional requirements.

Digestive System of Cats
It is important to mention here that cats are carnivores by necessity due to their ancestral diets. They can fulfill their needs for fatty acids and specific vitamins only by consuming meat diet. Like omnivores or herbivores, cats do not have the ability to make specific vitamins and amino acids in their body and as such they have no choice but to rely on meat products to fulfill their requirements. Moreover, their digestive system has changed considerably and has adapted to consume raw meat. Their digestive tract is very short in length and since it is easy to digest raw flesh, there is no need to have a large intestinal tract and necessary bacteria that are required in plant eating animals for fermentation. This losing of various metabolic activities has made it necessary to provide cats with a meat based diet. If this demand is not fulfilled, these cats start getting suitable energy by breaking down their own organs and muscles of the body.

is-your-kitten-ready-for-adult-cat-food
Photo Credit: Iams

Amino Acids needed by the cat’s body
Cats need specific amino acids and proteins. Some of them are-

  • Arginine
  • Methionine
  • Cysteine

All these amino acids are needed in the right quantities to ensure that your feline friend stays healthy. If they are not given meat in their diet, they may get sick and suffer from a variety of health issues. It is important to meet and fulfill unique dietary needs of our pets and if you are giving them a purely vegan diet, you must supplement it with synthetic nutrients to ensure their perfect health.

So what are your thoughts on the topic? Let us know!

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Author Bio:
Serena Thomson is a veterinarian and a pet expert. With 7 years of experience as a veterinarian
and having an immense interest in pet care, she is sharing her knowledge regarding pets in the
form of writing contributions.

Photo Credit for Feature image: Snixykitchen

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We regularly write about all things relating to cats on our Blog Katzenworld! My partner and I are owned by three cheeky cats that get up to all kind of mischief that of course you'll also be able to find out more about on our Blog If you are interested in joining us by becoming a regular contributor / guest author do drop me a message.
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64 thoughts on “Guest Post: Can a cat remain healthy on a vegan diet?

  1. I’m a vegetarian but I wouldn’t do this to my cat. A good alternative for vegan cat lovers is to volunteer at a shelter instead of having a companion animal. Lots of cats in shelters need love and socialization.

  2. GREAT post! I’m bookmarking this so if I have the discussion with someone who’s decided their cat should be vegan (it wouldn’t be the first time!) I can direct them here 🙂

  3. Cats cannot be vegetarians. What an idiotic idea. Vegans and vegetarian humans need to understand this. They are being vegan and vegetarian for the benefit of the ecosystem, and humans evolved to live on grains and vegetables. But animals did not, and they need chicken!

  4. The words cat and vegan do not belong together. This is wrong in every level, cats are carnivores and predators, forcing fad diets against their nature is animal abuse. Humans can follow whatever unhealthy fad trends for their diet, but forcing it on their kids and pets is plain and simple abuse. This is an idiotic and cruel idea. Humans are not naturally vegan or vegetarian either, humans are omnivores like their primate cousins. Feeding the cats artificial, processed foods is bad enough, but vegan diet is just going to give them a slow and painful death. Don’t do it!

  5. cats are carnivores, you can be as vegan as you like but why does your cat need too? that’s my opinion, thanks for sharing more from a scientific point of view to this debate!

  6. Well written…i do not eat red meat..i do eat fish though..this is my choice and only of this year..my dogs and cats get meat..i have no right to feed them what a diet that is not natural..it would be as dangerous as feeding my sheep meat!

  7. I’m guessing the vet who wrote this doesn’t know many vegans in real life, as she seems to have quite a low opinion of us as a group! Whilst I don’t feed my cat a vegan diet, I would like to point out that the article isn’t very well-informed at all.

    For starters, the implied scenario of vegans just feeding their cats plates of veg is highly unlikely – I mean have you tried to get a cat to eat vegetables? They’d probably just look at you in disgust before seeking out a new home for themselves!

    In all seriousness though, commercial brands of vegan cat food (yes, there are several that have been going for many years) are fortified to make them nutritionally complete in the same way regular cat foods are, so the issues identified in the article aren’t actually the problem with vegan cat food. There are two main issues with vegan cat food. The first is palatability: many cats simply won’t touch the stuff, similarly to how cats often reject renal diets due to the low meat content.

    The other issue is achieving the right pH balance, which is covered in a little more detail in this article by vet and animal ethicist Dr. Andrew Knight, who has a lot more knowledge and experience with this topic than the author of the above blog post.

    Whilst I’m not suggesting people rush out and switch their cats to a vegan diet, I do wish people wouldn’t have such a knee-jerk negative reaction to people just wanting to know if there’s a way to reduce the harm they do to animals both inside and outside their homes. If we’re truly a nation of animal lovers, surely it’s only natural to want to do as little harm to animals as we can.

    1. Hi Louise. Apologies I don’t think it was her intention to make you feel like that and I have loads of vegan friends so don’t want you to feel like that either! I think it was more about trying to make people understand that they shouldn’t force their cats.

      1. Hi Marc, I appreciate you publishing my comment and taking the time to respond to it, I was starting to wonder if perhaps you weren’t going to, so credit to you for doing so.

        Perhaps it will help if I explain which comments I found problematic? I think to begin with, referring to vegans as ‘die hard’ isn’t helpful – it’s almost like a declaration of disapproval before the article even gets started. Followed by implying that vegans as a group are perhaps less educated about their animals’ needs, and more likely to mistreat them (as suggested in this statement: “Although, vegans believe that their nutritional requirements can easily be completed through a pure vegetarian diet”). Whilst we’ve all heard the one scare story about a cat being fed a diet of potatoes, there are millions of perfectly responsible vegans with cats globally. Even if this one story were true, it barely compares to all the hundreds upon thousands of cases of deliberate animal cruelty happening every day around the world, carried out by people who aren’t vegan.

        In terms of how your blog post made me feel – I don’t really mind on a personal level if people call me names, because veganism isn’t about me. However, people being led to believe that a vegan lifestyle is extreme is harmful to animals because it deters people from exploring that way of life. For every person who becomes vegan, anywhere between 50 and 100 fewer animals per year require killing. How can that be a bad thing? With that in mind, is it really so ridiculous to want to live life in a way that avoids, as far as practical and possible, causing animals unnecessary harm?

        That unnecessary harm includes animals both inside and outside of our homes – and whilst it may seem unorthodox or even ridiculous to ask the question at first, it is perfectly understandable that people who care that deeply for animals might want to at least research whether cats can thrive on a plant-based diet. Asking these questions doesn’t mean we don’t care about our cats, or that we are ‘forcing’ anything on them any more than everyone else ‘forces’ their choices on their cat (more on that below). Ultimately, vegans who explore this topic want to know if it’s possible to balance the wellbeing of their cats with that of less fortunate animals who are unlucky enough to be brought into the world with the sole intention of being slaughtered. It’s a real shame that people doing that research are then painted as ‘die hard’ and unreasonable.

        I’m not sure whether you’ve read the article I linked to, but the matter is far from settled as the author of this blog post seems to believe. As Dr. Andrew Knight points out himself, if we unpack the term ‘obligate carnivore’ it simply means there are certain nutrients cats need in certain forms, and it’s not beyond the reaches of science to develop those nutrients synthetically. In fact, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of cat food products these days only contain synthetic versions of those nutrients because the quality of ‘meat’ contained is usually so low that fortification the only way to ensure foods are nutritionally complete at an affordable price. That’s not to say for certain that the perfect formula has been achieved yet – more data is needed on the topic, for sure – but rather that the topic is far more complex, and the answers more nuanced than the above blog seems to understand, or perhaps is prepared to admit.

        Going back to the suggestion of ‘forcing’ a lifestyle on cats, we do that with every aspect of their domestication. We do that when we spay/neuter them, when we ‘breed’ them, when we break families up to send kittens to new homes, when we keep them in at night, give them medication, and when we feed them commercial cat food that doesn’t contain anything they would hunt and eat in the wild – I mean how many domestic cats do you know who hunt cows? Or tuna, or any other sea-dwelling creature for that matter? The point is, there’s very little that’s natural about what we do for modern domesticated cats. We may tell ourselves that they are relatively independent creatures, but the reality is that there’s very little about their lives that we don’t force upon them in one way or another. By that token, vegans are no worse than anyone else when researching dietary choices for their cats.

        1. Hi Louise. Thank you for raising those points with the rest of us. And all open communication is most welcome. It’s just that if someone posts for the first time it gets auto moderated. 🙂

    2. I’m sorry, Louise, but it isn’t a knee-jerk negative reaction that has people responding passionately when others want to feed their cats a vegan diet. It is preventing cats from experiencing huge health problems in their futures. Despite the well intentions of those who want to reduce harm, they are causing a lot of harm in their cats by not providing a species-appropriate food. How? It’s simple. Even with the right supplements to meet their “nutritional needs” cats would need to convert all those supplements and plant-based foods to get nutrients for their bodies, and that is very hard on their immune systems. While they might survive on a vegan diet, cats will not thrive. They are obligate carnivores. They need meat to achieve optimal health and to knowingly deny them their natural diet, in my opinion, is a form of cruelty.

  8. Cats are OBLIGATE carnivores. OBLIGATE. Dogs on the other hand are omnivores.

    READ MORE HERE: http://feline-nutrition.org/answers/answers-what-exactly-is-an-qobligate-carnivoreq

    And even more about cats being obligate carnivores: http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/cats-obligate-carnivore-proceedings?rel=canonical

    Without taurine or sufficient taurine, cats can go blind! Yikes! That’s one of the biggest reasons why cats shouldn’t eat dog food — the dog food doesn’t have adequate levels of taurine (for a cat).

    Why cats need taurine: http://petcaretips.net/cat_taurine.html

  9. I am so glad you have covered this as I am of the belief that each person has the right to decide if they want to be vegan, however if they want a pet that does require a certain diet they should follow that. They are not giving their pet what they need so in a way I see this as a person being cruel. If they really do not agree with that then they should not own a pet that needs a non vegan diet

  10. Absolutely NO. Cats aren’t vegan animals by nature. You want to slowly (or not so slowly) kill your cat? Feed it vegan. Want high vet bills? Feed it vegan. Want a sick and lethargic cat? Feed it vegan. Silly people.

    Parker

  11. This is awesome! I love how this was stated in a very scientific way so as to appropriately justify the rationality for allowing a cat to be a carnivore.

    I do, however, find it interesting that people assume cats can be vegans. Does this stem from the fact that they’re domesticated? Do people believe that means they should follow our laws for eating? The rationality behind that is so backwards. I can’t even imagine where the logic used to justify making a cat vegan comes from.

    1. I believe many people think for the benefit of all of natures creation all animals should be eating vegetables. While this is a thought that would be great if we could it just isn’t how many animals developed. 🙁

      1. Nature’s creations were designed to coexist. Carnivores were designed for population control of herbivores so herbivores won’t overeat the plants and send them into extinction. It’s simple ecosystem balance that they all exist. *sigh*

  12. It’s unnatural for carnivorous animals to become vegans and being unnatural is dangerous and unhealthy. In fact being a vegan is not an easy diet even for humans. In my musical novel: “The Lioness Pastry Cook” the lioness and her family become vegans out of necessity in order not to die of starvation but only for a while, then as soon as she is able to sell her cakes she buys meat so she and her family go back to being carnivorous animals..

    1. I know what you mean. One of my friends started having health problems because not just is she vegetarian but hates mushrooms and aubergines so is lacking some nutritions. She started having to take supplements.

  13. I’m a solid vegetarian (not vegan) myself, of over twenty years standing, but my digestive system can handle pretty much anything if I pay attention to what I’m doing; I’m a primate. My cats don’t have that advantage. I feed them meat and kibble made without grain. It’s absurd to try to thwart nature. To me the point of being vegetarian or vegan is to reduce the amount of suffering in the world; only in an unrealistic fantasy could we make the planet suffering-free. You do what you can and try not to kid yourself.

  14. I am vegan; however, my cats are not. While I wish other animals didn’t have to suffer and die to feed my cats, I believe animal protein is what is needed for their health and well-being. If they were strays or feral, they would be hunting animals and not tearing up someone’s garden. Their bodies are designed differently than humans and require different nutrients. I personally feel it’s wrong to impose my beliefs upon them at a risk to their health.

  15. It’s all about us humans respecting the cat as a species and this means understanding that although we can breed them to conform to different shapes and sizes, we can’t change their basic physiology. I’m pleased to see so many of the comments appreciating this, in response to what is a great article.

  16. Marc- Andre, I feel bad for cats in the wild but they probably catch rodents and drink water. I saw a cat near edge of road drinking water out of a puddle and stopped so he or she could get back on its way afterwards. I would feel horrible if I ran over an animal, especially cat or dog. Smiles, Robin

  17. Thanks for this post. I’ve been vegan for almost two years, and turning my cats onto a vegan diet had crossed my mind in the beginning, but I would never do it, and this post completely supports why I wouldn’t.

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