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Can Cats Be Healthy Vegans?

The diet of America is changing; more and more people are adopting vegetable-based diets, either for health or philosophical reasons.  Lucky for our pets, we love including them in our lifestyle choices.  This has launched a thousand pet food brands advertising correct nutrition for cats and dogs with no animal by-products, effectively making them vegans.

Can our pets maintain excellent health while eating only plant-based foods?  This has become a hot topic issue in the pet world, and one 2 Paws Up, Inc. has looked into for your peace of mind.

Dogs Are Better Suited Than Cats

Diet all comes down to evolution.  When choosing a healthy diet for a dog, you can look back at their evolution and see their ancestor; the wolf ate whatever was available.  Sometimes this included plant and vegetables, which affected the shape of their intestines.  Dogs evolved with a longer intestinal tract and different enzymes to digest plant matter, as detailed in a study of two vegan diets for cats in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association1.  They are able to absorb or create the vitamins necessary for good health from a mixed diet, or a diet solely consisting of vegetal matter (one approved by a veterinarian, anyway).

Cats, on the other hand, are obligate carnivores, a fact that the Feline Nutrition Foundation are sure of2.  A cat’s ancestors exclusively ate meat, so their bodies ability to digest plants and vegetables is non-existent.  This is why your cat is very likely to vomit after taste testing your houseplants.  With a shorter intestinal tract, cats have all the right ingredients for digesting raw meat very well.  They traded their ability to digest carbohydrates found in other ingredients for the ability to make all the vitamins they need from meat.  This makes cats uniquely incapable of staying healthy unless their diet includes those delicious chunks of meat.

Why Cats Need Meat

Cats, unlike dogs and other omnivores, are unable to create niacin, vitamin A, among other amino acids and vitamins2.  Instead, they absorb it straight from digesting meat.  Other forms of these vitamins are either not found in vegetables or are unable to be extracted by a cat’s unique digestive tract.  Essentially, without a steady diet of meat cats can experience severe malnutrition.

Despite the availability of alternative food brands advertising a vegan lifestyle for cats, a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association revealed many owners share the belief that this lifestyle is not healthy for their feline friends3.  These assumptions are generally correct, as cats who are fed a strict vegan diet lacking sufficient taurine, niacin, and arginine begin to break down their own muscle and organ tissue2.  Cats suffering from malnutrition from an inadequate diet will be small in size, short-lived, and experience growing muscle weakness and blindness unless their diet is adjusted.

Can You Supplement A Vegan Diet For Cats

An often-used solution for pet owners determined to feed cats a vegan diet is nutrition through supplementation.  Powders, pills, and oils can replace many of the necessary dietary needs of cats so that they can eat a plant-based diet with no meat involved.  The success of this meal plan is not always the greatest.  Even pro-vegan websites, such as Vegan Cats, do recommend including some meat in cat’s diets due to their susceptibility to urinary and kidney problems4.  They state that, while some cats will do very well on a supplemental diet, a certain percentage will need the inclusion of meat in their diet.

The fact is, most vets will not recommend feeding your cat a vegan diet, despite the possibility of supplementing for a mostly meat-free diet5.  This is because it will always be healthier for cats to pursue a diet natural to them, whether this means through dried and processed cat kibble or by pursuing a raw diet.  Cutting out meat altogether, however much a cat’s owner likes it, is a personal choice a cat cannot make.  While cats are capable of living off a supplemented vegan diet, it is not the healthiest choice for them.

What are your feelings on the cat feeding debate?  Do you think cats should be fed a vegan diet if their owner is also vegan?  Let us know in the comments!

1 https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.2004.225.1670

2 https://feline-nutrition.org/answers/answers-what-exactly-is-an-obligate-carnivore

3 https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.229.1.70

4 http://www.vegancats.com/veganfaq.php

5 https://www.petmd.com/news/health-science/nws_multi_can_a_pet_be_a_vegan-10837

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