Vegan cat food is a controversial subject.
Cats are biologically carnivorous mammals. Does this mean they MUST have animal products to survive and thrive?
The short answer is no. Animal products are not strictly a necessity. However, if you remove animal products from a cats diet you must do so very carefully and make sure it is getting all its nutritional needs met. That’s going to mean you need some cat supplements.
Vegan cat food and nutritional sufficiency
Putting a cat on vegan food should not be done haphazardly. Cats on vegan diets require a higher level of maintenance and precaution than a cat on a standard diet based on animal products. You can’t just start feeding your cat the same vegan meals you eat yourself, for example.
Cats have particular requirements that are normally derived from meat. If you’re not giving them meat you need to ensure they are getting these nutrients from some other source.
The consequences of missing these nutrients is very serious and can result in severe illness and even death. You’ll need to either put a lot of research into working out what nutrients your cat needs, or buy a commercial vegan cat food or supplement which has already worked this out for you.
Cats need a considerable amount of vitamin A in their diet. Insufficient vitamin A leads to problems with hearing, skin, bones, intestines and reproductive systems.
Another important nutrient for cats is taurine, and a lack of this can cause eyesight problems. Standard, meat based pet food often contains taurine obtained from mollusks, but commercial vegan cat food brands use animal-free sources for any added vitamins and nutrients.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of the America Veterinary Medical Association investigated the B12 and taurine levels of cats fed a vegan diet. It found that the cats which ate the vegan foods provided were not clinically deficient in either of these micro-nutrients. The levels for taurine were somewhat lower than average, but not dangerously insufficient.
The benefits of vegan pet food
There are some purported benefits of feeding cats vegan diets. While there is not a lot of research done in the area yet, there are a few studies that have found a vegan diet to be sufficient for dogs and cats to be healthy.
European veterinary specialist Dr. Andrew Knight claims that both cats and dogs stand to benefit from a vegan diet. Dr Knight has written a review of the research on vegan diets for pets published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Based on the case studies published in these peer reviewed scientific journals, potential benefits include:
- a reduced and healthier body weight.
- a reduction and possible prevention of diseases like diabetes and arthritis.
- cataract resolution
- healthier coats
- potentially increased longevity.
- improved vitality and general well-being.
- reduced skin allergies.
- reduced skin parasites.
The risks of vegan cat food
Despite the potential benefits, feeding a cat a vegetarian or vegan diet can be a risky endeavor. Especially, if you’re unwilling to spend the necessary time researching and properly preparing their diet.
Luckily, there are a growing number of vegetarian and vegan cat food options available to consumers, which are designed to satisfy your cat’s nutritional needs.
Alternatively, vegan cat supplements can be mixed with a homemade diet, which can majorly help with regulating micro-nutrient levels.
One complication occurs when cats develop stones in their urinary tract as a result of their urine alkalizing. This causes blockage, pain and a host of serious problems down the line. Dr. Knight recommends you regularly check the acidity of your cat’s urine during the vegan transition to look out for this problem. Transitioning to a vegan diet gradually and slowly will also give your cats body time to adjust.
Another risk is an underlying allergy to an ingredient found in the new cat food, such as soybeans. Whenever changing a pet’s diet, watch for signs of any trouble. At the first sign of any complications arising during the transition to a vegan diet, get your cat checked by a vet to properly determine the cause.
Is it all or nothing?
Currently, the science indicates that a carefully constructed vegan diet for cats is quite healthy. But, maybe YOUR cat absolutely turns up its nose at the pet food you give it. You could try a few different brands until you find one that your cat likes. Another option is to mix in the vegan cat food with the meat based cat food so as to reduce the amount you use. Read our reviews of cat food to see where to start.
Some people feel more comfortable in supplementing their cat’s vegan diet with meat products on occasion. After you transition your cat to a vegan diet, watch how it adapts and adjust your approach as needed. At least by feeding your pet vegan cat food at times, you are making some impact to helping the animals that become the pet food.