Many people who follow a vegan lifestyle may wonder if they can also feed their cats a plant-based diet.
However, this is not a simple question to answer, as cats have different nutritional needs and preferences than humans.
In this article, we will explore the possibility of turning your cat vegan, the risks and rewards of vegan cat food, some tips for transitioning your cat to a vegan diet, and some alternatives to vegan cat food.
Can Cats Be Vegan?
As obligate carnivores, cats require animal-derived nutrition to live. Cats evolved as hunters that eat high-protein, moderate-fat, and low-carb prey. These quantities are still needed in their diet. Cats also need over a dozen nutrients, including taurine, arachidonic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and niacin, which are not available in plant diets or in cat-friendly forms. These nutrients support cat eyesight, heart, immune, skin, coat, and blood clotting.
Meat-eating cats have different adaptations. Their small digestive system quickly processes animal protein and fat. They have little thirst and obtain most of their fluids from meals. A high-acid stomach helps them digest meat and bones and fight germs. Too much starch or sugar may cause obesity, diabetes, or urinary issues in them.
The Risks and Rewards of Vegan Cat Food
Since cats are obligate carnivores, veganism presents various problems and hazards. The primary question is whether vegan cat food can deliver all the nutrients cats require in sufficient numbers and forms.
Vegan cat food manufacturers that claim to be nutritionally adequate and balanced lack scientific data and long-term research to prove their safety and effectiveness. Veganisation may cause the following issues in cats:
- Taurine deficiency: Taurine is an amino acid that is only found in animal tissues. It is crucial for the health of the cat’s eyes, heart, brain, and reproductive system. Taurine deficiency can cause blindness, cardiomyopathy (heart disease), neurological disorders, and reproductive failure.
- Arachidonic acid deficiency: Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid that is only found in animal fats. It is involved in inflammation, blood clotting, skin health, and kidney function. Arachidonic acid deficiency can cause skin lesions, hair loss, poor wound healing, bleeding disorders, and kidney problems.
- Vitamin A deficiency: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is only found in animal sources or converted from beta-carotene in plants. Cats cannot convert beta-carotene into vitamin A efficiently and need preformed vitamin A from animal sources. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness, dry eyes, poor coat quality, immune suppression, and growth retardation.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is only found in animal products or synthesized by bacteria. Cats cannot synthesize vitamin B12 and need it from their diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anemia (low red blood cell count), neurological problems, poor appetite, weight loss, and lethargy.
- Niacin deficiency: Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that is found in both animal and plant foods. However, cats cannot convert tryptophan (an amino acid) into niacin as efficiently as humans and other animals can. Therefore, they need more niacin from their diet than other species. Niacin deficiency can cause inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis), diarrhea, poor coat quality, weight loss, and pellagra (a disease characterized by dermatitis, dementia, and death).
Besides these specific nutrient deficiencies, feeding cats a vegan diet may also cause other issues such as:
- Alkaline urine: Cats have naturally acidic urine due to their high protein intake. This helps prevent urinary tract infections and stones. However, feeding cats a vegan diet may increase the pH of their urine and make it more alkaline. This can increase the risk of urinary tract infections (especially in male cats), struvite stones (which can block the urethra), and calcium oxalate stones (which are harder to dissolve).
- Digestive problems: Cats have a short digestive tract that is not well suited for digesting large amounts of plant material. Feeding cats a vegan diet may cause indigestion, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting.
- Palatability issues: Cats are notoriously picky eaters who prefer meaty flavors and textures over plant-based ones. Feeding cats a vegan diet may reduce their appetite, food intake, and enjoyment of their meals.
On the other hand, some people may argue that there are some potential benefits of feeding cats a vegan diet, such as:
- Environmental impact: Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation, water pollution, and biodiversity loss. Feeding cats a vegan diet may reduce the environmental footprint of pet food production and consumption.
- Animal welfare: Many pet food ingredients come from animals raised on factory farms, where they suffer from overcrowding, mutilation, disease, and abuse. Feeding cats a vegan diet may reduce the demand for animal products and promote animal welfare.
- Human health: Some pet food ingredients may contain harmful substances such as antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and heavy metals. Feeding cats a vegan diet may reduce the exposure to these contaminants and lower the risk of zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans).
Tips for Transitioning Your Cat to a Vegan Diet
If you are considering feeding your cat a vegan diet, you should consult with your veterinarian first and do your research carefully. You should also be prepared to monitor your cat’s health closely and make adjustments as needed. Here are some tips for transitioning your cat to a vegan diet:
- Introduce new food gradually: Cats are creatures of habit and may resist changes in their diet. To avoid upsetting their stomach and taste buds, you should introduce new food gradually over several weeks. Start by mixing a small amount of vegan food with their regular food and gradually increase the proportion of vegan food until it replaces their regular food completely.
- Deal with picky eaters: Some cats may refuse to eat vegan food or eat less than they need. To entice them to eat more, you can try different flavors and textures of vegan food, add some water or broth to moisten the food, warm up the food slightly, or sprinkle some nutritional yeast or other flavor enhancers on top of the food. You can also try feeding your cat more frequently or in smaller portions throughout the day.
- Veterinary concerns: Feeding your cat a vegan diet requires regular veterinary check-ups and blood tests to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need and that their urine pH is within the normal range. You should also supplement your cat’s diet with taurine, arachidonic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B12, niacin, and other essential nutrients that may be lacking in vegan food. You can use synthetic supplements or fortified vegan foods that contain these nutrients. You should also provide your cat with fresh water at all times and monitor their urine output and quality.
Alternatives to Vegan Cat Food
If you are not comfortable or confident with feeding your cat a vegan diet, there are some alternatives that may still align with your ethical values and environmental concerns. For example, you can:
- Promote animal welfare: Choose Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership, or American Humane pet food products that employ higher-welfare animal components. These certifications verify that pet food animals are treated humanely and satisfy their physical and behavioral requirements. Avoid pet food manufacturers that include animal by-products, which are generally from diseased or injured animals.
- Request vegan pet food alternatives: Use your consumer power to demand more vegan pet food options. Sign petitions, send letters, or contact them to request vegan goods. Support Bond Pet Foods, Wild Earth, Because Animals, and Shiok Meats, which are producing animal-free pet food proteins. These firms employ biotechnology to make protein from yeast, fungus, algae, or cell culture to provide cats with all the nutrition they need without hurting animals.