If you are a cat lover (like us!), you know just how important it is to give our kitties the best possible life. But if you are also trying to live a sustainable, eco-friendly or even vegan lifestyle you might have wondered – can I feed plant-based food to my cat?
Vegan cat food is a super complex subject with lots of differing opinions. This can make it hard to find the right option for you and your furry friend through all the noise.
So we’re going to break down the pros and cons, and answer your common questions. Here’s a lowdown of what we’ll be covering:
- Veganism & cat owners
- The moral maze of vegan cats!
- The 5 reasons owners might want a vegan diet for their pet
- Is vegan cat food safe?
- Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are designed to eat animal proteins
- Because of this cats do not produce their own taurine, an essential amino acid found only in meat
- Supplements to provide all the nutrients our kitties need on a plant-based diet
- What does the science say?
- The pros and cons of a vegan diet for cats, according to the current research
- Can you get vegan cat food?
- Vegan cat food is a possibility with the current advancements in nutrition and supplementation
- How to transition your cat to a vegan diet safely
But first, let’s get a bit of background on the hot topic at hand…
Veganism & Cat Ownership
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude…all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose…In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”The Vegan Society
As we can see from the above definition, veganism is a lifestyle that is centered on minimizing and eradicating the suffering of animals.
While there’s plenty of debate around the topic of pet ownership and veganism, many vegan owners choose to still keep pets for a few important reasons:
- Caring for animals – Many vegans make the point that the overlap between loving animals and caring for one isn’t a hard gap to cross.
- Mental Health – For many owners, animals have a super important therapeutic effect on their lives – old and young alike! Our kitties have been helping children with learning, and also bringing comfort to the terminally-ill as therapy cats.
- Animal Welfare – There’s plenty of kitties out there, rescues and newborns alike, that need loving homes. By giving them a kind home, a vegan owner is still reducing any possible suffering.
As you, our wonderful readers, prove – so many of us want our fluffy friends to have the best life they possibly can. We strive to give them a loving home, plenty of enrichment, and a caring family (ie – us humans!). For many vegans, this aligns with their reason for choosing a vegan lifestyle in the first place.
But when it comes to what to feed their feline friend, many vegans, vegetarians or sustainably-minded owners get a little stumped!
Cats eat meat – that’s a fact right? But…
Why Might Owners Want to Remove Meat From Their Cat’s Diet?
A plant-based diet is appealing to some cat owners for a bunch of reasons, including:
- Lifestyle – For owners who live a vegan lifestyle, that means excluding any animal derived products from their life and home. Including meaty pet food!
- Aversion – Some vegetarian or vegan owners find meat hard to touch, smell and handle.
- Animal Ethics – Some vegan owners believe that there is a double standard between the way society treats farm animals and pets. They therefore do not wish to feed their pets these commercially produced processed meats.
- Environment – Many vegans choose to stop eating meat due to its impact on the environment; because of the land, energy and water it uses. Reducing a pet’s meat intake is another way to combat climate change on a personal level.
- Health Benefits – With the rise in popularity in plant based/raw/vegan diets, owners may want to spread the health benefits they’ve experienced to their pets.
This last point is a popular one – and is the one that causes the most debate…
Can a cat survive on a vegan diet? While the benefits of a plant-based diet have been studied in humans…what about its effect on our furry friends?
Is It Safe for My Cat to Eat a Plant Based Diet?
The main causes for concern for plant-based cats are:
- Cats are obligate carnivores
- Nutritional deficiencies – especially taurine levels
- These are animals whose diet is defined by eating “prey containing only minimal amounts of carbohydrates.”
- As our domestic kitties are descendants of wild cats, who fall under this category, veterinarians agree that our cats are biologically designed to eat meat – and not much else!
- Meat has high levels of the important nutrient taurine, an essential amino acid found only in animal protein.
- Over their evolution, and steady diet of meaty things, feline bodies began to expect taurine regularly, and at some point no longer produce it on their own.
- We humans can make our own, but our kitties can’t. Because of this, cats must consume taurine on a consistent basis to stay healthy.
- Without enough taurine, cats can suffer from severe health complications, such as heart problems, blindness and gastro issues. It’s also essential to help kittens grow properly in the womb, and once they are out too.
Is a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet Even Possible for Cats?
Pet food has come a long way in recent years, right? With human grade, homemade and even raw food options being available for owners with different needs. Do these advancements in animal nutrition mean that a vegan diet is healthy for our cats?
Prepare to hit your brain’s “power boost” button, because we’re about to hit the science section! 🙂
Vegan Cat Food Study Roundup:
If deficient in nutrients, a vegetarian or vegan diet can cause health issues – This 1992 study confirmed that a poorly managed vegetarian or vegan diet can cause health problems for cats.
Vegan pet food brands may be deficient in nutrients – A 2020 study analyzed four vegan pet foods & found them to be inaccurate on their reported nutritional profiles. The researchers didn’t recommend using vegan brands, and encouraged manufacturers to be more accurate.
Vegan diets are possible, but folic acid may be low – A 2014 study examined indoor cats who had been on a vegan diet for at least 6 months. No abnormalities were detected that were associated with diet, other than lower folic acid levels.
Feeding an unconventional diet will require supplements – A 2017 review suggested that vegetarian (and vegan) feline diets must be supplemented with six key nutrients, which means that feeding a veggie-based diet requires special attention and extra time.
Vegan diets can provide enough taurine – In a 2006 study 34 vegetarian (mostly vegan) cats were compared with 52 cats on meat-based diets. They found no difference in reported health, condition or behavior. Taurine levels were also similar between the two groups.
Owners with vegan cats see them as healthy – A 2021 questionnaire found that owners viewed their cats to be healthy and happy when feeding a plant-based diet. They also found no reported differences in lifespan between meat-eating and plant-based cats.
Vegan diets are palatable for cats – Another 2021 questionnaire found that owners reported vegan pet foods are generally as palatable to cats as conventional meat or raw meat diets. In that way, even for fussy eaters, a vegan diet doesn’t seem to upset their relationship with food or behavioral welfare long term.
So What’s the Right Decision?
Without a fully conclusive answer from science, your best bet? Follow whatever feels right for you and your kitty!
While a conventional meat-based diet might be the safest & easiest option for you and your fur-pal, vegan diets are becoming more researched and more understood every day.
Andrew Knight, a professor of Animal Welfare in England, writes:
“Cats, dogs, and indeed all species, have requirements for specific dietary nutrients, not ingredients…There is no scientific reason why a diet comprised only of plant, mineral, and synthetically-based ingredients cannot be formulated to meet all of the palatability, nutritional, and bioavailability needs of the species for which they are intended.”
Tips for Transitioning Your Cat to a Vegan Diet
Interested in transitioning your feline friend to a vegan diet? It’s wise to be aware of the following top tips from Professor Knight:
- Consult with your vet – While they may not be super supportive, they may at least help to provide you with the key nutrients to be aware of when looking for commercial vegan food. They can also help monitor your cat’s condition, bloodwork, urinalysis and overall health.
- Double your check ups – Kitties on an unconventional diet should have twice yearly checkups instead of one.
- Do some serious research – We know most of our community have an interest in their cat’s nutrition, but for vegetarian or vegan brands be sure to double down on your label checking. Why not contact the manufacturers to get them to prove to you the nutritional soundness and consistency of their feeds?
- Go slow – If you are going to change your cat’s diet, start slow and gradually phase in new feeding regimes. Monitor them frequently too, and maybe book in a few checkups over the months of your transition to be double sure.
- Supplement – Your vet can guide you on supplementing your cat’s plant based diet, some like to add a multivitamin that contains that all important taurine.
- Support – It can be useful to find yourself a supportive facebook group to join, or find a vet that will take a non-judgemental approach.
Final Thoughts on Can Cats Be Vegan
As the guardians of our furry friends, it’s up to us to work out what’s best for them. And that can look different for everyone – whether it’s budget constraints, a medical condition, lifestyle choices, or personal preferences.
As long as your cats are happy, healthy and getting their snuggle quota – you are doing an amazing job!
Plus, If a vegan diet isn’t something you want for your cat, but you still want to find ways to be more sustainable, why not check out these eco-friendly blog topics for some green reading?
- How to Reduce Your Cat’s Carbon Paw Print
- 8 Ethical & Eco-Friendly Cat Foods
- Plastic Free Cats: 4 Ways To Reduce Plastic As A Pet Parent
We hope this article gives you all the information you need to make the right dietary choices for your cat. We’d love to hear your thoughts, and know if any of your kitties are living a plant-based lifestyle?
SAVE THIS VEGAN CAT FOOD GUIDE TO PINTEREST!