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Can a Cat be Vegetarian or Vegan?

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 6, 2018
Can a Cat be Vegetarian or Vegan?

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Many people who follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle find it compromising to feed their beloved pet's food containing meat. Their personal beliefs that consuming animals is ethically wrong might extend to traditional cat food which incorporates meat. Essentially, their purchase of meat based cat food contributes to the killing of animals which they abhor.

This can be a difficult problem as cats are what is known as ‘obligate carnivores’ meaning the nutrients they need for survival are derived from a meat only diet. However, there are vegetarian cat food brands on the market. If feeding your cat a vegetarian diet is going to damage them, why would they be on sale? AnimalWised answers the question ‘can a cat be vegetarian or vegan?’ to see whether removing meat from your cat's diet is a dangerous decision.

You may also be interested in: Can a Dog Be Vegetarian or Vegan?

Difference between vegetarian and vegan diets

Starting on a vegetarian diet can prove difficult, even to human beings. One study suggested that vegetarian adolescents in a multiethnic urban population “are at a greater risk than others for involvement in unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors”[1]. This is because it can be difficult to maintain the healthy food we ingest if we limit our diet. As omnivores, we get certain vital nutrients from different substances, both plant and animals based.

However, it is perfectly possible for humans to get their required nutrients without eating meat. As the same study claims, it is not avoiding eating meat which is making the adolescents in the study weak. It is possible to eat a vegetarian diet if they “learn how to healthfully do so”. This is shown by the many healthy vegetarians and vegans out there. It may be helpful to look at the difference between these two similar groups:

  • Vegetarian diet: this is a diet which excludes the consumption of meat and fish, but does allow other products which do not come from animals which are killed for this purpose. This includes eggs, milk and honey which come from animal products.
  • Vegan diet: this is a similar diet except it excludes all animal based products whether or not the animal was killed to produce them.

Can a cat be vegetarian or vegan of its own volition?

As stated in the introduction, cats are carnivorous animals. They may sometimes be partial to a particular piece or fruit or vegetable, but they are not opportunistic omnivores or facultative carnivores[2] such as dogs or rats. This means, while they get most of their nutrition from meat, the rest can be supplemented by other non-meat products. This is usually at times when meat is scarce, so they need to make do until the next meat feed is available.

Cats, however, have a certain morphology which means they can only survive on the essential nutrients naturally found in meat. They are predisposed to carnivorous feedind, preferring the amino acids which are found in meat, fish, eggs or even seafood. They also reject certain components of fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals such as monosaccharides disacarcharides[3].

For these reasons a cat cannot be vegetarian or vegan of its own accord. The ‘healthful’ approach to veganism and vegetarianism requires a level of consideration which cats are simply unable to make.

Can a Cat be Vegetarian or Vegan? - Can a cat be vegetarian or vegan of its own volition?

If cats are carnivores, will a vegan cat die?

Cats have certain nutritional requirements such as carbohydrates, fiber, fats, fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and amino acids. Some are more vital than others, but all are needed to provide your cat with a balanced diet. If your cat suffers from nutritional deficiencies they could become unwell and may potentially die. One particular amino acid which is essential for cat's survival is taurine. If cats do not have enough taurine they will deteriorate significantly, first losing their sight, lowering brain function, weakening their immune system and eventually resulting in death.

However, even meat based cat food has added taurine to make up for that which is lost during cooking[4]. Some of this is synthesized taurine, meaning it is not derived from animal products. This is a process which may seem unnatural, but it has yet to prove significant detriment to cats who ingest it. A cat who is vegan will die, not if they do not eat any meat, but if they do not consume the nutrients they require which are originally derived from meat. Specifically, a vegetarian or vegan cat will die if it does not have a supplemented diet.

Is there vegan or vegetarian food for cats?

Even though cats are carnivores, there are vegetarian and vegan alternative cat foods available. This type of food is specifically formulated with ingredients free of animal product, yet at the same time able to meet the complicated dietary requirements of your cat. A cat which eats a diet which is nutritionally complete, shouldn't suffer any adverse effects.

However, this delicate balance of nutrition will not be met for every cat. Some may find themselves deficient without added supplementation. This may be the case with cheaper brands of vegan cat food which may not be up to scratch in terms of nutrition. Another concern is the fact that some of these brands may not be palatable for your cat. Even with meat based cat food, you cat may be picky. Without the natural allure of meat for a cat, it is possible they will reject the food and you could face hunger issues.

Can a Cat be Vegetarian or Vegan? - Is there vegan or vegetarian food for cats?

Can you make homemade vegan cat food?

As we have explained, commercial vegan cat foods are prepared so that there is the best chance the cat will accept it positively. This is very hard to do with homemade vegan cat food. It is not just taurine, but a complicated mix of essential nutrients which are required for your cat's health and survival. Due to the cat's morphology, making your own vegan cat food without a convoluted list of supplements will likely cause your cat to reject it.

Even if your cat does enjoy eating homemade vegan cat food, the risk of missing something out is great. Calcium, vitamin and other mineral deficiencies are likely and can lead to certain pathologies in your cat such as anemia.

Veterinarian check ups

If you do decide to feed your cat a vegan diet, you are taking a risk. It is possible, but there is an element of trail and error which can put your cat in jeopardy. Feeding your cat a vegetarian or vegan diet will require constant monitoring of their teeth, gums, behavior and overall health. A healthy cat will need a check up at the vet every 6 months to a year. For a cat fed on a vegan diet, you will need to take them in every 2 to 3 months.

The vet may also need to be a specialist in feline nutrition, something not in which not all veterinarians will be trained. They will make general observation as well as provide a blood test. It is of the utmost importance to take your cat to the vet as their nature can lead to their suppression of certain illness symptoms, causing a lateness in treatment. On a practical level, this increase in care, specialist food and nutritional supplements can be particularly expensive. Vegan cat owners, therefore, need to ensure they are in a position to provide for their cat if they make this decision for them.

If you decide to provide your cat with a vegetarian or vegan diet, then you can know that it is indeed possible. However, you must also need to know it comes with a certain level of risk. You are also going against your cat's natural instincts and cravings, so the level of your cat's happiness is also a consideration. This may be particularly the case if you decide to switch your cat's feed later in life. Also, rearing a kitten on a vegan feed is particularly tricky as this is when they need nutrients the most and are at their most vulnerable.

Can a Cat be Vegetarian or Vegan? - Veterinarian check ups

If you want to read similar articles to Can a Cat be Vegetarian or Vegan?, we recommend you visit our Diet problems category.

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