FloridaWild Vet Hospital

Are Vegan and Vegetarian Diets for Cats Appropriate?

A friend called me the other day to share her awesome news; she just had adopted an adorable kitten. While she was extremely happy and excited about the kitten who will be sharing her home and heart for many, many years to come, at the same time she was conflicted about what to do about feeding it.

The reason for my friend’s quandary was that many years ago, due to her strong ethical and environmental beliefs, she had adopted a strict vegan lifestyle. As a result, she was unsure whether she would ever feel comfortable feeding her kitty a meat-based diet. She also wanted to know if and how other vegans and vegetarians were able to justify feeding meat to their cats.

Prior to getting a pet, it goes without saying that it’s essential for anyone who has chosen a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle to do extensive research about the dietary needs of the pet(s) in which they are interested in adopting. Having this information in advance makes it a lot easier to deliberate over whether it’s appropriate for them to make the same lifestyle choice for their pet.

Unlike humans, canines and other omnivores, felines are obligate carnivores. In order to thrive they must meet their nutritional needs by consuming muscle meat, organ meat, fur, fat and bones. Meats contain certain key nutrients including taurine, (an amino acid; the building blocks of protein) vitamin A, B-12 and arachidonic acid. Plant protein does not contain Taurine. It can only be found in meat, milk and other animal sources. Since plant-based diets are unable to sufficiently provide these essential nutrients, if cats are deprived of these consequential nutrients, this can put them at risk of blindness, hearing loss, heart and liver disease.

Considering that meat protein is essential to a feline’s well-being, it is crucial for a vegan or vegetarian to be able to easily justify feeding their kitty meat. If this is impossible, having a cat may not be an optimal choice for a pet. However, don’t despair; there’s a wealth of desirable pets from which to choose that includes dogs and other animals that can flourish on a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Our conversation led me to investigate if it’s common for vegan or vegetarian cat owners to have the same conflicts about feeding meat to their cats, and the ways they may have looked for to solve what could potentially become a dietary crisis. From my research this is what I found.

It’s inappropriate to feed cats a diet of plant-based vegan/vegetarian diet. These diets essentially fail to meet an obligate carnivore’s nutritional needs. Even so, the debate persists over whether cats are actually able to thrive on plant-based diets. In fact, today there are several pet food companies that offer kitty owners a variety of “pricey” wet and dry “vegetarian” cat foods.

However, there are available meat diet options that may appeal to vegan and vegetarian cat owners since they meet the nutritional needs of their pets; often more humanely. One possibility is preparing a well-balanced homemade food from free-range, hormone-free meats. Another option is feeding your cats a commercially prepared frozen or refrigerated meat product – this is an excellent alternative. Contact the manufacturers to learn more about their products.

Although preparing your own cat food is a time-consuming and exacting affair that demands the precise balance of ingredients, essential vitamins, minerals and then storing it correctly, it is well worth the work because you created it, you know exactly what your food contains.

There’s a huge variety of recipes on the Internet to explore to help you make excellent home cooked meals for cats. For more information and to learn more about what is involved in cooking correctly for your cat, check out 9 Homemade Cat Food Recipes.

Photo credit: Misty: Marie Youngken

By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW, (Ret.)

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