Increasing numbers of people are making the shift to vegetarian or vegan diets for health, cost or animal kindness reasons or to decrease the burden on our planet.
But is it safe, healthy and practical to take your domestic cat down the vegan path?
The short answer is maybe, but go carefully.
Cats are carnivores. Their bodies have evolved to thrive on a diet primarily composed of animal-based proteins and the other nutrients associated with meat. While humans can adapt to various diets, cats have specific nutritional requirements that make a vegetarian or vegan diet potentially risky.
Unlike dogs, cats cannot efficiently synthesise essential nutrients like taurine and vitamin A from plant sources alone. Taurine deficiency, for instance, can lead to severe health issues, including heart problems and vision impairments. To address this, commercial vegetarian and vegan cat foods are often supplemented with synthetic nutrients.
Cats require high-quality protein, and the amino acids in animal proteins are essential for their overall well-being. Protein deficiency can lead to muscle wasting and other health complications. Additionally, cats need certain fats found in animal tissues for energy and the maintenance of a healthy coat.
Transitioning a cat to a vegetarian or vegan diet can be difficult. Their preferences are strongly inclined towards meat. Some cats may outright reject plant-based foods, leading to potential malnutrition. Owners may also face difficulties in sourcing and preparing balanced vegetarian or vegan meals for their pets. There might also be laws in your area that have something to say about feeding a suitable and adequate diet to animals in your care.
What does the science say?
A recent review showed there was not much high quality research and the conclusions were sometimes contradictory. They concluded
…there is little evidence of adverse effects arising in dogs and cats on vegan diets…some of the evidence on adverse health impacts is contradicted in other studies…there is some evidence of benefits, particularly arising from guardians’ perceptions of the diets…a cautious approach is recommended. If guardians wish to implement a vegan diet, it is recommended that commercial foods are used.1Four takeouts
Talk to your vet before making major dietary changes
Use commercially prepared vegan foods formulated to meet cats’s dietary needs
Monitor your own cat for signs of food rejection or dietary deficiencies
Accept that, for some cats, it may be possible to incorporate only limited plant-based ingredients without risking the cat’s health.
1The Impact of Vegan Diets on Indicators of Health in Dogs and Cats: A Systematic Review Adriana Domínguez-Oliva, Daniel Mota-Rojas, Ines Semendric and Alexandra L. Whittaker