The meat-free section of supermarkets is growing, we’re seeing more and more delicious vegetarian recipes grace the pages of our magazines and veganism is clearly a hot topic.
Choosing a cruelty-free, more ethical and more environmentally friendly diet is on the rise, with an estimated 3.5 million vegans in the UK as of April 2018.
While adopting a meat-free lifestyle is becoming easier for humans, many are facing a real dilemma when it comes to their pets: If you live in a vegan household, what should you give to your carnivore cat?
Can cats eat vegan cat food?
We hate to break it to you - but no, cats shouldn’t eat vegan cat food.
Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it. Cats, big and small, wild and domesticated, are ‘obligate carnivores’. That means they need to eat meat in order to stay fit, healthy and fulfilled. Without it, they’ll quickly develop many nutritional deficiencies which could make them seriously ill, or worse, be life-threatening.
A spokesperson for the RSPCA commented on the issue: "Cats are strict carnivores and depend on some very specific nutrients that are found in meat including taurine, vitamin A and arachidonic acid so can become seriously ill if they are fed a vegetarian or vegan diet."
If you want to lead a vegan lifestyle, good for you - you’re making a great choice. However, you absolutely can’t expect your cat to eat in the same way.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, we’d assume you care about animals living naturally and having a great quality of life. And the truth is, cats won’t feel good, won’t have as much energy, and could even become ill if they eat a diet of vegan cat food. Plus, it’s definitely not a natural existence for them - in fact, it’s far, far from.
Vegan cat food: the risks
Jean Greek, a veterinarian who feeds her two dogs a vegan diet, spoke to The Guardian: “The primary concern [of feeding a cat vegan food] is they would experience muscle wasting because they are missing some amino acids. One of the muscles that would get weakened is the heart, so potentially you could have a cardiac arrest.”
But it’s not just a cardiac arrest that you’ll need to worry about if you choose to put your cat on a vegan diet. Here are some of the major risks of vegan cat food:
Inadequate protein intake
Cats are carnivores - they simply can’t survive without protein. Cats use protein to produce energy, fuel their bodily processes, regulate their metabolism and repair and grow tissue.
If all those things are put on hold, you can probably imagine the damage which could be done to your cat’s body.
Lack of amino acids
You’ve probably seen taurine listed as an ingredient in pretty much all pet foods - well, that’s because it’s an essential part of a cat’s diet.
Without this important amino acid, your cat could suffer from heart disease, blindness or a fatal cardiac condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, among other health problems.
You can’t get taurine in plants and unlike dogs, cats can’t make their own taurine - they need to get it through consuming meat. Adding a supplement to some vegan cat food simply isn’t enough.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Cats commonly become deficient in calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin D, A and B vitamins when fed vegan cat food. This could lead to a dull, lifeless coat, loss of appetite, skin disorders, constipation or diarrhoea, weight loss, and negative behavioural changes.
Ultimately, lacking in these essential nutrients will increase your cat’s likelihood of developing life-threatening conditions and diseases.
Highly alkaline urine
Plant-based proteins are naturally more alkaline pH than animal proteins. This can lead to an abnormally high urine pH, which in turn causes painful conditions such as bladder crystals, stones or struvite. In some cases, this can lead to a complete blockage of the urethra which can be fatal.
What should vegan cat owners do?
You might not be able to feed your kitty vegan cat food, but there are some other steps you can take to give you peace of mind.
It might not be the ideal situation, but picking animal food brands which are from organic and ethical, who produce their food using only free-range animals and ensure humane and transparent farming practices, is the next best thing.
Alternatively, why not make your own cat food? That way, you can buy meat from a local farm with high animal welfare standards and know exactly what sort of life the animals lived. Again, we know it’s not ideal, but it might give you more peace of mind than buying commercial brands from the supermarket.
In conclusion, we'd advise against vegan cat food or a vegan diet for cats. They need meat to survive, and to deprive them of this would be cruel. If you're vegan and want a pet who can follow your diet, you'll be pleased to hear that dogs can live healthily on a vegan diet. Just make sure you do plenty of research. Good luck!