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Turning vegan has been on the rise throughout the world. Some vegan pet owners don’t stop at themselves giving up animal products, they even want their pets to do so as well! However, the question remains - can cats really go meat free? Is there such a thing as vegan cat food? Is vegan cat food safe for my cats?
In this article, we answer these questions concerning vegan cat food, guidelines when feeding your cat vegan food, risks of a vegan cat diet and more!
Photo by The Lucky Neko on Unsplash
To put it simply, vegan cat food is cat food that does not contain meat and is entirely plant based.
Between 2014 and 2017, veganism in humans has risen 600% in the United States alone. The idea of feeding our pet cats vegan food is due to different factors such as the rising carbon footprint from meat-based pet food and the growing concerns when it comes to the growth of the number of pets in different countries.
However, cats are not made to be vegans, according to experts. This, however, has not stopped certain companies from creating vegan cat food in which they claim has been fortified with taurine and other essential nutrients. That is why you will still be able to find it in the market.
No. Cats cannot be vegan no matter what you do or how you tempt it with plant-based food. Forcing your cat to be vegan is like forcing your rabbit to eat meat! It is very unnatural for cats to have a plant-based diet.
Cats are obligate carnivores which means that they depend entirely on meat to get their nutrients. The said nutrients are only found in other animals.
Cat food usually contains protein such as chicken, fish, beef, pork and lamb be it in wet or dry form for a reason.
Even though pet cats are domesticated, they still have carnivorous hunting instincts. This is why you see pictures of cats bringing home mice or birds although it may not have happened with your cat before. Hunting is an innate behaviour, particularly for female cats.
The general consensus among experts is that cats need a meat based diet. Important amino acids such as taurine, which cats need, cannot be made by cats’ bodies and can only be gotten from animal protein. A lack of taurine can cause serious illnesses.
However, there are a handful of experts who believe that cats can be put on a vegan diet. They claim that cats have specific dietary nutrients such as taurine but if plant-based ingredients are formulated to meet that nutritional need, it is highly possible for cats to be put on a vegan diet.
Feed your cat a vegan diet at your own risk. Always consult with your veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet.
The major risk when it comes to feeding your cat a vegan diet, is the lack of taurine, although other nutritional deficiencies are also possible for cats.
When a cat does not receive the nutrition it needs, there can be serious consequences. Some cats can fall very ill, which may even lead to fatalities.
There are certain nutrients that your cat really needs for it to thrive and be healthy. Even if you decide to feed your cat a vegan diet, it will still need the following nutrients, which will have to be derived from somewhere and somehow:
Unlike humans who only require nine types of amino acids, cats require eleven amino acids. The two extra amino acids are taurine and arginine, which are normally not found in plant-based foods.
Taurine is essential for cats. It can only be found in animal sources such as meat and not in plant sources. Humans are able to synthesize taurine but cats cannot. This means cats require a direct source from an animal product.
If cats go on a vegan diet, a taurine deficiency usually develops as a plant-based diet is unable to provide them this essential amino acid.
Due to taurine deficiencies, cats can develop heart issues and diseases and turn blind. These issues and diseases will cause your cat to be uncomfortable, experience pain and even death.
Cats require a diet that is high in protein. Realistically speaking, plants do not have sufficient levels of high-quality and highly digestible protein to meet a cat’s dietary requirements.
A few symptoms of lack of protein in cats include:
As you can see, there is a whole range of symptoms and risks if cats do not get enough protein from meat.
Cats are unable to make vitamin D in their skin like humans. Therefore, the vitamins need to come from their diet. Cats really need vitamin D3, which can only be derived from animal sources. Plant-based sources only give vitamin D2.
If your cat does not intake enough vitamin D or experiences a drop in vitamin D levels, it can lead to congestive heart failure in cats. Cats are also at risk of bone disorders and rickets if they do not get enough vitamin D.
Although a low-carb vegan cat diet is entirely possible, vegan food tends to be carbohydrate heavy from grains, bread, and starchy vegetables.
Cats do not need much carbohydrates to survive as they are not good at digesting carbs and do not derive much energy from it. Instead, they need the more calorie dense options that meat provides.
Cats really need vitamin A in order for their skin, muscles and nerves to function properly. Your cat may even suffer from night blindness as well as have unhealthy skin and coat if there is a vitamin A deficiency. Particularly for pregnant cats and kittens, vitamin A is crucial as it aids in growth, muscle and neurological development.
Cats can only get vitamin A from meat sources such as liver or from additional supplements such as from Petcubes Wild Krill Oil Capsules which contain vitamin A. It cannot derive vitamin A from plant-based sources or produce it by itself.
Cats need arachidonic acid in their diet. The only dietary source of arachidonic acid is animal fats and tissues, particularly the fatty acids from membranes. It is therefore unreasonable to feed your cat a vegan diet since it is unable to derive arachidonic acid from plant-based diets.
A deficiency in arachidonic acid will cause your cat to have poor reproductive performances and insufficient platelets, which can be fatal.
Vitamin B12 aids in cats’ digestion. It is important for your cat’s immune system and nervous system as well. Cats are unable to produce vitamin B12 on their own and can only obtain this vitamin through their diet. However, vitamin B12 is only found in animal products such as meat, liver, fish and eggs.
As such, plant based diets are not suitable for cats if you do not want your pet’s immune system, nervous system and digestive tract to break down.
Making (let’s face it - they don’t exactly have a choice in the matter) your pet cat turns vegan and only feeding it plant-based food is not something to be taken lightly. You have a lot to think about before you do.
Here are a few general vegan cat food guidelines for you to follow before making the decision:
The general consensus is to never feed your cat a vegan diet. However, there have been occasion whereby vets will only use specially formulated cat food that are made from non-meat protein sources (eg. egg or soy) in special medical cases. Usually, it is to diagnose or treat the following conditions:
The vets usually use these foods while supervising your cat’s overall health and specific conditions.
Pet owners who insist on feeding only vegan cat food to their cat have to be very aware that there will likely be an imbalance or deficiency in their cat’s diet. Use nutritional supplements to make up for the deficiency. It is not fun for your cat or you to have your cat fall sick due to a lack of nutrients.
Although as pet owners, there are many concerns when it comes to switching to a vegan diet for pets, it is not a good idea to do so for your cat. Cats are obligate carnivores who need meat in order to live a healthy life. If you are worried about all the ramifications when it comes to meat and the environment, try organic cat food or natural cat food instead as it is more appropriate for your cat. Do not change your cat’s diet to vegan just because it will make you happy as cats need meat and all the nutrients that come with it.
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