The other day I got into a brief discussion on Twitter about putting cats on a vegan diet. Well actually, I don’t know if the questioner was asking if a vegan diet for dogs can work or a vegan diet for cats, but I thought it would make a great discussion for a blog post.
There is such thing as vegan cat food and vegan dog food as many of you will know. But just because there is an option out there for putting your cat on a vegan diet or your dog for that matter, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing them a favour.
In the interest of being transparent with you, I live with 4 cats and none of them are on a vegan diet. In fact 2 of them are geriatric and require special food as well as medication.
This is not to say I don’t believe that putting cats or dogs on a vegan diet is a bad idea, but rather, what is the best we can provide for them as their stewards.
One of the reasons I believe that companion animals are not ideal from a abolitionist vegan perspective is the difficulty in providing them whole and humane food. It can’t be done if you’re going to allow your dog or cat to eat as a carnivore or omnivore. Humane slaughter is an oxymoron.
Now I live with companion animals but philosophically I don’t believe that having companion animals is the long term goal of abolitionist veganism. This is just my philosophy and until we get anywhere near to animal abolitionism I recognize that perhaps caring for animals as vegan stewards is a step in the right direction. But make no mistake, animals under our care are owned and controlled. More so than children because children grow up and become autonomous.
Nevertheless, that is an aside, I want to get to the answer to the question which is can you put a cat or dog on a vegan diet? And perhaps more poignant, should you put a dog or cat on a vegan diet?
If we are going to do justice to this question we need to first think about what is nutritionally and healthfully best for the animal and we can start by understanding their physiology.
First let’s swing for a soft ball. Let’s talk about dogs.
Depending on who you ask, dogs are considered either carnivores or omnivores even though they are classified in the order Carnivora.
However, dogs are not obligate carnivores which for all intents and purposes means that they can include large amounts of vegetable matter in their diet and they also do not need meat specific proteins to thrive.
Many of us know this first hand if we have lived with doggies. Dogs are happy to take our scraps off the table and how many have been found rifling through the garbage for odds and ends 🙂
I’ve lived with dogs before but I’ve never put them on a vegan diet. But if you were to ask me if you could or should put your dog on a vegan diet because you are vegan and it aligns more closely with your ethics then I’d say go for it. But you always want to remain vigilant and keep your vet in the loop and make sure that your dog remains in optimum health.
There are many commercial vegan dog foods out there and you can also find recipes online for vegan dog food too. Putting dogs on a vegan diet can be healthy and appropriate if it is important to you.
Now we get to the tougher issue which is can cats be vegan?
Some of my vegan readers will not be totally pleased with my discussion but my interest here is from the side of the animal or cat. What is best for your cat, or can a vegan diet for cats be harmless?
I will cautiously suggest that a very well planned vegan diet for cats MIGHT work. However, we have to understand that cats are obligate carnivores. This means they MUST have meat or at least certain nutrients found only in meat in order to thrive.
2 of the most important nutrients required by cats that are normally found in their meat based diet are the amino acids arginine and taurine. Arginine they need a constant supply of and taurine they cannot manufacture at all.
There are now on the market vegetarian cat foods and vegan cat foods with these and other elements added to the food synthesized from chemical sources but some suggest that even these vegan cat foods are not necessarily adequate.
If you are going to try your cat on a vegan diet I urge you to do the necessary research and speak with your vet about your decision. Additionally, only use commercially available vegan cat foods and DO NOT try and make your own vegan cat food for you companion animal.
If your cat consistently lacks sufficient arginine they will encounter weight loss, listlessness and eventually death. A lack of sufficient tarring in your cat’s diet will cause macular degeneration and eventual blindness.
Put it this way, if you believe as I do, that a vegan or plant based diet is the healthiest for humans what do you think our overall health would look like if were fed a carnivorous diet even if it included many of the nutrients we get from plants added in to such a vegan diet?
I don’t think we would excel in optimum health.
My best advice to you is that it is better to buy as naturally produced as possible meat products for your cat than it is to try and put them on a vegan diet.
It pains me to say that, as I live with 4 cats, 4 obligate carnivores and 2 to 3 times a day I feed them on what I know is misery… the lives of other sentient beings taken too early and violently.
But that is the price that I must pay as I have chosen to care for cats as companion animals.
Cats are also picky eaters and changing their diet to one that is plant based even if it has the necessary nutrients can be a challenge. If you choose to try a vegan diet for your cat, please monitor them carefully and buy the best and most complete vegetarian cat food that you can find. Frequent veterinary care is a must too.