Cats rule the Internet. And for many people, they rule the home, too. But if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, or just trying to cut down on your meat intake in general, it can be a challenge feeding these little carnivores.

Like our food system, the pet food system is equally problematic. It’s an industry built on low costs and high profits, which, in the case of animal ingredients, means the health and welfare of an animal typically comes last. But, fortunately, not all pet food companies are the same, either. Here’s what you need to know to be the most ethical cat companion.

5 Cat Food Considerations for the Vegans Who Love (and Feed) Them

  5 Cat Food Considerations for the Vegans Who Love (and Feed) Them

1. What do cats eat?

The first step is accepting that they are carnivores. Unlike dogs, who can survive (and thrive) on a plant-based diet, cats simply won’t thrive without meat. It’s not a choice; it’s survival. Just look at them — they’re built for hunting as evident in their sharp claws, teeth, and short digestive systems. And if you’re a vegan who can’t get enough rescue cuteness in your life, you do need to accept that there will be meat in your future.

5 Cat Food Considerations for the Vegans Who Love (and Feed) Them5 Cat Food Considerations for the Vegans Who Love (and Feed) Them

2. The best cat food is size appropriate

Stick with feeding your cat animals they could (likely) kill on their own: No, there’s no mouse, cockroach, or mole food for cats (yet), but could your cat kill a cow? Hardly. So don’t feed her beef. Feed your cat animals that would be better aligned for her size: chicken, fish, maybe even rabbit. Not only is this better for your cat’s digestive system, but it also helps steer away from the largest methane-producing livestock: cows, sheep, and pigs.

5 Cat Food Considerations for the Vegans Who Love (and Feed) Them

3. Opt for grain-free pet food

 This isn’t a diet advised for humans (Paleo is on the downswing because it’s so unfit for humans), but for cats it’s pretty much the golden rule. They’re not meant to eat doughnuts. According to PetMD, while some cats can tolerate grains, many will experience fur loss, itchy skin, sores, scabs, and hot spots, as well as digestive issues. If you’re currently feeding your feline a grain diet with no issues, then keep it up. If conditions like this keep cropping up, your vet may recommend cutting out the grain for a period to see if the conditions clear up.

 5 Cat Food Considerations for the Vegans Who Love (and Feed) Them

4. Invest in good cat food

All brands are going to tell you that their cat food is the best. But it’s easy to do the research and find those with short ingredients list and commitments to whole foods. Some may even discuss their sources (where the animals used in your cat food come from). Don’t be afraid to press companies for more info. And definitely don’t take feeding into your own hands unless discussed with your cat’s vet. Cats need a balanced diet and simply sourcing your own free-range organic chicken meat isn’t enough. You could actually be setting your furry friend up for some serious deficiencies and health problems if you do that. Go with an age-appropriate cat food that’s higher in quality ingredients. And, yes, this is more expensive than the commercial stuff, but think of it this way — what you spend now on healthy food saves you from expensive vet bills later (and will probably add years to your kitty’s life). Here’s a fab list to get you started.

5 Cat Food Considerations for the Vegans Who Love (and Feed) Them

5. Find ways to offset the animal sacrifice

It’s tough peeling open those cans of meat (and then wondering how someone so darn cute can eat something so darn gross). But look at it this way: if you’ve rescued an animal (thanks!), you’re helping to deal with our massive cat overpopulation issue (there are an estimated 50 million feral cats just in the U.S.). Since humans have perpetuated this problem, it’s our responsibility to care for the victims of the system, too. So, if sacrificing chickens or fish for your felines is disheartening, look at ways to volunteer your time to help organizations or sanctuaries committed to helping the animals in the food system, too. And you can definitely help by keeping animals off your plate and choosing a plant-based vegan diet.


Contributor | Los Angeles, CA | Contactable via:

Jill has spent more than a decade immersed in digital publishing and storytelling with a focus on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, ethics, health, and politics. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Medium, MTV, and the Village Voice.