Vegan diets are rising in popularity among humans. A growing body of research suggests that going plant-based is one of the healthiest ways to live, reducing the risk of chronic disease. But while humans can ditch animal products, is a vegan diet safe for cats?
What Do Cats Eat?
Cats eat a range of foods—almost all of them animal-derived. Many cat food products include chicken, fish like salmon or tuna, as well as beef, pork, and lamb. This is often available in a wet or dry form. If they were in the wild, domesticated cats would not eat large animals like cows or pigs. They would hunt and eat small rodents, like mice and shrews, birds, insects, and reptiles.
While cats seem to enjoy drinking milk, they are lactose intolerant and dairy upsets their digestive system. Just like humans who suffer from the same condition, drinking too much dairy, or eating cheese, can give cats diarrhea. It can also give them gas and constipation, among other symptoms.
What Is a Carnivore?
From tigers and lions to your domesticated kitty, cats naturally follow a carnivorous diet. This means that they get their essential nutrients from eating other animals. In the wild, carnivores play an important role, helping to prevent overpopulation.
Carnivores can eat herbivores, these are animals that eat only plants. They can also eat omnivores, these are animals that eat both plants and other animals. Dogs are omnivorous and can be fed a vegan diet, as long as it is healthy and balanced.
As many cat owners will be aware, domesticated cats still have carnivorous hunting instincts. This is why they may bring home mice or birds in addition to being fed a diet of cat food. They don’t always eat their kill; female cats are most likely to bring their prey home and play with them.
Veterinary journalist Dr. Sarah Wooten DVM wrote for VetStreet: “In the wild, feral kittens are taught how to kill prey by their mothers. Domestic cats often fail to learn this skill, which is why you will see them ‘playing with anything they catch, or they may bring the mouse to you to kill because they don’t know how.”
“Hunting is an innate behavior in felines,” she added. “It is important that they get to exercise this ability, even if they are just ‘hunting’ cat toys or feathered fishing poles.”
Can Cats Be Vegan?
Many animal experts believe that cats and their digestive systems are much better suited to a meat diet. A lack of amino acids like taurine, which they cannot make themselves and can get from animal protein, can cause serious illness.
Daniella Dos Santos, the president of the British Veterinary Association, told BBC Future: “cats are obligate carnivores. They require certain amounts of amino acids to be healthy, and the lack of these can lead to health problems.”
But there are some experts who believe cats can be put on a vegan diet. Andrew Knight, a professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Winchester, wrote for Green For Life: “cats, dogs, and indeed all species, have requirements for specific dietary nutrients, not ingredients.”
He added: “There is no scientific reason why a diet comprised only of plant, mineral, and synthetically-based ingredients cannot be formulated to meet all of the palatability, nutritional, and bioavailability needs of the species for which they are intended.”
He added that if you change your pet’s diet, it should be gradual, and they should be monitored frequently for any changes in behavior or health. If done properly, a vegan diet may help improve coat condition and weight control, he states.
Vegans With Pet Cats
Around 6.5 million companion animals end up in animal shelters every year. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more than three million of those animals are cats who need homes. Even if you feel sticking to a meat diet is best for your cat, adopting one is still in line with vegan values.
Wild Earth, a vegan dog food brand, is working on something that could make the lives of vegan cat-owners easier: lab-grown mouse meat. Like lab-grown meat that’s being developed for human consumption, the meat would be slaughter-free and grown from the cells of mice.
Not only would it be more ethical, but more environmentally-friendly too. In 2017, a study estimated that pet food is responsible for around a quarter of the meat industry’s environmental impact.
Ryan Bethencourt CEO of Wild Earth said in a statement in 2018: “an economical and scalable cultured protein for pets is an essential part of this shift away from animal agriculture.”
If you want to switch your cat to a plant-based diet, you should do your research and work this through with a vet first. And, as pointed out by Knight, the switch should be gradual and the diet must be nutritionally suited for a cat. If you don’t decide to take your cat off a meat diet, you may still want to supplement their food with vegan products. Here are some of the vegan cat food brands available.
4 Vegan Cat Food Brands
According to Hampshire-based vegan pet food brand Benevo, its cat food is nutritionally complete, with added taurine and spirulina. Before it launched in 2005, the team carried out a year’s worth of research and development to create the best nutritionally-balanced recipes for cats and dogs. Its products—which include Benevo Cat Adult Original and Benevo Duo Complete Food for Cats and Dogs—are PETA-approved and certified by The Vegan Society. Check out Benevo here.
Italian brand Amì makes its pet food using only vegetable-based ingredients. It has ten years worth of experience in the pet food sector, and its products are based on scientific research, as well as a respect for nature and animals. Its products are distributed in 25 countries. Check out Amì here.
Wysong isn’t a vegan brand, it offers a number of meat-based pet food products, but it also has a vegan range. According to the brand, its nutritious and vet-recommended meatless cat and dog food “is excellent for elimination protocols and as a base to a fresh meat source.” Check it out here.
4. Evolution Diet
U.S.-based Evolution Diet makes a range of vegan cat food products. All are free of chemical preservatives, which the brand says contribute to cancers and other diseases in cats. You can opt for an Intro Pack from the brand, which includes a sample of each of its most popular products, including Gourmet Fondue Dry Kibble, Moist Food – Vegetable Stew, and Maximum Life Dry Kibble. Check out Evolution Diet here.