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Can Cats Be Vegan? Here’s What Scientific Research Says

People choose to be vegan for a variety of reasons from wanting to reduce their carbon footprint to wanting to improve their health and everything between. As an autonomous person, you can choose to do anything you wish regarding your health, dietary intake, beliefs, and actions. But your cat doesn’t get to make such choices. Instead, it has to depend solely on you to make all the decisions about its life.

Vegans find themselves in a moral conundrum when their beliefs are challenged by their pet cat, whose diet consists of animal-based foods; strictly against the vegan code. So, what are you to do? Should you feed your cat a vegan diet? It’s a hot topic, and while some vegan groups claim that you can do it healthily if you pay careful attention and work diligently at it, the veterinary experts disagree. The ASPCA even goes so far as to say, “a vegan diet is not appropriate for cats at all.”cat face divider 2

What’s Unhealthy About a Vegan Diet for Cats?

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they must eat the flesh of other animals in order to be healthy and thrive. Certain nutrients that exist only in meat are necessary for a cat’s health, including each of the following nutrients. Without sufficient amounts of each, a cat cannot achieve peak health.

Beautiful grey cat and vegetables for cooking salad_bellena_shutterstock
Credit: bellena, Shutterstock
  • Protein

Animals contain very few carbohydrates; they’re mostly protein and some fat. In the wild, this is what a cat’s diet would consist of entirely. Because of this, feline bodies have adapted to using protein for energy, powering most of a cat’s bodily processes.

Plants simply don’t contain enough protein to fulfill a feline’s need. Even if you manage to source enough plant-based protein to meet a cat’s overall protein needs, not all proteins are equal. Each protein is made up of specific chains of amino acids, and your cat needs specific amino acids that simply aren’t found in plants. This is why they’re obligate carnivores; eating meat is an obligation.

  • Carbohydrates

Cats are not good at digesting carbohydrates because animals that they prey on don’t contain many carbohydrates. A cat’s body doesn’t use carbohydrates for energy the way a person’s or a dog’s body does.

  • Taurine

Taurine is a very specific amino acid that’s only found in animal sources. No plants create or contain this amino acid. While humans and canines can synthesize this amino acid in our bodies, cats cannot. If they don’t consume enough taurine because of their vegan diet, a cat will develop a deficiency.

A deficiency of taurine doesn’t sound so bad until you know what it causes. It can easily become DCM or dilated cardiomyopathy. DCM is a heart condition that causes the muscle of the heart to become thin and weak so it can’t supply enough blood and oxygen to the body. It’s fatal if not treated in the early stages.

Slightly less severe is the chance of eye problems. Cats that are deficient in taurine commonly develop an eye condition known as feline central retinal degeneration.

  • Arachidonic acid

Arachidonic acid must be provided in your cat’s diet as they cannot manufacture it themselves. It’s an essential fatty acid that’s necessary for your cat’s inflammatory response. Additionally, it aids in blood clotting and skin growth, and it’s needed for proper reproductive function. Arachidonic acid is almost solely available from animal sources.

  • Vitamin A

Vitamin A is another essential nutrient that your cat must consume, or it may face a litany of health concerns. For a cat to eat a vegan diet, vitamin A would have to be supplemented, but you’ll have to be very careful to monitor the intake because vitamin A toxicity is also a problem.

If your cat is deficient in vitamin A, it could experience:

  • Unhealthy skin
  • Rough coat
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Lethargy
  • Lameness

Should you overdo the vitamin A supplementation and cause vitamin A toxicity, the results could be:

  • Arthritis
  • Fused vertebrae
  • Neck pain
  • Difficulty eating
  • Lameness
  • Withdraw of contact
  • Bone fractures
  • Decreased liver function
  • Paralysis
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If Dogs Can Do It, Why Not Cats?

It’s true that dogs can survive on a vegan diet. However, this takes very close monitoring by the person administering said diet, including supplementation and careful sourcing of specific foods. Even still, it’s not recommended for dogs either.

But dogs can survive on such a diet because they’re omnivores like us. Omnivores can get their nutrient needs through a combination of both plant-based and animal-based foods. Even for omnivores, it’s difficult to fully meet their nutritional needs without meat. Humans also have to take care to supplement and eat special foods designed to make up for what their diet lacks, and many are still deficient.

Cats, as we mentioned earlier, are obligate carnivores, which is quite different from being an omnivore. They absolutely require animal-based foods in their diet to meet their nutritional needs. It’s an obligation for them.cat + line divider

Conclusion

Cats must eat animal-based foods because they’re obligate carnivores, unlike people and dogs who are omnivores. Still, you can do your part to help reduce your cat’s carbon footprint by purchasing your cat food from eco-friendly companies that ethically source their ingredients. This allows you to stay true to your vegan ideals without putting your cat at risk, which, ironically, would be against your vegan ideals anyway.

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Featured image credit: Scharfsinn, Shutterstock