Vegan cats cause a lot of controversy. In fact, putting any omnivorous or carnivorous animal on a vegan diet incenses vegans and non-vegans alike.
There are many who'll argue that carnivorous animals, such as cats, should never be given a vegan diet.
The most common reasons for this opinion include a belief that cats cannot get what they need from a vegan diet, and the opinion that animals cannot decide for themselves to go vegan, and therefore the should not be forced into it.
Can cats be vegan?
Yes, multiple experts - including Professor Andrew Knight - say cats can survive on plant-based cat foods, as long as their human companion is taking extra care to make sure that they're getting the nutrients they need. You can buy fortified vegan cat food online and in some pet shop
It is really important that you do not try and feed your cat vegetables in the form of human food. Whilst dogs can be fed a carefully planned vegan diet through proper research, there are important nutrients your cat needs to remain healthy that he or she can only get through fortified foods.
As your cat's human companion, it is your job to do what is best for you friend. If you're thinking about transitioning your cat onto a vegan or vegetarian diet, make sure you research your cat's nutritional needs properly, and that you're aware of any symptoms that may present themselves if your cat is struggling to adapt to their new diet.
Cats and taurine
Taurine is exclusively found in animal based foods, and your cat needs it for optimal health and survival. Taurine is typically the main reason many vegans argue that it is not safe to feed your cat a vegan diet.
Taurine is an essential amino acid, and the consequences of not getting enough of it are severe for a cat. Taurine deficiency takes anywhere from five months to two years to develop, and can cause your cat to go blind, and suffer from a weakened heart and digestive disturbances. Cats with deficiencies lead miserable lives, so it is extremely important that you make sure that your cat is getting everything he or she needs, especially taurine.
You can supplement your cat's diet with synthetic taurine through your vet, or through the purchase of special cat foods and treats.
Vitamin A in cat food
In order to remain healthy, your cat needs a hefty dose of Vitamin A every day. This important vitamin absolutely must be present in their diet if they are to remain healthy. If your cat is not getting enough Vitamin A, you'll first notice that they have an unhealthy coat, and that their skin is in poor condition. They may suffer from night blindness, or seem weak.
It is extremely important that you make sure you're supplementing your cat's diet with Vitamin A if they are eating a vegan diet, but careful not to feed them too much. Cats can overdose on Vitamin A. Symptoms of overdose include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Rough hair coat
- Abnormal sitting posture (e.g., raised front limbs)
- Skin allergy on neck and front limb regions
Arachidonic acid and cats
Cats cannot manufacture arachidonic acid themselves. Ordinarily they'd retrieve this essential acid through a meat based diet. If your cat is eating vegan, then you must make sure that the food you are giving them contains arachidonic acid. It is essential for inflammatory response, which is very important for your cat's own bodily protection mechanisms.
Arachidonic acid also helps regulate skin growth, aids clotting, and helps maintain proper function of the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems.
Cats and protein
Before we forced them to evolve into domesticated house pets, cats survived by eating small rodents and birds. Their diets were heavy in protein, and they've evolved to thrive on it. It is therefore incredibly important that you make sure that any vegan food you're feeding is high in protein.
Most vegan and vegetarian cat food will contain a reasonable amount of protein, but make sure you're buying food that's nutritionally balanced.
Aren't cats obligate carnivores?
Obligate carnivores are animals that must eat meat because it is a biological necessity for them to do so. Many people claim that cats are obligate carnivores, though there are lots of cat owners whose animal companions have lived long, happy, healthy lives on vegetarian or vegan diets.
Advancements in animal nutrition mean it is now entirely possible to give your cat the daily vitamins and minerals they need on a vegan or vegetarian diet, as long as you're careful to make sure that the food you're buying contains the correct ingredients, but this doesn't mean that you absolutely have to do it.
As your cat's human companion, it is your job to decide whether your animal friend would be better suited to a vegan or carnivorous diet.
Am I still vegan if I feed my cat meat?
Yes, you're still vegan if you feed your cat meat. Cats are naturally carnivorous. Ideally we'd never have domesticated them, and they'd be living in the wild where they belong. As it stands, cats rely on humans to take care of them, and it is up to you as their human companion to decide what's nutritionally best for them.
If you choose to feed them meat because you believe that this is the only way that you can secure their health and happiness, but you still refrain from animal consumption and exploitation yourself, you're still a vegan, though we're fairly certain there'll be vegans who do not agree.
Vegan cat food brands
You can buy vegan cat food from the following companies (among others):
How do I know if my cat is healthy on a vegan diet?
If you transition your cat onto a vegan diet, it's really important that you keep an eye on their overall health. Technically, you should be doing this anyway. As a human companion, it's your job to make sure that your animal friend is healthy and happy, so you should be watching out for any of the following symptoms of poor health, whether your companion is on a vegan diet or not:
- Unhealthy fur
- Unhealthy skin
- Signs of blindness
- Signs of weakness
- Signs of heart issues (fatigue)
- Trouble urinating
It's a good idea to have your cat's urine checked by a vet to make sure that it is not abnormally high in alkaline, as this can cause bladder stones, which can lead to dangerous urinary tract infections. For male cats specifically, this can be fatal.
If you're transitioning your cat onto a vegan diet, it is recommended that you have your companion's urine checked around two weeks after you change their food, and then every couple of months for a while after that to make sure that they're getting everything they need. Your vet will be able to highlight any visible health problems to you, and you can take appropriate action quickly if you need to.