Vegan Cats: Paws for Thought?
Last year, 8 years after our last cat died, my partner and I adopted an adult male through the Cats Protection League, and called him Moby. He’s the best thing to happen to us in a long time: an endless source of joy and amusement.
The only downside: the daily dealings with death. I’d forgotten how disturbing it is to dish up smelly lumps of meat. But what choice do we have, when cats are obligate carnivores? Predators FFS! It would be cruel, even fatal, to wilfully deprive them of their natural birthright? Right?
Well, maybe. And, maybe not … Aside from the fact that we’re talking about domesticated animals and not cougars, things have moved on in the last 9 years. There’s now a vegan cat food industry, with several companies making nutritionally balanced meat-free formulas. Popular brands include Ami, Benevo, VegeCat, and VeGourmet. Many are widely available online.
Secondly, there’s a growing market for these products: a small but vocal minority of vegans who are committed to reducing their cats’ reliance on the abattoir. In some cases, managing to cut ties altogether.
At the time of writing, the Facebook group Vegan Cats has 2610 members. The description states: “This group is designed to promote the feeding of ethical diets to domesticated cats. Ethical in this instance refers to the fact that animals are not food. The group does not support using animals as food at all”.
Now this doesn’t mean there are 2,600 vegan cats out there, but it does show increasing interest. The subject, however, remains hotly contested. Vegans in the opposing camp have their own Facebook group Vegans & Cats, with 1367 members.
They say: “ We believe we show compassion by honoring our cats as obligate carnivores – as their biology and physiology deem appropriate. By contrast, we believe it shows lack of compassion to force feed vegan diets to our cats, and further, we believe a force-fed vegan diet may be detrimental to our cats’ health”.
The idea that meat is crucial for cats is the prevailing view, and it’s one I shared myself nine years ago. Now I’m not so sure. If anything, I’m more persuaded by the pro-vegan cat food lobby.
For one thing, the language of the ‘antis’ bugs me – particularly the f-word: “force”. I see it used time and time again in online debates. And frankly, it’s overkill.
The truth is we all ‘force’ a diet on our feline dependents. For the vast majority (95%), this means conventional cat food: mass-produced, highly processed junk from condemned carcasses and waste products. “Healthy”, “natural” and “nutritious” it is not. This is the meat industry, remember, one that cares as little for cats as the animals it slaughters: its pet products a ghastly laundering racket.
According to the Guardian: “Pet food is not covered by the same labelling requirements as food for humans. “EC permitted additives” covers a multitude of sins, including 4,000 chemicals and artificial colours banned for human consumption. “Meat and animal derivatives” can cover anything scraped off the slaughterhouse floor, while “derivatives of vegetable origin” is so broad as to include charcoal”
Even more interesting is the article’s revelation about taurine, a crucial feline nutrient found only in meat: “One of the biggest concerns for cats is the risk of taurine deficiency, which can lead to blindness and death if not treated. Most meaty cat food has taurine added back, because the processing of meats removes it”.
To be clear, this is saying that ‘normal’ meat-based cat food is so deficient in taurine that it has to be supplemented with a synthetic version. The same taurine used in plant-based brands. Hmm, maybe vegan cat food’s not so freaky after all?
And surely worth a shot, given the growing number of supportive vets. Dr Andrew Knight and Armaiti May are such two leaders in this field. Andrew has researched pet food extensively and created an informative website that’s well worth checking out: www.vegepets.info
He says: “It’s undeniably true that cats evolved as hunters, and have senses, locomotor systems, teeth and digestive systems optimised to help them catch and consume prey animals. And yet, like all species, cats need specific nutrients; not specific ingredients. There’s no reason why diets cannot be formulated to meet cats’ nutritional needs based entirely on vegetable, mineral and synthetic ingredients, and indeed, a number of such diets are now available. And as one would expect, provided cats receive all their nutritional needs, the existing evidence from population studies and case reports indicates they’re quite capable of thriving on these diets.”
It can certainly take courage to go where few have gone before. Especially when vets more typically write articles called ‘Don’t Force Your Pet to Be Vegan’ (spot the F-word), asserting that this “is tantamount to animal abuse”.
Accusations of animal abuse are heavy for anyone, and especially for vegans. Perhaps that’s why so few people with vegan cats volunteered to be interviewed for this piece. Benevo, who kindly shared my search for interviewees on their Facebook page, suspect that people “fear judgement”. Thankfully, two did step up.
Fran Derbyshire from Brighton fed her cat Oscar a vegan diet for the last 8 years of his life, until the ripe old age of 21. He was on Benevo dry and “took to it straight away”.
Positive changes included “Bright eyes, great coat”, and at check ups vets “were always impressed”. Fran urges interested parties to “Research extensively online from experts, but also cat owners too. Forums etc”. She also suggests writing to manufacturers “with any concerns you have, as they have more info than anyone”.
Ren Wilhelmi lives in Hamburg and has two cats. Tammy, who’s been vegan for 8 ½ years, and Kater, a male, for 6. Tammy had been overweight prior to starting a vegan diet, and is now a normal weight.
“Tammy was very easy to convert to a vegan diet”, says Ren. “I actually offered her meat-based and vegan kibble for the first couple of days, but she would only eat the vegan kibble. Kater had a transition period of 2 maybe 2 ½ years”.
In 2013, both cats took part in a study by a student at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna called Vegan Nutrition of Dogs and Cats, which involved them being assessed by a vet. “The results showed two healthy cats, with nothing to worry about”.
Ren feeds Ami Cat and Benevo kibble. “First they liked Ami Cat more, but now they like both the same. They eat about 70 grams per day, each. Some, I offer soaked in water, Kater likes that a lot, but he also likes it dry. Tammy only eats kibble”.
She adds: “I see to it that both cats always drink enough water. This is very important to minimise the risk of crystals in the urinary tract. It can be quite a challenge to make a cat a good drinker, but if you watch them carefully, they are too glad to tell you how they like you to present them their water. Of course, this can vary from cat to cat, so this is really very individual”
Ren is spot on here. My own cat Moby likes drinking from the tap. I thought he was an oddball, until I saw some people saying they had water fountains.
On forums, many say their cats are thriving on a vegan diet. Some feed a nutritionally balanced formula, some make their own food and add VegeCat (a supplement), and others feed a mixture of both. I guess it depends on your cat’s preference, and the amount of time you can devote to their food.
The Vegan Society advises consulting a vet when switching cats to a vegan diet. I’d recommend getting blood and urine PH tests as well as a check up. Not just to reveal any underlying health issues, but to track positive changes too. Vets may be skeptical, but encouragingly, forum members report that many change their minds after seeing improvements.
Some cats, older ones for example, and those with pre-existing health issues may not be able to adapt to vegan diets. As with any companion animal, it’s important to monitor their health. But more so with cats, whose discomfort can be harder to spot. As Ren mentioned above, urinary tract crystals can be problem for domestic cats, vegan and non-vegan alike, especially males (older males being particularly vulnerable). This can be aggravated by dry food and alkaline diets.
It’s important to get the right ratio of dry/wet food, as there are pros and cons with both. Vet Andrew Knight advises “Wet is better for urinary system and weight loss, and dry better for teeth. For most cats a mix of the two, but vary accordingly if there are problems with any of these body systems”.
Critics say there’s no such thing as a “vegan cat”, since they will still kill/eat birds and mice. True, but “vegan” is really referring to the food we give them. In any case, the question of cats killing wildlife is a not a trivial one. In the UK it’s estimated that domestic cats kill 275 million animals a year: a staggering figure, with the average cat responsible for the deaths of 30-40 creatures. The Mammal Society, who commissioned this survey (2001), suggest cat lovers keep their pets indoors at night (cats’ preferred hunting time).
PETA go further, arguing that: “All cats should be indoor cats”. But this is on the grounds that the outside world is now too dangerous for cats, with busy roads, incurable viruses and ruthless traffickers.
That’s a step too far for me. I’m lucky to have a (safe) garden, and love seeing Moby enjoy it. But I’m certainly open to restricting the time he spends outside.
As for Moby’s diet, he’s currently on a mix of meat-based and vegan food, which includes Ami Cat formula. I hope to transition further, increasing the vegan ratio as we go, as long as he will eat it and stays healthy. So far, so good…
For now, I’m happier knowing that at least some of my money is going to vegan and eco-friendly companies who share my values. And less to an industry I want to put out of business.
References and resources:
Bite Size Vegan compelling 5 min video on pet food: video
Guardian article: online
PETA’s position: http://www.peta.org/living/companion-animals/vegetarian-cats-dogs/
Vegan blogger Colleen Patrick Goudreau: video
Cats impact on wildlife: Daily Mail article
House cats are biologically the same as the big cats – we haven’t “moved on” by domesticating them. I don’t feed any animals vegan and never will – https://heatherclemenceau.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/vegan-pets-an-unscientific-dogma/
Sorry …. Your cat is not vegan. No cat is. If you have problems dealing with their carnivorous nature, get a hamster. Simple.
Sound callous? It’s not meant to be. Honest. But I am sick and tired of the whole debate and of vegan animal lovers who seem determined to turn the world into a herbivorous universe.
Ideally, a cat should feed herself and hunt. If that’s not possible, give her whatever meat you find acceptable. Forcing another animal to make YOUR lifestyle choices is absurd and distinctly UNVEGAN. For a cat possibly deadly, definitely unnatural and most likely harmful.
And if ANYBODY boasts a cat’s long life on anything DRY, I’m ready to bang my head against the wall. Why don’t YOU eat wholesome vegan dry pellets of some provenance all your life?!?! Maybe you live to the ripe old age of 110. Geeeeeze …..what utter tosh!
Sorry for the rant. But here’s the newsflash: this planet is populated by herbivores, omnivores and carnivores. That’s a healthy symbiosis. That’s nature. Making carnivores eat vegan pellets or tofu is NOT. Why is that so complicated?
Can you please upload a scan of your veterinary degree?
No. But my uncle has been head of the university vet clinic of Giessen for 20 years and my cousin runs a private vet clinic on our estate. I think that’s quite enough.
They summarily shake their “degreed” heads over the notion of feeding a cat vegan.
Can you upload some proof that you still have an active neuron in that head of yours? Cats are carnivores and some morons feed them vegan diets because the poor cats can’t complain. There is no vet degree needed to see on how many levels this is wrong. I would ban people like you from owning cats or any other carnivore pets. Just get a hamster and go away!
I’m a vegetarian turning vegan I just adopted a cat & doing research on her becoming vegan. And all the people who say cats are carnivores and need meat, have no problem eating a tortured animal who’s been slaughtered.
Hats off to these ladies!
The “battle” vegans are waging for vegan animal companions is the same battle being more broadly fought by all vegans, but if anything it is fiercer and more frustrating because our ideological enemy comprises nonvegans and other vegans. Despite the categorical denial, more vegans than ever before are successfully veganizing their cats. Sooner or later we hope everyone will join us.
Sorry …. But what arrogance! We don’t need to “veganise” any carnivorous animal. Whatever are you thinking?!?!
Do you understand anything about the nature if the planet or indeed the universe? It is a perfect symbiosis of flora, fauna, carnivores, herbivores, omnivores. We all feed on one another, be it plants or animals.
Wanting to turn carnivores into vegans is as absurd as the notion to turn herbivores into meat-eaters in an effort to save the plants.
We humans, however, are biological omnivores … Opportunistic feeders, if you will. That means WE have the luxury to choose what we want to eat (provided everything is physically available). Hence we may choose NOT to kill an animal for our dinner plate. But that’s about the sum of it.
More than delusional,even tho think a VEGAN is not responsible for multiple animal death and suffering. Unless you live with the gorillas in the rainforest, animals get killed for just about anything in your life – including the smartphone, tablet or PC you’re reading these messages on.
So kindly stop playing God! Don’t eat meat or dairy, treat animals well, fight against use and abuse of them – as do I! – but spare us the hypocrisy of forcing (abusing) a carnivore to go without meat.
Can you please upload a scan of your veterinary degree? Don’t have one? I thought so. The people who devised Amicat 15 years ago do. Inform yourself, study, think and THEN offer your personal opinion in an articulate, informed and respectful way.
Interesting. I find myself agreeing with the vegan pet notion, not on the grounds of ‘it’s unethical to eat other animals’, but simply because – like the human meat industry – the pet food industry is full of factory farming and maltreatment of animals. Surely if you care for animals, that includes the welfare and treatment of the animals you’re feeding your pet. A lot of meat-based pet food is also full of chemicals and unknown ingredients, which could potentially be harmful to your pet in the long run.
I couldn’t agree more with the statement that “we all ‘force’ a diet on our feline dependents”. Be it chemical-filled, processed meat in a tin or a vegan diet, our pets (usually!) eat what we give them. I’ve met many a fussy animal in my life though! If they don’t like whatever we choose to feed them, they will be sure to make it known to us! Conversely, if they do like it, they’ll eat it.
Natasha – I completely agree on the “shit” in industrial pet food. So? Don’t feed your pets SHIT food. You are taking as if the only option were crappy canned meat vs excellent vegan food.
It isn’t. Crap food is crap food, no matter whether it’s with or without meat. For example, there are a number of VEGAN pet food suppliers who sell you a canned food option for BOTH dogs and cats (you see a dog and a cat on the can). That’s crap for starters, because dogs and cats have totally different nutritional requirements.
The fact remains that if your pet is a carnivore the most natural food for it is MEAT. Period. It’s your duty as the pet holder to feed it GOOD jnstead of BAD meat. Simple
And if anybody tells me a cat or even a dog is VEGAN, I bang my head against the wall. Let your fluffy out in the forest and see what they eat …. Really?!?!.
Some of these commenters have clearly never done research before.
Every cat that we’ve had was vegan, and lived to be 18-21 years of age and acted like a kitten until the very last day. They were often used as examples by vets, etc. They were healthier than cats consuming an animal based diet.
When you blindly comment on something without doing extensive research, it makes you look uneducated.
P.S. Our dogs are vegan too.
I could add any number of such pages. Or put you in touch with my cousin and uncle and the vets working in the university clinic here. Unless you have an animal that has a serious genetic defect (like liver shunt) no carnivorous animal – not even dogs – light to be forced to a vegan only diet. For cats who are OBLIGATE carnivores it brings all sorts of health problems. If any cat that is raised on a vegan diet lives along healthy life, it’s despite the vegan diet, not BECAUSE of it, and not a vet on the planet who hasn’t got tales to tell of cats that suffers or died of vegan diets.
I don’t even understand why anybidy who claims to respect ALL animals would force a carnivore to live like a goat! What next? Lions and tigers raised on muesli?
I could add any number of such pages.”
wow, that mercola article was poorly argued and not a useful addition to the debate
Why do you assume that no one else has done research merely because they haven’t reached the same conclusion as you? Anecdotal evidence is not empirical evidence. Just because you have only ever seen white swans is not an indication that there are no black swans.
Aside from that, new research and opinion becomes available if we’re willing to have it translated. I will certainly take the opinion of specialist veterinarians over random people on the internet or Facebook.
And one more time: NO CAT IS VEGAN. You force it to be so. And that is vet “vegan”, isn’t it? I thought veganism was all about respecting animals and letting them live as they were meant to be. Hypocrisy.
I think the interesting point of this article is not the idea of a ‘vegan cat’ but the idea of feeding a good quality balanced diet. As noted, a lot of commercial pet foods are surprisingly poor quality. The same can be said for dog food. Noting the quantities of the vegan food fed, this shows what a high quality food is being used. Many popular brands would recommend much higher amounts, because generally the food is filled with filler – cereals with no nutritional value.
Overall, I think it is far more important to take the view of feeding a high quality pet food. Generally you will pay more but you will feed less, and the animal will be a lot healthier. In the meat vs vegan argument I don’t really care, as long as the animal is receiving the correct nutrients. And this can be a failing by both camps. Home prepared diets are also dangerous as many good quality foods are scientifically designed (and I suspect the same is true for the vegan prepared foods) to ensure that the correct nutrients are received by the animal. I should also note that the better quality meat based foods also get their supplies from better kept sources so the animals used for their meat receive better treatment.
Regardless of the decision, ensure your pet receives the best quality and food they can. There will always be differing opinions on this. My main concern is keeping your pet happy, healthy and safe.
Exactly. Most vegans compare SHIT pet food (with meat) agaunst top quality vegan pet food. That’s nonsense for a start.
But when I see, for example, top vegan canned food that is BOTH for cats and dogs, then I already know that it’s crap. Dogs and cats have completely differen dietary requirements. So if somebody sells you the same can for dogs and cats, it canNOT be the right diet for a start – at least not for one, maybe not for both.
Great article except for “Vegans in the opposing camp have their own Facebook group Vegans & Cats, with 1367 members.”
The vast majority of members aren’t actually vegan. If they are willing to harm others completely unnecessarily for their own diets, even when it has been proven to be unhealthy, I don’t think they deserve a vote on the health of vegan pet food.
Only a tiny percentage of the posts are about veganism, and even fewer about vegan pet food.
Here we go again … Feed your cats what you like. But get down from your fundamentalist vegan high horse. Unless you live on a tree in the jungle somewhere, YOU are killing or responsible for killing millions of animals in your life. No matter what you eat or your cat eats.
But a REAL vegan fundamentalist would not have a pet. Would not enslave an animal. Would certainly not LOCK UP an animal in the house and condemn it to life imprisonment.
And if your cats are allowed to roam free … Well, they’re certainly not eating grass, mate. They’ll kill micies and birdies …
My, my … What a bunch a hypocrites you are!
What is hypocritical is being against killing animals but financially supporting it anyway.
So I don’t understand why vegans have cats. It’s speciesism at work in the very people who speak out against it.
It’s contradictory to be vegan and still buy dead animals.
Veganism isn’t just against KILLING animals, but against ENSLAVING them. In fact, many vegans argue that a vegan should never have pets.
But having an animal and forcing it to eat an unnatural diet … Well – face palm – that’s defjhteky not vegan.
Yes. I don’t consider that breeding an animal to unnaturally large numbers and let it roam to decimate ecosystems and risk getting run over is particularly sticking to the definition of veganism either.
Sadly … Human overpopulation cannot be contained
Yes, cats are obligate carnivores. If you can’t accommodate that in a companion animal (and I personally can’t), then choose a rabbit or a horse. Better still, don’t force an animal to be your companion. You have a choice about this. They don’t.
[…] for even mentioning this book on my blog. I’ve still not recovered from the feedback on the vegan cat post from a few months […]
silvia wadhwa go home, you’re drunk
how about giving the cat what it wants and needs. the gut tract of a cat is that of a carnivore, not a herbivore or even an omnivore. and to madela who states allowing animals to breed and proliferate and ‘decimate’ eco systems isn’t sticking to veganism . . . er you are aware that cats breed themselves Madela? they don’t need any encouragement. some animals hunt. their is a graceful ancient symbiotic relationship between animals and humans, regarding the relationship between cats and the people they live with. you people are making Veganism a chore and a joke. YOU, the human, must not consume or use animal products. nothing in the philosophy that states you mustn’t befriend animals!!! and nothing about denying carnivores you happen to know their meat. to deny a cat meat is to disrespect the entire natural chain you supposedly respect so much. THanks to other vegans, i am increasingly bored and embarrassed to call myself a vegan. i just say i’m a veggie who is allergic to dairy. that way i don’t have to be branded in such an increasingly idiotic tribe.
I’d much rather ‘force’ an animal to be my companion than leave them to rot in a shelter cage!!!!!!
I am a vegan (strict) due to the rights of animals and am anguished over my feeding of a raw diet to my 14 (from the streets) rescued cats. They do extraordinarily well on raw. Never canned or kibble. Their health and appearance dramatically improved when they moved from high quality canned (no kibble) to a nutritionally balanced raw diet that we make ourselves based on feline-nutrition.org. But I HATE hate hate feeding a factory farm animal to my cats. I am exploring vegan food. However, I am very fussy about misinformation and here is one line that is containing a non-truth: “Andrew Knight advises “Wet is better for urinary system and weight loss, and dry better for teeth. For most cats a mix of the two, but vary accordingly if there are problems with any of these body systems”.Well, talk to any board certified veterinary dentist (we have used 3 of them for 5 of our cats) and they will tell you it is absolutely not true that kibble is better for the teeth. It is WORSE for the teeth. It does not clean the teeth. Also, I would like to say that cats (there are a few exceptions) do not make up for the lack of water in kibble by drinking. A few do; most do not. Kibble is junk food IMO and dangerous to the cat due to the risk of dehydration and bringing on chronic kidney disease. I cannot speak for vegan kibble re: diabetes but it is well known that meat kibble is notorious for bringing on diabetes due to the high carb count. (I have to look up the carb load of vegan kibble as well as vegan wet. There are no carbs in raw food (meat) which matches what they take in in nature. Also, our IBD cat was healed simply by being fed raw. He had been vomiting and had diarrhea for 7 long years and we were about to place him on a steroid. No symptoms for the past 3 years since we started raw now. He is all better! I want to learn more about vegan feeding, however. Open minded but very cautious. And yes, there are cats who might do fine and well on vegan but I wonder what happens with the vast majority.
I feed my cat vegan food Amicat and both wet and dry Benevo. She loves it and she thrives. She was poorly before being vegan she is now so happy and doing great!