Cats, with their intrinsic hunting instinct, are notorious for craving meat. In fact, their entire gut physiology is adapted to a completely carnivorous diet.
As the popularity of meat-free diets grows among humans, many cat owners may be considering providing the same diets to their pets. But what happens when our furry friends feast exclusively on plant-based meals?
The Vegan Cat Movement
As you walk through the aisles of your local pet store, you'll notice a changing landscape in the cat food section. Meat, once the primary protein source, now competes with a surge of alternative options like plants and fungi. In many ways, this mirrors the many dietary options available to humans. But these changes spark a debate: Is vegan the way to go for cats, or is it just a fleeting trend? Or worse: Will a cat gone vegan suffer any health problems?
Veterinary professionals have often voiced concerns. They believe vegan diets — devoid of meat, eggs, and dairy — might not cater to the unique nutritional needs of cats. Yet, until now, very few studies have delved deep into this matter.
In an attempt to shed light on this topic, Andrew Knight from the University of Winchester, UK, and his team took a closer look. They gathered survey responses from 1,369 cat owners. Each participant reported on their cat's health and diet, with the catch that the feline had been on its respective diet — vegan or meat-based — for at least a year.
About 9% of the participants revealed they've been serving their cats a vegan menu. But here's where things get intriguing.
Vegan or Meat: Which Diet Triumphs?
After adjusting for external factors, like age or whether the cat had been neutered, the results painted an interesting picture. Owners of vegan cats reported fewer vet visits, less medication, and more stamps of approval from their vets. When they looked at a range of 22 specific disorders, the researchers found that 42% of meat-based diet feline owners reported at least one health issue, whereas for vegan diet cat owners, this number was 37%.
However, there's a catch: none of these differences were statistically significant. In other words, the health improvements reported in vegan cats were marginal at best compared to the completely carnivorous felines. And an important caveat is that the researchers didn't analyze the nutrient content for either diet as all the results were self-reported by the owners themselves.
What Does This Mean for Your Feline?
This isn't the only study that reached this conclusion. A recent 2023 review of 16 studies on the impact of vegan diets on cat and dog health concluded that "there is little evidence of adverse effects arising in dogs and cats on vegan diets."
However, their main conclusion is that there is simply not enough quality research focusing on the effects of these alternative diets. Some veterinarians are concerned that a strictly plant-based diet may lead to deficiencies in certain amino acids such as taurine, and vitamins such as B12 (cobalamin) and B9 (folate). Guardians who are adamant about feeding their cats a vegan diet may consider supplementing these micronutrients. The authors of the review also advise a cautious approach, recommending using only commercial products rather than homemade food.
While the debate continues, remember, every cat is unique. Whether you're considering switching your cat's diet or merely curious about the latest trends, it's always essential to consult with your veterinarian.
In the end, we all want what's best for our feline companions — whether that involves tofu or tuna is a tale that's still being written.