Vegan Cats — Possible?

This hot topic recently came up, and we wanted to find out the real deal on cat meals.

If you follow a vegan, totally animal-product-free lifestyle, you might look down at your cat and wonder if she could do the same. (Literally look down, not condescendingly … but I guess you could do that, too).

Can cats be vegetarians or vegans? Dogs are omnivores and consume both plants and animals. Basically, they eat everything, people. We all knew that. Cats, however, are a different story.

“Humans are free to choose vegetarianism or veganism, but please, leave your cat out of it,” says Dr. Arnold Plotnick, owner of veterinary practice Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York City.

“Cats are not omnivores. They are true carnivores, and animal-derived protein is majorly important for normal metabolism. I understand the passion of vegans, but realistically, the number of vegan cats in the United States is not going to put any kind of dent at all in the number of animals used to produce cat food.

Dr. Plotnick broke down some basic reasons why cats can’t be vegetarian or vegan. They require certain vitamins and amino acids to synthesize protein for use by the body. On their own, or with plant food, cats can create some of these, so the rest must come from cat food. (Guess which type of cat food. Hint: It’s meat.)

Why Cats Need Meat

  • Cats require dietary taurine. If your cat doesn’t get enough of this important amino acid, your cat could have cardiac and vision problems. From Dr. Plotnick: “If someone is crazy enough to try to formulate a vegan diet for their cat, they better supplement the diet with taurine.”

  • Cats cannot synthesize enough niacin from the amino acid tryptophan, and plant material tends to have relatively low levels of this vitamin, so you’ll need supplements.

  • Cobalamin (Vitamin B12) is scarce in plants. Any vegan diet will require supplementation.

  • Cats cannot synthesize retinol (vitamin A) from beta-carotene, which is the precursor of vitamin A, so the diet would need preformed retinol.
  • Cats also require a dietary source of vitamin D, and plant-based materials are a poor source of vitamin D. You can add it, but it must be in the proper form, i.e. cholecalciferol, which is used much more efficiently than ergocalciferol.
  • Arginine is an essential amino acid for cats. It plays an important role in the urea cycle. Again from Dr. Plotnick: “Trust me, this is super important. If cats do not get enough arginine in their diet, the ammonia level in their blood will elevate, and cats will experience neurological problems.” Arginine is found in low amounts in plant-based diets. 
  • Cats require dietary lysine, another important amino acid.  If grans are the only major source of protein fed to cats, lysine levels will be deficient.

  • Cats also have a limited ability to synthesize arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid. Arachadonic acid comes from animal tissue.

“Even if you supplement the vegan diet with arachidonic acid, the arachidonic acid you’re adding to the diet comes from animal tissue, so the diet isn’t really vegan after all,” Dr. Plotnick explains. “So, technically, you cannot fashion a truly vegan diet for cats.”

Well, that sums it up. I know people have good intentions when they try vegan or vegetarian diets for cats but a little investigation shows this would harm the cats we love. Have you ever considered creating or feeding vegetarian food to cats?

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