People choose to adopt vegan diets for a myriad of personal reasons, some over animal welfare concerns, and some to improve their overall health. And since living a vegan lifestyle is now easier than ever, some vegans may want to extend that aspect of their lifestyle to their pets. But is a vegan, plant-based diet safe for your pets?
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) says that while it is possible—though challenging—to keep dogs healthy on a plant-based diet, a vegan diet is not appropriate for cats at all.
But, if dogs can do it, why can’t cats?
Well, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they need to eat meat to survive. There are a number of reasons why cats don’t do well on a vegan diet, but it all essentially comes down to this: they aren’t adapted to it. Feeding a cat a plant-based diet is a lot like feeding a cow a meat-based diet—their digestive system isn’t geared to handle it, and they will not thrive on it.
What specific components make a vegan diet unhealthy for cats?
Taurine: Taurine is an amino acid (the building blocks of protein) essential for cats. Taurine can only be found in animal sources such as meat, milk, etc. It is not found in plant sources. Taurine can be synthesized in humans and dogs, but cats are unable to do this and require a direct source from an animal product. Cats who are fed a vegan diet will often develop a deficiency of taurine because the diet doesn’t provide them with this essential amino acid.
Cats with taurine deficiency can develop a heart issue known as dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM. In cats with DCM, the heart muscle becomes very thin and weak, preventing them from pumping blood and supplying oxygen to the body normally. This is a fatal disease if not corrected early on. A lack of adequate taurine can also cause severe eye problems in cats, including blindness.
Protein: Cats require a diet high in protein. Plants simply don’t have high enough levels of high-quality, highly digestible protein to meet a cat’s dietary requirements.
Carbohydrates: Cats are not good at digesting carbohydrates. They don’t get much energy from them, and a carbohydrate-rich diet is not appropriate for cats. They need calorie dense options that meat provides.
The bottom line is that because cats are obligate carnivores, their gastrointestinal tracts and metabolism have adapted to eating meat. They can’t digest plant material well, and they require essential nutrients that only meat can provide to them. They aren’t adapted to digesting a plant-based diet, and meat absolutely needs to be on the table when you are feeding a cat. However, you can still improve the lives of farm animals and be mindful of animal welfare by seeking out animal food brands bearing meaningful welfare certification labels, which represent more humane and transparent farming practices. Learn more about how to Shop with Your Heart for not only your food, but for your pets’ food as well.