Given the fact that cats are obligate carnivores, creatures that feed primarily or exclusively on animal matter for their health and well-being, is becoming a vegetarian a good idea? Is vegan cat food okay?
“For cats, it’s really inappropriate,” says Cailin Heinze, VMD, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and assistant professor of nutrition at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
The risks of feeding cats a vegetarian or vegan diet include inadequate total protein intake, imbalance of amino acids such as taurine or essential fatty acids like arachidonic acid, and deficiency in vitamins and minerals that are obtained ideally, or only, through meat or other animal products.
These dietary problems can lead to serious and sometimes irreversible medical conditions, according to Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, board-certified veterinary nutritionist and professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Davis veterinary school. The one issue veterinarians mention most often is taurine-related dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart with weak contractions and poor pumping ability), but low taurine can also lead to reproductive failures, growth failures and eye problems, she adds.
“We did see a case of a cat that almost died as a result of taurine deficiency,” Dr. Larsen says. “The owners were feeding a vegan cat kibble, so a commercially available vegan diet, and they were mixing that diet with cooked chicken breast, for some reason, but it was not enough taurine for the cat, obviously, and it resulted in a near-death experience for this animal.”
Thumbnail: Photography ©Gabriele Grassl | Getty Images.
Ellyce Rothrock spent half her life with Flea, a Maine Coon who lived to be 21 and is missed every single day. She’s currently seeking a feline friend to manage Fritz and Mina, her German Shepherd rescues. She’s lucky enough to live her passion for pets as a 25-year member of the pet media industry.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.