We veterinarians field questions regularly from vegans or vegetarians who want their pets to be on a plant-based diet too. While it is possible (although very difficult) to keep dogs healthy on a plant-based diet under the supervision of a certified veterinary nutritionist, it’s not possible for cats, and can indeed prove fatal for our feline companions.
All felines – from lions in the savannah to the lion in your living room – are what is called “obligate carnivores.” This means that they have to eat meat to survive. The feline digestive system lacks the enzymes necessary to digest and use plant protein efficiently, and cats cannot produce certain nutrients that their bodies need to function, such as:
- Taurine (found only in meat protein)
- Vitamin A (only naturally available in animal tissue)
- Thiamine (B1)
- Vitamin D – cats can’t absorb it through their skin, like we do, and must get it from the livers and fatty tissue of prey
- Arachidonic acid (an Omega-6 fatty acid)
Deficiencies of these nutrients can cause various issues, including; heart disease, blindness, muscle deterioration, anorexia, seizures, bone deformities, and even death.
Cats also require a higher-protein diet than dogs do (by two to three times) because while most mammals (including cats) use protein for growth and body maintenance, cats also need it for energy.
If you’re a vegan cat owner, remember humans may be able to thrive on a vegan diet, but our feline friends aren’t biologically adapted to do so. If you have questions about feline (or canine) nutrition, feel free to contact us at (908) 232-1048.