Vegetarian diets Safe For Cats?
By Gabrielle Jonas
Though most vegetarians feed their pets meat or fish without flinching,
some vegetarians abhor the idea of their animals eating other animals.
" A vegetarian diet for your companion animal is ethically consistent with
animal rights philosophy," says People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Though forcing pets to live by their owners' philosophy is unprecedented
in the 15,000 years humans have been caring for pets, some vegetarians
want even their pets' nutritional supplements to be plant-based.
" If vegetarians can feed their animal a healthy diet that is vegetarian,
they feel more comfortable," says Kathy Guillermo, vice president of laboratory
investigations at PETA.
But at the heart of PETA's support of vegetarian pet
diets is its objection to meat-based pet food companies
conducting research on animals. Vegetarian
pet food does not involve animal testing, Guillermo said. "PETA’s
primary concern regarding food for companion animals is the many currently
available products which are needlessly tested on animals," she
But that very lack of testing is a sticking point with some veterinary
experts, who argue that without such testing, the diets cannot be properly
evaluated. Makers of vegetarian pet food should be willing to submit
to the Association of American Feed Control Officials feeding trials
for evaluation, they say.
Though vegetarian diets for dogs can be nutritionally complete, animal
welfare advocates, and even some vegetarian groups, say feeding vegetarian
diets to cats cannot be done correctly.
" At first, cats may appear to be doing satisfactorily on vegetarian or
vegan diets," says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals. "But over time nutritional deficiencies may occur. When it comes
to felines, it really is best to provide a diet that includes meat."
But James Peden, a leading proponent of vegetarian
pet diets, and author of Vegetarian Cats & Dogs, says nutrients missing from vegetables
can be added through dietary supplements — his, for instance.
Peden's company, Harbingers of a New Age, sells Vegepet supplements.
Their nutrients are derived from plants to compensate for the nutrients
plants lack. Its Vegecat KibbleMix uses vegetarian sources for the essential
nutrient taurine found in mollusks, as well as for the vitamin A and
arachidonic acid found in liver and fish oils.
Though cats are unable to convert the beta-carotene
in plants into vitamin A, they can from Vegepet supplements,
according to Harbingers. "The
vitamin A that we use is the synthetic acetate form is easily assimilated," Peden
Research into whether cats can thrive on vegetarian diets has been contradictory.
A 2006 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association study found
that all the cats fed a vegetarian diet had adequate Vitamin B12 concentrations,
and most had adequate taurine levels.
And yet another study published in the journal two years earlier found
that both Vegecat KibbleMix and another vegetarian pet food had multiple
nutritional inadequacies, particularly taurine.
Harbingers attributed the test results to manufacturing error during
mixing as well as to an inaccurate nutrient profile of a food yeast,
and corrected the problem.
" We've never had a recurrence of that incident, which most likely only
affected 14 pounds of supplement, caused by operator error," Peden said.
The oldest vegetarian organization in the world, The Vegetarian Society
of the United Kingdom, advises caution when feeding dogs a vegetarian
diet, and downright warns against feeding vegetarian diets to cats.
The high fiber content of vegetarian cat food can be filling but not
adequately nutritious, the society says. The polyunsaturated fatty acids
in the vegetable oils can cause a vitamin E deficiency related illness,
as well, it says.
"Consider carefully before changing your cat to a vegetarian diet",
says The Vegetarian Society. "Cats require certain nutrients that cannot
be obtained in sufficient amounts from plants."
When it comes to feeding pets — especially cats — a vegetarian
diet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration puts it more plainly: "They
simply are not intended to eat only plants."