Can Cats Be Vegan? No – Here’s Why

September 13, 2019


Cat Health, Lifestyle


Many pet parents have adopted vegan or vegetarian lifestyles for health, environmental, and ethical reasons. Naturally, some cat parents wonder if they should also be buying vegan cat food for their furry family member. So, can cats be vegan? The answer is no—find out why your cat requires meat in his or her diet.  A vegan or vegetarian diet simply cannot provide all of the nutrients that your cat needs. In fact, these specific nutrients can only be supplied through the ingestion of animal meat. Why?


Your cat is an obligate carnivore


Cats don’t produce enough taurine


Unlike many species (including humans and dogs), cats can’t synthesize the essential amino acid taurine. Without enough taurine in their diet, cats are likely to develop a heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy, experience vision problems, contract UTIs, and have other health issues. Cats must ingest taurine through their diet, which can only be found in animal sources—hence the term obligate carnivore. Plant sources simply do not provide this amino acid.


Not all proteins are created equal


Cats also require a high-protein diet. While human vegetarians are able to substitute protein sources such as beans and lentils for animal meat, this isn’t possible for felines. It again comes back to those amino acids, which differ depending on the type of protein. Besides taurine, other essential nutrients for cats include vitamin D, vitamin A, and arachidonic acid—all readily found in high-protein animal sources.


What is vegan cat food?


Now that we know how important animal protein is for your cat’s diet, you may be wondering what ingredients are substituted in vegan cat food. The truth is, most vegan or vegetarian cat food has not passed feeding trials by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials. AAFCO works with the FDA (Center of Veterinary Medicine) and state governments to recognize the state laws that regulate commerce in animal feed and pet food. 


Vegan cat food that is AAFCO-compliant primarily contains ingredients such as oats and plant proteins (often corn and peas), as well as synthetic versions of essential nutrients (taurine, vitamin D, etc.).


It’s important to note that because your cat is an obligate carnivore, he can’t digest plant material very well—his gastrointestinal tract and metabolism have adapted to eating meat.


The addition of synthetic ingredients may strike you as problematic, as it does many veterinarians. Another problematic aspect of vegetarian and vegan cat food? It’s often high in carbohydrates, which are generally unnecessary for cats and may cause digestive issues.


Work with your veterinarian

If you are dead set on buying vegan cat food, work with your vet to make sure your cat stays healthy. Dr. Armaiti May, DVM, CVA suggests having your vet track your cat’s overall health through blood work and urine content, as well as cardiac ultrasounds and retinal evaluations. 



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