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Thursday, January 29, 2009

vegetarian cats?

Vegetarian Cats?

By Jean Hofve, DVM

There are several companies and websites that promote vegetarian (no meat or fish) or even vegan (no animal products at all) diets for cats. These products appeal to people who have chosen a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons, and want to apply the same principles to their cats.

As a feline veterinarian, I absolutelyl do not recommend trying to turn your cat into a vegetarian or vegan, but if you are determined to do so, here is my best guidance for you.


The three most commonly used products are: Wysong Vegan, Vege-Cat, and Evolution. We will look at all three in turn.

Wysong Vegan clearly states that it is a supplement to be used with meat (either fresh or canned). It is not complete by itself. The website and packaging clearly state this, but unfortunately a lot of people don't read the label very carefully. Please be aware that despite the name, this is not a vegan cat food!

Vege-Cat comes in a supplement that you can add to other foods, and in a kibble mix that you make at home. Because of the increased risk of urinary tract disease in vegetarian and vegan cats, Vegecat products contain a urinary acidifier (methionine) to help prevent urinary tract problems; and they also produce a separate supplement that amplifies this effect. James Peden and HOANA (Harbingers of a New Age) were the original pioneers of vegan pet products. Their products are thoughtfully produced and time-tested. The book "Vegetarian Cats and Dogs" is an eye-opener.

Evolution makes canned and dry vegan foods for dogs and cats. While they take pride in the fact that they don't use any slaughterhouse waste, they do use corn gluten meal and soybean meal. Many cats have difficulty digesting soy, which along with soy's naturally high phytoestrogen content, makes this protein source inherently problematic for cats. Corn gluten meal contains about 60% protein, but also a large proportion of carbohydrates. Corn has a high glycemic index and is a key factor in the development of feline diabetes.

Evolution operates in an ethical gray area. Evolution's owner illegally reproduced and distributed copyrighted literature belonging to a non-profit animal rights organization. Numerous requests (and later, demands) from the non-profit organization to stop using its materials were ignored until legal action was imminent. Even today, their website makes outrageous claims about extending pets' lifespans that have no scientific basis in fact.

Cats and Non-Meat Diets

Cats, of course, were designed by nature to be exclusively carnivorous. The cat's body has many specific evolutionary adaptations to its expected diet of prey consisting mostly of protein, fat and moisture. While cats have managed, in general, to adapt to grain-based commercial foods, it is clear from many scientific studies that carbohydrate-based diets are in no way optimal for the feline.

Cats have an absolute requirement for the nutrients taurine and arachadonic acid that are found naturally only in animal products, with one exception: a type of seaweed that contains arachadonate. Taurine can be chemically synthesized (although the process is so environmentally harsh that all synthetic taurine used in the U.S. is imported from China). These additives can be used to make a diet that is chemically complete. However, natural sources of taurine and arachadonic acid contain many other amino acids, enzymes, co-factors, and other complex nutrients that may also be important for the cat's overall health. Science has shown us that whole-food derived nutrients are, in almost all cases, far superior and healthy than synthetic versions. For instance, ascorbic acid is the active ingredient in Vitamin C. However, natural Vitamin C contains many other components, including rutin, bioflavonoids, and other co-factors.

These diets all rely on chemical analysis to assess their nutritional adequacy. They follow the feline Nutrient Profiles established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) in 1990. However, these standards are out of date and will most likely be substantially revised based on the forthcoming National Research Council report on canine and feline nutritional requirements. Pet nutrition experts also agree that feeding tests are far superior to the Nutrient Profiles for assessing nutritional adequacy. Many pet foods that met these Profiles have proven to be dangerously inadequate when fed long term.

Cats consuming meat have a naturally low urinary pH; vegetables and grains cause the urine pH to be alkaline. While the food producers skim over this problem, the website Vegan Cats is at least honest about the risk. They recommend frequent testing of the cat's urine pH to make sure it is remaining in the normal range (6.5 or less).

High carbohydrate diets (which vegetarian and vegan foods are by definition) are also considered to be the primary risk factor for feline diabetes.

The truth is that science just doesn't know enough about the cat's nutritional needs to ensure the long-term safety of vegetarian and vegan diets for cats. While there are many anecdotal tales of cats thriving on vegetarian and vegan foods, it is a path that requires great commitment and a willingness to be flexible on the part of the guardian.

The ethical dilemma

I was a vegetarian/vegan for nearly 20 years, and I worked as a full-time animal rights activist for two years. So I understand the ethical reasons that lead people to avoid consuming many or all animal products. There's no doubt that the intensive "factory" raising and slaughtering of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and fish is truly a hideous industry that causes a great deal of animal suffering.

If you are considering a vegetarian rather than vegan diet, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet has more flexibility by allowing dairy products and eggs as protein sources. However, you should know that in terms of suffering, animals raised to be food themselves are actually much better off than dairy cattle and egg-laying chickens, who live far longer and surely crueler lives as production machines, and still face death at the slaughterhouse when they are too worn out to be worth keeping.

The ethical dilemma comes home when we share our lives with pets who are by nature carnivorous, such as dogs, cats, ferrets, and reptiles. Of these, dogs are the most evolutionarily flexible. Dogs' nutritional requirements are quite similar to ours, so it is not at all difficult to include them in our animal-friendly lifestyle.

There is also the moral question of whether we should slaughter one animal (chicken or cow) to feed another animal (cat or dog). As one veterinarian asked, "Can we justify using parts of many other severely deprived and prematurely killed nonhuman animals to maintain each individual cat's well-being?"

Speaking strictly from a veterinary viewpoint, vegetarian and vegan diets for cats make me nervous. I have seen some very sick cats as a result of these diets.

Personally, I believe that when we voluntarily adopt cats into our homes, that we are ethically obligated to honor the feline spirit and feed it according to its basic nature. But everyone needs to answer that question from their own heart.

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duluth, minnesota, United States
I love the good and bad and the ugly because all experiences make us who we are and you are stronger for everything that you experience.
I have links,videos,information on fho surgery both pre and postop on my golden retriever Dakota. There's also links to other sites both informational and fun.

dr on video explaining who gets hip dysplasia,what is hip dysplasia,symptoms of hip dysplasia and the diagnosis of hip dysplasia


I'm not sure how your dog is doing right now, but I want to let you know that if he is clumsy,has a wobbly gait which means that he has a swish to his walk, walks with his head down alot (because he is walking on his front half)which my Dakota did. He had great muscle mass in the front half of him because of this,but very little in the back. Won't even attempt to jump up on your furniture, which is good but at the same time can show you that he doesn't want to use them back limbs.Goes to move your hand with his nose if you are trying to rub those back limbs in the hip joint area (because he is sore,so he is protecting them).sometimes they will literally stumble going up stairs etc.. Now I am not saying that this is definately hip dysplasia in your animal because i am no doctor but those are the things that went on with him and he had severe hip dysplasia.Just ideas,things to watch for and ask your vet about if you are noticing any of this in your animal... These are things that I noticed when we had Dakota. Now, it was a little different with him because he had just been neutered so we weren't sure if things were going on with that at first or something else was going on until a few weeks had passed by and he just wasn't healing like we thought he should be so we made him a vet appointment thank goodness. If you are here, I am assuming that the reason has to do with a possible surgery coming up and you want to learn more and make the right decision. I am so glad that you are doing this!! First of all make sure that you read on the choices of surgeries if you haven't talked to your vet on that yet. I am still worried that maybe the complete hip surgery may have been the way to go for him instead of the fho surgery. He is out of pain which was my goal of course and it will never come back so I am told. But, he has such a swish still when he walks and pretty clumsy still. I know it is early yet and hopefullly these things will still take care of themselves with time and muscle growth. Just something to think about if you have a larger dog like I do. Research,Research,Research you have one chance. Make sure that you make the right one for you and your loved pet.

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