can cats be vegan?

Can cats be vegan?

Veganism is on the rise: there are now 542,000 people in Britain following a vegan diet, never consuming any animal products including meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and honey. If vegetarians are included on that list, the total moves up to 1.68 million people. These figures have been increasing rapidly, and with a higher proportion of young people taking the “no meat” pledge, it’s likely to be a long-term trend.

Non-meat eaters are often also pet-owners, which presents an immediate source of cognitive dissonance: in a meat-free household, what do you feed animals that are habitually meat eaters?

Dogs have evolved to be omnivores, naturally equipped to eat plant-based food. As long as their diet is complete and balanced, they can be vegetarian, or even vegan. However, cats are “obligate carnivores” so it’s extremely risky to stop feeding meat to them. 

The feline anatomy and metabolism have evolved specifically for processing meals derived from small prey. While their anatomy and digestive system can adapt (cats can eat and digest plant-based food), there are critical aspects of their metabolism that have an absolute need for nutrients that are only commonly found in meat.

These nutrients include specific amino acids (the building blocks of protein), essential fatty acids, and vitamins that are primarily found in meat. If cats aren’t given these essential nutrients in their diet, they will not thrive, and they’re likely to become seriously ill, with a shortened lifespan.

As veganism moves more mainstream, it may be time to review this side of the vegan philosophy: is it right to force companion animals to fit your lifestyle?