Are you looking to feed your cat a vegetarian, or vegan diet? Learn more about concerns related to vegan cat food.
Domestic cats are obligate carnivores. This means, unlike dogs, they are true carnivores, and meat must make up the majority of their diet. Although there are a few cat foods that market themselves as being vegan, or vegetarian, cat foods, there are many reasons why cat owners should not put their cats on these diets.
Typical dry cat food, such as the stuff sold through grocery stores and department stores, is already considered a poor source of meat for cats. If you look at most dry cat food ingredient lists you will see corn as a main ingredient. Corn is hardly a good meat source. It is hard for cats to digest and is a well known cause of allergies for both cats, and dogs. Nonetheless these cat foods do contain some meat, just enough to meat the cat’s most basic requirements for certain amino acids and vitamins.
cat and chickens photo by author
Cats need other vitamins and minerals not found in vegetarian, and certainly not in vegan, diets. These include taurine, arachidonic acid, Vitamin A, and B12.
Arachidonic Acid is a fatty acid that cats require. It is present in eggs in only a small amount so meat is a better source.
Vitamin A is found in some vegetables but cats cannot absorb it unless in the retinol form which only comes from meat sources (particularly liver) and is also limited in eggs.
Vitamin B12 can only come from meat sources as cats cannot synthesize their own.
Taurine is necessary in cat food and if lacking can make the cat blind. Even dog food does not contain sufficient Taurine for cats. Taurine is not in tuna so feeding a cat a vegetarian, or vegan, diet and adding tuna is not sufficient.
Protein is the biggest concern with feeding an unnatural diet to a cat. While vegetarian, and vegan, cat foods claim a certain amount of protein, if it is from vegetable matter (yes many vegetables contain protein) it is very hard for cats to digest. As such a cat must eat a lot more food to get its full needs of protein. This stresses their digestive systems.
Cats who are on vegetarian or vegan diets really are not vegetarians or vegans, they are just forced to eat that kind of food; if given the opportunity would certainly prefer to eat meat. Cats are natural predators, they would love to kill and eat a mouse, bird, or anything.
In the United States a pet food must qualify under the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) regulations. Unfortunately these regulations are not terrifically high and generally cover things such as how much protein a food must contain, not where that protein must come from. As such it is no surprise that AAFCO regulations have approved some vegetarian and vegan cat foods.
It is up to you, the owner, to feed your cat correctly, not only should they not have foods that contain corn as the main ingredient, they should not be fed vegetarian, or vegan cat foods even if the food administration approves them for cats.
If you are a person who wants a vegetarian or vegan pet, you should get a rabbit, guinea pig, or even a horse. On the other hand I fully support a your choice be a vegetarian, or vegan.