Can a cat become vegetarian? Vegetarian cat food… good or bad?

Should a cat become vegetarian?

Do you think vegetarian diet is appropriate for cats? Photo © ArtKol – Fotolia.com

There may be various reasons why a person decides to become vegetarian, but, at one point, or another, many may wonder what about their pets. Should a cat become vegetarian, if his owner has decided to exclude meat from his own diet?

While we cheer to vegetarians and vegans, for their ability to choose their lifestyle and stand for it, cats are pure meat eaters in the wild, and, even in the household environment, a cat should not eat anything else but meat and animal organs.

Sounds cruel? It’s natural, and more important – it’s healthy for a cat. Cat’s body is ready to digest living objects and they lack several features to completely digest plant based foods, like grains, berries and sugars.

Cats are obligate carnivores and should not go vegetarian

Biology lists animals in three main groups based on what they eat. Carnivores, Herbivores and Omnivores.

  1. Carnivores – those who eat meat. e.g. dogs and cats;
  2. Herbivores – those who eat plant based food, e.g. cattle and sheep;
  3. Omnivores – those who eat both, meat and plants, e.g. humans and pigs.

However, those are only the main groups. Within them are smaller ones. For example, dogs are known for their ability to digest carbohydrates found in plants and vegetables; therefore, they are often referred as “omnivorous carnivores”, while cats, who lack the same ability are falling within the group “obligate carnivores”.

Being an “obligate carnivore” means you must eat animals in order to survive. But also it means your body is not able to digest carbohydrates properly. Domestic cats have both of those features, which makes them hard to become vegetarian.

Cats don’t eat any veggies in the wild

Despite this picture, cat's do not eat vegetables in the wild, and do not become vegetarians.

Despite this picture, cat’s do not eat vegetables in the wild, and do not become vegetarians. Photo © joanna wnuk – Fotolia.com

Many dog and cat foods nowadays contain plants, like grains, in huge amounts. Some even have grains as the main ingredient, as well as many are completely vegetarian cat foods, containing grains, potato, broccoli and not a tiny bit of meat.

However, if you read our article about what cats eat in the wild, you should know, cat’s natural diet consists of small rodents, small birds, insects and reptiles for the most part. Aaaaaaaand…. there is not a bit of plant based material in the natural diet of cats.

So, if a cat does not eat any vegetarian food in the wild, why would you force one on him in the domestic environment? Would you eat grass? It is food for many species, but still, you would avoid it, because your body is not able to digest and receive energy from it.

Cat’s body has evolved to catch, eat, and digest meat

Let’s now talk about the anatomy of a cat. The first differences between animals who eat plants, and eat meat is in their appearance. Cats are well known hunters, and, as you can see in our infographic, almost every part of the body of a cat serves an advantage for catching prey.

That, of course, tells you nothing, because humans, who are good at hunting too, can turn to vegetarian diet easily. So, let’s not talk about what cats can do, but let’s focus on what cats are not able to. Which is eating and digesting plants and vegetables.

The main features that tell us cats are not good at vegetarian diets are:

  • Cats have a smaller amount of molars. Molar are teeth intended to grind plant material.
  • Cat’s jaw moves only vertically but not horizontally. This again complicates the grinding; therefore proper digestion of plant based food.
  • Cats don’t have amylase in their saliva. Amylase is an enzyme which catalyzes the breakdown of complex carbohydrates.
  • Cats do not chew their food, which is essential for digesting carbohydrates found in plants.
  • Cats have short small intestine (relative to their body length). This allows the fast spoiling foods to pass through quickly, while prevents absorption of complex foods, like starches in plants.
  • Cats’ bodies do not produce a sufficient amount of certain vitamins, like Vitamins A and D. Therefore, must receive it from the meat.
  • Cats require 12 essential amino-acids, which their bodies cannot produce in sufficient amounts. Therefore, they must receive most of them by food. Best known is Taurine, which is not found in any plant based food.

Above listed are only main specifics of cats, which show they would have a hard time becoming vegetarian. Their bodies are not ready to consume and digest plant based foods, and they would not receive necessary nutrients from them.

But there is one more point to discuss. And it is a commercial vegetarian cat food.

But they make vegetarian cat food and cats are alright

So, what about them? Why we say cats cannot eat vegetarian food, while at the same time, there are plenty of vegetarian cat foods available in the stores, and all are “tested”, “approved”, “complete”, “balanced” and “nutritious”, as stated on the package.

The most important thing to mention here is – it’s extremely difficult to assess how nutrition effects on health, because it takes time.

Even if a cat is fed vegetarian diet, it's hard to evaluate it's effect on health.

Even if a cat is fed vegetarian diet, it’s hard to evaluate it’s effect on health. Photo © Haramis Kalfar – Fotolia.com

No one develops diabetes or other food related issues overnight. It takes years, and diet is not the only factor that influences it. Besides, incomplete nutrition is not always showing noticeable effects on the body. Many people nowadays eat junk, but they are well. Not completely well, but they do not complain. And did you know, cats rarely complain.

To evaluate vegetarian cat food, one should carry a research for several years when a group of cats is fed vegetarian diet, and other group is fed regular cat food, but everything else is the same. We have not heard of such study yet. But there are studies showing specific vegetarian cat foods not being nutritionally incomplete.

Vegetarian cat food manufacturers achieve their goal by using vegetarian ingredients, and supplementing with what they lack. Additional synthetic Taurine, Vitamins A, D, E certain more amino-acids and so on. Therefore, as they claim, they get nutritious, vegetarian cat food. Which is “complete and balanced”, by the way.

Bud did you know, science is not yet able to tell, what is complete and balanced food for cats? We have pet food manufacturing guidelines by “The Association of American Feed Control Officials”, but they are not a rulebook, and limitations are within wide ranges. The simple truth is – there is not known complete and balanced nutrition for cats. Not in regular pet food industry, neither in vegan cat food industry.

Heck, even human nutritionists would not be able to achieve similar results. Let’s say someone would want to create human food from grass. This is a valid food for many species, but not for humans.

Theoretically it’d be possible to create such food by supplementing it accordingly. However, science does not know how to do it, and second, it does not want to. Why? Because, would you eat such food and the project would become a commercial failure.

Meanwhile there are a lot of money invested in creating vegetarian cat foods, based of incomplete scientific advances. Why? Because cats don’t think for themselves, but many newly forged vegetarians are becoming an easy prey of marketing companies. Don’t let that happen to you, cats eat nothing but meat and animals in the wild – and cats should not go vegetarian.

Enjoy your lifestyle, but do not force it on other species. It’s your life, you have the right, but they have theirs too.

Sources:

  • Linda P. Case, et. al. “Canine and feline nutrition : a resource for companion animal professionals. 3rd edition”, Mosby elseveir, 2011.
  • Lynn Curtis, “Feline Nutrition: Nutrition for the Optimum Health and Longevity of your Cat”, Lynn Curtis, 2011
  • K. R. Schultze, “Natural nutrition for dogs and cats: The path to Purr-fect health” Hay House Inc., 2008
  • Association of veterinarians for animals rights, VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN CAT AND DOG DIETS, 2006
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4 Comments

  1. A good blog about cats.one should not try to change the food habit of an animal.even if we are using animals as pets we should provide them proper food which are made for them

    • Thank you very much for your comment! This is what we want pet owners to achieve. Not only in food, but in almost every activity.. no matter most cats are family nowadays, we must meet their natural needs and not expect human-like behaviors.

  2. Pingback: The moral quandary of cat food | Mein Kat

  3. Great Post! No one has rights to change the food of any pet, we have feed them with the proper food which is made for them. Thanks for sharing such a useful information.

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