By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 14 January 2011)
Statements by Veterinarians on Vegetarian and Vegan Diets for Cats
The following are observations and recommendations made by a number of veterinarians regarding meat-free diets for cats.
Rob Silver, DVM
“I think there are global, ethical and social reasons to feed our dogs and cats a vegetarian diet…[but] from a biological standpoint, there’s a need for dogs, and certainly much more so for cats, to have meat.” (White, 1996)
Rebecca Remillard, Veterinary Nutritionist
“Most of the vegetarian feline patients I have are on the scrawny side…They eat just enough to live.” (Wallace, 2008)
Andrew Knight, BSc. (Vet. Biol.), BVMS, CertAW, MRCVS
“Despite widespread prejudice against vegetarian pet food…there is no scientific reason why a diet comprised only of plant, mineral and synthetically-based ingredients cannot be formulated to meet all of [a cat’s nutritional] needs…Correct use of a complete and balanced nutritional supplement is essential to ensure the health of vegetarian companion animals, particularly cats. Regular urine pH monitoring is also important to detect and allow prevention of the urinary alkalinization, with its consequent potential for urinary stones, blockages and infections, that may result from a vegetarian diet in a small minority of cats.” (Knight, 13 July 2008)
Michael Fox, DVM
“I’m very concerned…about these vegan cat foods that read like a chemical soup with all these synthetic additives [to provide missing nutrients]. It’s getting so far away from fresh, whole foods that I think it’s ethically questionable and scientifically dubious.” (quoted in White, 1996)
“…there is surely no scientific certainty that vegetarian/vegan cat foods will be good for all cats…To use the science of nutrition that is still in its infancy to support the feeding of vegetarian food to cats is to ignore the precautionary principle with regard to synthetically based ingredients, as well as the basic biology of the cat as a carnivore.” (Fox, 2005)
Tony Buffington, Professor of Veterinary Sciences, Ohio State University
“While it’s technically possible to formulate healthy nonmeat diets for cats and dogs, it’s complicated and something [Buffington] urges pet owners to consider very seriously. ‘Could there be vegan pets? Yes. Would I do it for my own animal? Never,’ he said. If he were to help someone do it…he’d make sure that the animal was a healthy, neutered adult. He would strongly advise against vegan diets for young, rapidly growing animals and those that are pregnant.” (Heussner & Berman, 2009)
Jean Hofve, DVM (Vegan and Animal Rights Activist)
“Cats…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…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…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…Personally, I believe that when we voluntarily adopt cats into our homes, 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.” (Hofve, 14 November 2010)
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR)
“…until such time that a vegan diet for cats can be formulated so that there is no risk of harm to that animal’s life or health when fed that diet over time, cats should continue to be fed a diet containing animal flesh.” (WebArchive.org, 2006)
Additional Voices in the Debate on Vegan and Vegetarian Cats
Opposing views on plant-based diets for cats are offered by the ASPCA and Stan Petrey, cofounder of the Home At Last Animal Shelter.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
“At first, cats may appear to be doing satisfactorily on vegetarian or vegan diets…But over time nutritional deficiencies may occur. When it comes to felines, it really is best to provide a diet that includes meat.” (Jonas, n.d.)
Stan Petrey, Home At Last Animal Shelter (Kentucky)
“…no diet-related problems have appeared in any of the cats, whose vegetarian status ranges from one year to four months…Beth Johnson, DVM, recently remarked, ‘The Home At Last dogs and cats appear in excellent physical condition…The cats…appear very healthy without any evidence of nutritional deficiency.’” (Knight, 13 July 2008)
VeganCats, which distributes cruelty-free products for companion animals, advises that certain cats should be fed some meat because many owners lack the time, knowledge, and resources to address the extremely complex nutritional and health monitoring needs of cats on vegan diets:
“Unless you are very committed to following the advice outlined on our site…we recommend that you mitigate the risk of urinary tract problems by feeding male cats only a 25-75% vegan diet and females a 50-100% vegan diet…[although] many cats…will thrive on a simple vegan diet and never have any complications from urinary tract infections or crystal formations, you need to be prepared to adjust the diet accordingly for cats who may be prone to such issues.” (VeganCats.com, 2010)
- AVAR. (2006). ” Vegetarian and Vegan Cat Food Diets.” WebArchive.org.
- Fox, M.W. (2005). “More on Vegetarian/Vegan Cat Foods.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 226(7): 1047.
- Heussner, K.M., & Berman, J. (8 April 2009). “Can My Pet be a Vegan Like Me?” ABCNews.go.com.
- Hofve, J. (14 November 2010). “Vegetarian Cats?” LittleBigCat.com.
- Jonas, G. (2010). “Hold the Tuna: Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe for Your Cat?” GlobalAnimal.org.
- Knight, A. (13 July 2008). “Vegetarian Feline Diets.” Vegepets.Info.
- VeganCats.com. (2010). “FAQ’s – Frequently Asked Questions.”
- Wallace, H. (2008). “Veg Pets?” Vegetarian Times, 356(March). Academic Search Elite database.
- White, L.B. (1996). “The Truth About Cats and Dogs.” Vegetarian Times, 231(November). Academic Search Elite database.