Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Vegan Cat Dilemma


People often ask me if I feed my cats vegan diet since I am vegan myself. Unfortunately, my cats are NOT vegan. Before you start calling me a devil, a hypocrite or a bad vegan, please, read why I do not believe that cats should be vegan.

I have been working in the holistic pet nutrition field for 7 years now and all my research, personal experience and a common sense point to the fact that cat are carnivores. They need meat in their diet. I love my cats and I do not want to experiment with their health or well-being. I am not going to force my personal beliefs onto my carnivorous cats. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect vegan world. Veganism is a journey and it is not about perfection in every aspect of our lives. We just have to do our best. Veganism is about loving animals, all species. But the animals I love the most and the animals that are the closest to my heart, are my own companion animals. I care about their health, happiness and well-being. I chose to adopt carnivorous animals and that choice came with a dilemma. Should I be an abolitionist vegan and feed them unnatural diets hight in grains and other carbs, or should I feed them animal protein that is essential for their wellbeing?

I believe that humans are omnivores, in a way herbivores, and that we can easily thrive and survive on plant-based diet. There is a lot science behind these beliefs. And there is even more science behind the fact that cats are obligate carnivores. For example, cats do not have enzymes to begin the breakdown of carbohydrates in their mouths. Humans do. Cats do not have mastication (chewing) bones, they gnaw (on raw meat and bones). Humans chew their food before swallowing it. Cat's digestive system is much closer to a tiger's digestive system, everything from the stomach pH levels, length of intestine, to time needed for digesting food, indicates that cats are carnivores. They need animal protein to survive and thrive.

Since cats are obligate carnivores, they don’t need carbohydrates in their diet. Those carbohydrates include corn, wheat, soy, rice, barley and other grains. Carbohydrates can cause unneeded fermentation in cat’s bowel, which can lead to digestive disorders such as food intolerance, allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease. Some cats can also become diabetic or obese on high carbohydrate diets.

The problem with most commercial vegan and vegetarian cat foods is the high content of grains and other things that they have hard time digesting. Taurine is an essential amino-acid that cats need, and unlike other mammals, cats cannot synthesize their own taurine from other building block amino acids. Diets deficient in taurine can easily result in blindness and heart condition, even a heart failure. If you choose to feed your cat vegetarian or vegan diet, please, at least make sure you supplement the diet with taurine. I do like supplements as a help sometimes, but I am a firm believer in the importance of diet as the main thing.

When my cat Bear was eating food with grains (rice and barley), he experienced a very scary bout of IBS. He had a bloody diarrhea for days and was miserable, he was also throwing up tons. The medicine was not helping very much and his problems got worse. He lost a lot of weight and looked horrible. I decided to put him on strictly raw meat diet with some pumpkin and his stool got firm the very next day. He started feeling better and he loved his food. That was the last time I gave him any grain. That was a few years ago and he has not had any diarrhea or belly issues ever since.

As meat eaters, cats need the proper fuel to promote urinary tract function. Calories come from 3 places: protein, fat and carbohydrates. In meat, there is protein and fat, but there are little if any carbohydrates. Therefore, while a cat needs protein and fat, they do not need carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are not metabolically necessary. These carbohydrates can impact the pH level of a cat’s urine, thereby creating an environment in which crystals can form.

It is not just important to fuel cats with any protein, cats must eat species appropriate protein, such as animal flesh. Inferior proteins, including by-products and proteins that come from plants, such as corn gluten, wheat gluten and potato protein, may negatively impact urinary pH levels, such.

Proper pH may also help prevent crystal formation. Acids dissolve things. In the case of urinary crystals, along with proper hydration, the acid in the urine will help the components that form those crystals from combining to form crystals.

Most commercial cat foods are full of by-products and additives such as artificial colorings and chemical preservatives that can lead to allergies or other health problems. These foods may smell and look tasty, and your cat may even enjoy them, but they don’t offer much in the way of good nutrition. They often contribute to problems such diabetes, kidney disease, dental and digestive issues, skin allergies, hairballs and obesity. Poor quality cat foods may cost less at the register, but more in veterinary care in the long run.

The best options for your cats are low carbohydrate, grain-free diets. Because cats were originally desert animals, they tend not to drink as much water as dogs. These desert animals obtained their fluid through eating their prey. This lack of need for drinking water has been carried forward and maintained by our domestic cats. Cats who are fed primarily dry food can get dehydrated. This dehydration can lead to kidney problems. To prevent these problems and insure that your cat gets enough liquid through the day, you should supplement her dry food with either canned or raw food.

Some cats can be sensitive or even allergic to fish. Fish sensitivity often causes vomiting and/or diarrhea. Some cats can even develop urinary disease, including cystitis, crystals and stones.

Cats can be finicky eaters. Think variety when feeding your cat. Rotate brands and protein sources (cats can get bored with eating the same food every day).

I feed my Abbey and Bear all-natural, human grade ingredients (no by-product or other funky meat parts), which are also preserved naturally. I feed them foods that are high in antioxidants, probiotics, chelated minerals and skin and coat conditioners, but low in ash and magnesium. I see the great benefits of feeding premium meat-based and grain-free foods, such as less hairballs (rather lack of hairballs, which is a miracle in two long-haired cats), lower stool and urinary odor, and less poop (less litter box scooping). Their coats and beautiful and shiny.
 

If you are still not convinced that cats are carnivores, you can do a little test. Have you seen a tiger munching on carrots, or lion chewing on a celery? I have not. I did a little test with my Bear and Abbey several years ago. I placed a bowl of carrots and peas in one bow, a shredded chicken breast in another bowl and a mixture of both in a third bowl. The chicken breast was gone in seconds, while the bowl with peas and carrots was untouched. The bowl with a mixture of meat and veggies was interesting. The chicken was gone, but the peas and carrots remained in the bowl. They were just sitting there in a bowl, untouched. Some cats like veggies, but most will go for the meat instead. I add pumpkin to canned food for fiber and Abbey and Bear like that.
Another evidence is the fact that cats are hunters. I take care of a mini feral colony and they often kill birds and mice, sometimes to eat them, sometimes to play with them. Cats are hunters! Even my indoor cats like to catch and eat bugs sometimes......If I see them gathering around a bug, I scoop the bug into a container and release it outside. Sometimes Abbey and Bear are quicker and kill the insect before I grab the plastic container :-(
If you are a vegan and cannot deal with your cats being hunters and carnivores, then get bunnies or other similar animals as companion animals instead of cats. Dogs are semi-carnivores and can do very well on vegetarian or vegan diet, if is is well balanced. If you have a dog, try staying away from wheat and corn in their food if you can. Also, artificial flavors, colors, by-products or chemical preservatives do not belong to your dog's food. Read the labels and study ingredients.

Last week I asked my Twitter followers and friends, and all my other vegan friends if they were feeding their cats a vegan or vegetarian diet. I was very happy to hear that most of them were NOT feeding there cats vegan or vegetarian diet.
One girl is transitioning all her cats to a vegan diet because she does not want to contribute to any animal cruelty or environmental issue. Some people have tried vegan diet and their cats had major digestive issues, or did not like the taste. One guy feeds meat based diet and occasionally adds vegan food, or lets his cat catch rodents and birds. Only one girl said that she is feeding all of her cats vegan diet.
Most of my vegan friends around the world (some of them are vets or vet techs) realize that their cats are not vegetarian animals and therefore they do not force their vegan beliefs onto their cats. Cats depend on us to feed them and they cannot speak and tell us what they want so we have to make a decision for them. We are their guardians and we have a duty to ensure that they are being taken care of. It is a very personal decision to make your cat vegan or vegetarian, but before you do that, think about all the pros and cons.
It breaks my heart that I have to feed my companion animals meat, but that is the price I pay for having them.
What is your opinion?


(Some of the resources used in this post are from different books and internet articles)
Disclaimer
The materials contained on this website are provided for general information purposes only and do not constitute sole professional advice on any subject matter. I do not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. I do not take any responsibility, either directly or implied, for any damage, injury, death, disease, illness or morbidity caused directly or indirectly to pets, their owners or the general public as a result of following the advice given in this site. The information is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinary or doctor. Please, consult your veterinary before making any changes in your dog's or cat's diet.

30 comments:

  1. I agree with you 100%. I have 7 cats, & while it hurts to think about it, I know I'm sacrificing the lives of other creatures for the benefit of my own. This is something I had to accept by adopting carnivores.

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I catch a lot of flack for feeding my dogs a meat based diet. I *wish* I could keep them perfectly healthy on a vegan diet, but I can't. One has allergies, one has cancer. They both need a meat based diet to stay healthy. And since I love them, I do what they need me to do.

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    1. I am sorry about your dog's cancer! Do you feed totally grain-free diet? If so, that is the best because most cancer feeds on sugar-carbs, and grains turn into sugar in the body. Low carb diet is essential for animals with cancer. My dog is fighting mammary adenoma that vet thinks might turn into mammary cancer so we do not feed her any grains. Also turmeric and fish oil are good, and decaf green tea and broccoli and berries are good for fighting cancer in animals. Fish oil is also good for allergies and itchy skin and shedding. Good luck with your dogs!

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    2. Thank you Elisabeth! We've been feeding grain free for about a year, and now with the cancer diagnosis, we're starting the 'Dog Cancer Diet' that is shared on the 'Dog Cancer Blog', with some minor modifications. We just met with a Naturopath Vet too, to complement our traditional vets, and we're starting a few herbal and DHA supplements. He wasn't eating prior to surgery, but he is now. Thank goodness! I really appreciate your comments you left on my post about it too - especially the success stories! Thank you so much!

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    3. Which Dog Cancer Blog? The http://www.dogcancerblog.com/ ? With cancer, animals sometimes lose their appetite. If that happens, try different canned foods (the most popular in cancer animals that I know is WERUVA grain-free shredded meat in gravy canned food), or cook ground beef, chicken breast or scrambled eggs. Also heating food can make it smell and taste better. Or try yogurt and cottage cheese, or raw meat cut into small pieces. Sometimes these animals will eat one thing one day and the next day they do not touch it. It is a constant trial and error and tests. Good luck!

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    4. Yes, that's the one. At the top, you can get a download of his diet plan. You can also purchase a book from him. You probably know most of the info, but for me, it was a big eye opener. A friend used his diet and info for her dog with cancer, and thought it really helped. It includes a lot of what you've said. I'm modifying it right now, to see what works for him and me. He is loving cottage cheese! It makes me so happy to see him happily eating again. In the first few days after diagnosis, I was resigned to saying goodbye very soon, but after reading his info, meeting with the naturopath, and hearing from you, I'm starting to be hopeful again. I know that there is no outright cure, but maybe our time doesn't have to be as short as the vet predicted. Thanks again! I'll keep in touch! :)

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    5. There is always a hope :-)

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  3. Thanks for all the time, effort, and thought you put into this post. It's always compelling when you share your own experiences.

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    1. Thank you for your support! Please, share this post with your vegan friends.

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  4. Another answer is to kill the cats - http://arzonepodcasts.blogspot.com/2011/11/arzone-podcast-22-vegan-advocate-and.html - as my sister tends to ask, how do we choose the animal pets over the animals in the petfoodtins?

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  5. yup. felines are the only carnivore mammal.

    http://haymarket8.blogspot.com

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  6. they're friggin carnivores, what is the dilemmna? what is unfortunate? that is the way it is.

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  7. I'm curious, what do you feed your cats?

    I just got my cat 2 months ago. She is 7 years old, so a young senior citizen ;)

    She had lots of problems with hairballs in the beginning. She would throw up every other day :(
    It looks like I got it under control now. I'm feeding her science diet kibble for hairball in the morning and the science diet wet food for hairballs at night, but I know science diet food contains grains.

    I'm hesitant to switch her food again now that we got the hairball issue under control (her old owners were giving her IAMS).

    Can you recommend a better diet for her?

    Thanks!

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    1. Hi Lina,
      If you switch your cat slowly to a better, grain-free food she should be fine. Mix 75% old food with 25% new food for a few days, then feed 50% and 50 % and then 25% old food and 75 % new food and then go to all new food after a few days. If she gets hairballs or diarrhea, add pureed pumpkin into her canned or raw food. About a teaspoon a day.
      I like adding pumpkin puree to canned food for cats with hairballs issues daily, and sometimes I recommend fish oil or other oil if pumpkin does not help. Brushing your cat daily will remove a lot of hair that she would otherwise ingest during grooming. Use a good brush, or Furminator tool.

      My cats eat a rotation diet of grain-free canned food and raw food, and a small amount of grain-free kibble.

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    2. Thanks for your quick reply! I definitely want to give the pumpkin puree a try (I happen to have a can in my pantry).

      I do have a furminator brush, but I haven't been brushing her daily as she is a bit fussy sometimes. She is more interested in chasing it (with claws out =P) than lying still.

      Can you recommend a grain-free food brand?

      Thanks!

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    3. I like Nature's Variety company. They use high quality ingredients and hormone & antibiotics free meat. I love that they add tons of veggies and fruits into their food. They have grain-free canned food, kibble and raw diets.

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    4. Thanks, Elisabeth, that sounds like a great product, I'll check it out :)

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  8. We switched to a grain-free food a few years ago when we discovered one of our cats had severe IBD. Our vet actually suggested the diet change. It was amazing how our other cats suddenly did better too. One was a diabetic and we were able to control his diabetes for the first time just by changing his diet. Pumpkin is really a great food for cats. I sometimes make pumpkin cubes - put about a teaspoon into the ice cube trays and freeze. Then take the cubes and put them into a container or freezer bag. A few seconds in the microwave and they are ready to go. Helps with IBD, hairballs or any kind of tummy upset. Thanks for such a good blog.

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    1. I am happy to hear that your kitties are doing so well! Thank you for reading my blog!

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  9. if you feed your cat a vegan diet on the grounds that you do not want to contribute to animal cruelty, how then do you explain treating your companion animal cruelly by feeding it a diet that will make it ill and suffer?

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  10. Thank you for speaking such sense! I am fed up with hearing the ignorance spoken by vegans who refuse to feed their cats meat. It is dangerous. Yes I feel a bit of a hypocrite feeding my cats food that I will not eat but I have a choice and they do not. Inflicting my diet on a defenseless creature is animal cruelty.

    I feed my animals other animals but if I didn't have them they would still be here and still be eating animals. I would be saving myself some discomforture but at the expense of giving animals a home and denying myself the opportunity to love these beautiful animal. I love my cats and I am a better than average owner, so yes I compromise my ideals but in doing so I am still loving the animal kingdom as my cats are extra well treated and cared for. To dump my cats or refuse to have cats because they eat meat does not strike me as an animal loving thing to do; it just denies their existence. As vegans do we only like herbivore animals? I won't deny that sometimes I feel awkward but that's my problem and I deal with it. My cats like to eat meat and need it to stay healthy. That is all I need to know to oblige them.

    Thank you for your very sensible and accurate writing about the issue.

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    1. Thank you for your support! I totally agree with you and I am happy that more people feel the same way.

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  11. I am a vet tech and I am transitioning my cats to a vegan homecooked diet, under supervision of one of the veterinarians I work for. We'll see how it goes and I'll pass it on. Once I found information that made sense to me and a comprehensive diet plan, I felt I had to try it out. If my cats seemed at all unhealthy or unhappy I would of course stop immediately. I think any animal lover would. It just sucks to support factory farms or "humane" meat. I'm gonna give it a try, maybe I'll pass this experience on to you if you're interested.

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    1. That sounds interesting! Please, keep me posted. You can email me more info when you have it if you like.

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  12. I think that people who are already vegan, and are thinking of getting a pet but don't like the idea of feeding it meat, should consider an animal that thrives mainly on a nuts/grains/vegetables diet - such as a hamster, guinea pig or rabbit. They may not live as long as a cat, but they are truly charming and affectionate animals.

    It's unfortunate that this dilemma exists, but we have to accept that cats are not humans. They are unable to make a choice about what they eat. They have to eat what their bodies tell them to!

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  13. The comment that vegans 'should get a hamster' etc, has a certain logic at face value, but is overly simplistic.

    We live in a world where millions of dogs (for example) are killed in facilities annually because people are tired of them/have let them go/are moving/haven't had them desexed etc.

    I would guess that most vegans would adopt rather than buy an animal from a petshop, so if a vegan saves one of these animals, cares for it and feeds it a vegan diet, this is a net good. Particularly given the increasing evidence that dogs are biologically omnivores that can thrive on a vegan diet (eg see here: http://www.vegepets.info/). I acknowledge this is more complicated in the case of cats.

    Nevertheless, if an individual can meet the two basic underlying needs of a dog (ensuring it enjoys its food, and is getting the nutrients it needs), then there is no ethical dilemma with feeding a dog a vegan diet - argubly the contrary.

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  14. i like cats, but this is exactly why im not getting one.

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