Vegan diets are soaring in popularity. Whether led by compassion towards animals, concern for the planet, or a focus on improving health, some people are wondering if our cats can eat vegan cat food?
No, unlike dogs who can eat vegan dog food, cats can’t be vegan because a vegan diet is not biologically appropriate for cats because cats are obligate carnivores.
As a current vegan who celebrated eight years of veganism, I’m going to dish out all the details on veganism for cats.
I’m going to give you the truth about why cats can not thrive on a plant-based diet. And why feeding your cat vegan cat food is a serious danger to their health.
Can cats be vegan?
Since you’re the one who calls the shots during meal times, you can choose to put your cat on a vegan diet. So, technically it is possible to have vegan cats.
But, the reality is cats should not be vegan. A vegan diet is not appropriate for cats at any age or life stage.
Cats cannot survive off plant-based foods.
We can break this down in a few ways.
For one, from a biological perspective, our obligate carnivore kitties can’t get the essential nutrients they need from plants alone. Nor do they have the digestive system or enzymes to break down those foods.
Think of it this way, would you feed your pet rabbit a steak?
Second, while we can take vitamins, minerals, and supplements to fill in the gaps in our diet, the pet supplement industry is woefully unregulated.
So even if we did fortify vegan cat food with supplements like taurine and arginine chances are our kitties wouldn’t get the right amount. A lack of these essential vitamins and amino acids means your cat’s health will suffer.
Third, veganism at its core isn’t just a diet.
True veganism is a set of values and morals. It’s a commitment to living a lifestyle that causes as little harm as possible to animals and the planet. For many people, veganism is an ethical choice.
Our cats don’t have a concept of animal welfare. They don’t have the reasoning to consider the well-being and treatment of farmed animals in the meat industry and animal agriculture.
Nutritional needs of cats
Malnutrition is a real consequence for cats fed a vegan diet.
Every vitamin, mineral, and amino acid our cats need comes from animal products and proteins. Be it meat, tissues, fat, or organs, feeding cats meat is key to a balanced diet and keeping them healthy.
Here are some of the top nutritional needs for cats.
Cats need a lot more protein than many other animals do. The complete protein diets cats thrive on include animal products like organ meats, muscle meats, and eggs.
Some of the most popular plant-based proteins for us like beans, soy, and nut butter can upset our cats’ digestive systems. Pea protein is one of the more troubling ingredients that appears in vegan cat food dry kibble. More on that below.
Taurine is one of the top nutritional requirements for feline health. This amino acid is one of the building blocks of protein and is essential for all cats. They can’t make it on their own and rely on their diet to get their 45 mg daily need. A lack of taurine causes serious complications.
Even a few days without the proper amount of taurine can have deadly consequences. These include blindness, seizures, and an often fatal heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.
Eating meat is a must because taurine is only found in animal products. Specifically in muscle and organ meats from chickens and turkeys, and eggs.
Arginine is another must-have nutrient for cats. As with taurine cats can’t make this on their own and rely on a balanced diet to get their 855 mg of arginine a day.
Arginine detoxifies your cat’s system and maintains kidney health. It breaks down the ammonia that naturally builds up inside your cat’s body and excretes it out in their urine. It also supports proper growth in kittens.
An arginine deficiency can cause irreversible medical conditions that show up in as little as one day. These include seizures and neurological problems.
Arginine is only found in animal tissue and fats in meat from chickens, turkeys, cows, and rabbits.
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), cats need 9000 IU or 65 mcg of vitamin A daily. This vitamin is crucial for nerve function, muscle support, and skin and fur health.
Vitamin A deficiencies appear quickly. They include muscle deterioration, neurological problems like seizures, and unhealthy skin and fur.
The best source of Vitamin A for cats comes from egg yolks, fish oil, and liver.
Vitamin A is not an easy nutrient to supplement either. If the wrong amount of vitamin A is added to a vegan cat food diet there are high risks of deadly toxicity.
Vitamin D is another essential nutrient that cats can’t create on their own. Cats need 280 IU Vitamin D a day.
Vitamin D does a lot of the heavy lifting in helping to keep your kitty’s body in top shape.
It aids in muscle and nerve functioning and has a big role in growing and supporting their bones.
Vitamin D manages calcium absorption and regulates the levels of calcium in your cat’s body. This directly impacts how strong and healthy their bones are.
A deficiency of Vitamin D can be deadly. It’s linked to bone deformities and breakage, heart failure, and cancer.
The best sources of Vitamin D for cats are fish, egg yolks, liver, and beef.
But supplementing your cat’s food with vitamin D if they are eating a vegan or vegetarian diet is risky. If you over supplement with vitamin D, it builds up inside your cat’s body. It’s not excreted through their urine and leads to toxicity and possibly death.
Arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid for cats that regulates your kitty’s inflammation response. It aids blood clotting and supports their reproductive health and skin.
A deficiency can cause dry scaly skin, painful sores, gastrointestinal problems, blood disorders, and widespread inflammation.
The best source of arachidonic acid comes from animal fats and eating meat.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are another rock star nutrient that cats can’t make on their own. Cats need 7.3 mg of this essential fatty acid a day for every 5 kg of body weight.
Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain heart health, fight inflammation, and maintain healthy skin and fur. Omega-3 fatty acids also lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, which are key in preventing heart conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies can lead to widespread inflammation, painful skin conditions, heart disease, and other health problems.
The best source of omega-3 fatty acids for cats comes from fish and fish oil.
Is vegan cat food high in carbs?
Yes, vegan cat foods are high in carbs. Many vegan cat foods, whether they’re dry kibble or wet food contain far too many carbs for any cat to possibly digest.
Here’s a close look at the ingredients in three vegan cat food products.
Ami’s One Planet vegan dry kibble for cats:
Corn gluten, corn, corn oil, yeast, potatoes protein, minerals, peas, hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, cellulose, rice protein, linseed, Mojave Yucca.
Benevo’s dry food for vegan cats:
Soy, Wheat, [Corn] Gluten Meal, [Corn], Rice, Sunflower Oil, Beet Pulp, Vitamins & Minerals, Brewers Yeast, Yeast Based Palatant, Linseed, Seaweed, Fructooliogosaccharides, Spirulina, Yucca Schidigera Extract.
Evolution Gourmet Vegetable Stew recipe:
Whole Potato, Sweet Potato, Brown Rice, Filtered Water, Soybean Oil, Oat Groats, Carrots, Calcium Carbonate, Pea Protein, Peas, Sea Salt, Dicalcium Phosphate, Brewer’s Yeast, Guar Gum, Molasses, Tomato Paste, DL-Methionine, Choline Chloride-DYNA K, Taurine, L-Carnitine, Kelp, Glucosamine.
The problem with peas and starches
Yikes! Peas, corn, potatoes, and yucca are all very starchy and carby ingredients that are hard for your cat to digest efficiently.
Peas are particularly problematic. As we explored in grain-free cat food, peas are loaded with lectins and phytates.
Lectins and phytates harm the healthy bacteria or microflora in your kitty’s gut. They also eat away at their stomach lining, potentially causing chronic painful illnesses like leaky gut syndrome.
Are carbs bad for cats?
Carbs are not necessarily bad for cats but because cats are obligate carnivores, a high carb diet is not ideal. Even though our beloved feline friends are now domesticated, their biology is the same as their wild ancestors. They do best on eating protein-dense meat, muscles, and organs from animals they’d prey on in the wild.
While cats can get glucose, one of the basic energy sources from carbs, as a whole cats don’t need them. Cats’ bodies aren’t designed to be able to handle carb-heavy plant-based foods.
They have short, simple digestive tracts which make breaking down fiber from vegetables and plant proteins very hard on their body. Cats also lack the digestive enzyme, salivary amylase, to break down starches.
When cats eat carbohydrates, especially simple carbs, they don’t get the same energy and nutritional benefits we humans do, making an all-carb, no-protein vegan diet a poor nutritional choice for cats.
Excessive carbs in your cat’s diet can cause digestive upset and can be a risk factor in developing diabetes and your cat becoming obese. If you’re looking for great low-carb food options, check out our article on “The Best Low Carb Cat Food.”
Is vegan cat food safe for cats?
No, vegan cat food is not safe for any cat.
Vegan cat food, even if it is supplemented, cannot meet your cat’s nutritional needs.
Cats require more protein than almost any other animal. They rely entirely on complete and balanced diets rich in animal proteins and meat to get their essential nutrients. The corn, soy, and potatoes vegan cat food is packed with aren’t species-appropriate at all.
How do I know if my cat is healthy on a vegan diet?
If your cat is on a vegan diet, they’re not healthy.
Cats are true carnivores and have many vitamins, amino acids, and essential fatty acids that cannot come from vegetables, plant proteins, or supplements alone.
Going against your cat’s biology and opting to feed them vegan food will cause serious health conditions. Blindness, seizures, blood disorders, muscle loss are all very serious consequences of a vegan diet for cats. As is a weak immune system and chronic stomach issues like irritable bowel disease and leaky gut syndrome.
Even with the heavy supervision of nutritionist-trained veterinarians can’t guarantee that your cat will be healthy on a vegan diet. Especially considering that vegan diets don’t meet the welfare standards for proper cat care.
Veterinarians who also live by a do no harm philosophy often cannot in good conscience recommend or have a role in feeding vegan diets to cats.
The obligate carnivore biology of your cat means that the fact of the matter is they do best when they eat meat and high animal protein prey-based diets.
Am I still vegan if I feed my cat meat?
Yes! If you’re a vegan (like me) who feeds your cat meat that doesn’t make you any less vegan. One of the best ways we care for our animals is by making sure we give them the best nutrition possible.
As I walked you through the essential amino acids, vitamins, and fatty acids cats need to not just thrive but literally stay alive, you must’ve noticed that all of them come from animal meats or products.
The foods with the highest and best bioavailability and palatability for our fluffy little obligate carnivores come from meat and animal proteins.
Ignoring the nutritional needs of your cats and overriding them with your ethics and morals means that you’re denying what your cat needs to live a happy and healthy life. That, my friend, is an act of animal cruelty in itself.
Key points on vegan cat food
As upsetting as it may be for some of my fellow vegans, cats cannot be healthy if they eat vegan cat food.
Ignoring their nutritional needs and going against their nature can cause irreparable and irreversible health problems for your kitty. It goes directly against what veganism stands for, to not harm any living creatures.
The reality is that even supplements for cats aren’t something you can rely on. There’s too much of a risk of toxicity and deficiencies with life-shattering consequences. Ammonia intoxication, seizures, blindness, and heart failure can all result from poor nutrition.
If veganism is about doing as little harm as possible to animals, you cannot feed your cat a vegan diet.
But don’t despair! Instead of spiraling into negative thinking and resentment overfeeding your cat a meat-based diet while you are a vegan, remember you can still help animals.
Here are some ways you can keep your vegan beliefs strong while feeding your cat meat
- Buy cat food brands with high animal welfare standards and farming practices.
- Donate to and volunteer at farmed animal sanctuaries.
- Cook vegan food and desserts for your non-vegan friends and encourage them to do more plant-based cooking in their own life.
- Support companies that make vegan products for humans.
And, if you’re like me, on top of that you can wait patiently (and excitedly) for the day lab-grown meat hits the cat food industry!