Cats fed vegan diets 'healthier than meat-eating felines', claims study

Research finds fewer health problems and visits to vet, but veterinary association warns of potential malnutrition

A study has challenged the consensus over whether a vegetarian or meat-based diet is best for cats. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Whether it is a lion prowling the African savannah, a tiger catching prey in a forest in India or a domestic feline searching for mice in a back garden, cats are renowned as hunters – and carnivores.

Yet a newly published study claims domestic cats fed a vegan diet may be healthier than those who eat meat.

Prof Andrew Knight, a veterinary surgeon and professor of animal welfare at Griffith University in Australia, who led the study, said that “for every single general health indicator studied”, the cats included in the study “had better health outcomes when fed vegan diets”.

“It indicates that pet food manufacturers are now designing and creating vegan pet foods to include all necessary nutrients, but with fewer of the dietary hazards that are prevalent within meat-based pet foods,” he said.

Cats require animal-sourced ingredients to provide essential nutrients
British Veterinary Association, which disagrees with vegetarian or vegan diets for cats

Based on results from 1,369 cats, the research found that cats fed a vegan diet had seven per cent fewer visits to the vet, needed to be given 15 per cent less medication, were four per cent less likely to be assessed as unwell by a vet, and were eight per cent less likely to be recorded as seriously ill by a vet.

They were also 55 per cent less likely to be transitioned on to a medical diet because of health problems, were assessed as seriously ill by their owner 23 per cent less often and had 16 per cent fewer health disorders if unwell.

None of the reductions were statistically significant, but Prof Knight said that the findings nevertheless “reveal a strong trend”.

The results come despite advice from some veterinary organisations that cats should be fed meat or animal products.

Debate rages

In 2021, in response to a spike in media interest, the British Veterinary Association issued a statement saying that cats were obligate carnivores and should not be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet.

“They require animal-sourced ingredients to provide essential nutrients, such as taurine [an amino acid] and preformed vitamin A, which are minimal or even absent in plant ingredients,” the organisation stated.

Prof Knight said that vets “were understandably cautious about unconventional diets of all kinds” and is set to present what he described as “the wealth” of recent research on vegan diets for pets to the BVA.

Rather than requiring meat or other particular ingredients, he said that pets needed specific nutrients, so cats fed commercially available food labelled as being nutritionally complete for them should receive everything necessary.

Vegan food for cats is available and typically will contain taurine produced synthetically instead of being derived from animal ingredients.

“Manufactured nutritional supplements are designed to have the same nutritional content as those naturally occurring. Indeed, they may be of greater purity, with less contaminants,” he told The National.

In 2021 a study by other scientists looking at more than one thousand cats, some fed a vegan diet, found that levels of gastrointestinal and liver disorders were lower in the vegan animals. These pets also had better body condition scores.

Aside from possible health benefits and animal welfare concerns over livestock farming, Prof Knight said that a vegan diet for cats may also be preferable because of the environmental impact of rearing animals.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that livestock farming contributes 14.5 per cent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

“The global population of kept cats has been estimated at 373 million. Such a huge population has a major ‘ecological pawprint’ when fed meat,” Prof Knight said.

“There are very large environmental benefits offered by vegan pet food, as well as better health outcomes.”

Updated: September 13, 2023, 6:02 PM