Thinking about putting your pet on a meat free diet?
Proceed with caution
It is predicted that by 2040 only 40% of the global population will be consuming meat. A ginormous shift in the diet choices of humans, this can be in part put down to the reported impact that such a change in food choices can have on our planet, leading people to opt to reduce or eliminate meat and/or dairy products. Humans can function well on a vegan or vegetarian diet, but can our pets?
We’re seeing more and more vegetarian and vegan kibbles show up in the pet food market, leading some people to think that plant-based nutrition is a good idea for their cat or dog. According to a study published in PLOS One, over a third of pet owners in English-speaking countries have considered putting their pets on a plant-based diet. Yet experts warn to be cautious.
The truth is that science is sparse in this area. We know that forgoing meat or being completely plant-based can be healthy for humans, but that doesn’t mean the same rules apply to our pets - particularly for felines.
Lisa Freeman from the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, says the answers to whether cats can be healthy on a vegetarian diet is an “unequivocal no”. Cats are obligate or ‘true’ carnivores, meaning that they rely on animal flesh for certain nutrients. As humans, we can convert beta-carotene from plant foods into active vitamin A, but cats can’t, they have to get this vitamin from meat. There are also some fatty acids that are essential for cats, which are only found in animal fats according to Jennifer Adolphe, an animal nutritionist at the University of Saskatchewan. And let's not forget the importance of Taurine for cats, which can be found in mammalian tissues – Taurine deficiency in cats can cause heart disease and vision problems.
It is possible to add supplements to your cat’s foods, but Jennifer warns that you don’t just add these ingredients and hope for the best, as supplements don’t necessarily work in the same way as getting nutrients in a more natural way.
Dogs are different from cats, but that doesn’t mean you should put your pup on a vegan diet without a second thought. There are amino acids that are essential for dogs that are not for humans – therefore we can’t feed them the exact same diet that we consume. According to a 2018 review of plant-based diets for dogs, canines aren’t able to produce vitamin D3 easily from sunlight the way that humans do, they have to get this from animal products.
Overall, it’s important that we remember our pets require different diets to us in order to get the nutrition they need to thrive. A lot more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of plant-based diets for pets before we would recommend reducing or eliminating meat in their diets.
Don’t forget that on the flip side of this argument, we have the rising popularity of raw meat feeding, which has its own challenges that we have discussed before.
For now, we believe high-protein, grain free, and low carb diets are the best for your pet. And if you would like our advice on the best pet food for your own pet, feel free to speak to our in-house nutritionist who would be more than happy to help you. We also recommend discussing your pet's diet with your vet if you are thinking about making changes, or are worried about their health.