Dogs, cats differ on vegetarian diet options
By Trisha Gurley
Twice a day, my cat Milton runs to the kitchen. He hears a sound that will rouse him from sleep or batting paper wads. This rustling sound makes him dart up to whoever is responsible for the noise. He begins to purr and dance around our ankles. Lo, it is mealtime. It’s usually around 6:45am, and if need be, another round 12 hours later. Milton isn’t the type to eat everything in his bowl, so he’s always got some kibble ready and we just need to top it off. He is not the cheapest cat to feed since he requires special diabetic cat food, but he enjoys it and it’s what he needs. Every now and then he gets a treat. Maybe a small bite of chicken or some crumbled bits of tortilla chips (he dove headfirst into a bag once — the little guy loves a salty snack).
Both my husband Kris and I could live happily without eating meat. We haven’t gone fully vegetarian but we’ve cut back. If anything, we both love veggies. Our cat, not so much. At most he sniffs our plates of steamed broccoli and walks away. The debate of whether or not humans should consume meat is another subject for another column. But what about your dog or cat being vegetarian or vegan?
I will start with the disclosure that I have never tried to feed a vegetarian diet to any pet I’ve had (to date, I’ve only had cats). Hence, the research I did for this article is also for my own benefit. Your experience may vary.
Let’s begin with our doggie friends. Any pet parent should be concerned with what their pet eats, particularly if you’re like most people and buy commercial food. Bear in mind that whatever the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deems unfit for human consumption will often end up in your pet’s food. These “unfits” often contain hormones, antibiotics, and whatever else mass-produced meat contains.
Dogs are omnivores and can be fed a vegetarian diet provided they are getting the nutrients they need. There is also the issue of flavor; a dog who’s been on a meat-based diet will likely turn his nose up at a vegetarian meal. Your dog needs a balanced intake of protein, calcium and vitamin D to maintain health. Some dogs require amino acids such as L-carnitine and taurine — amino acids that aren’t often found in commercial dog foods. A result of this amino acid deficiency is cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening condition where the heart enlarges and cannot function. Barring making your own meatless dog food, you can check out vegetarian dog food brands such as Nature’s Recipe and F & O Alternative Pet Products. Newman’s Own makes organic vegan treats.
Cats, of course, are much more complicated. There’s a reason they’re finicky eaters; their bodies demand it. The main issue is the amino acid taurine (commercial pet food companies usually get this from mollusks). A deficiency in taurine will result in retinal degeneration and blindness. Cats also require a considerable amount of vitamin A, and unlike humans and dogs, their bodies can’t obtain it from carotene — in other words, don’t give your cat pureed carrots for vitamin A. Without sufficient vitamin A, cats risk hearing loss and a myriad of other problems with bones, skin, and intestines.
Other nutrients such as vitamin B12, niacin, and thiamine are requirements whose best source is meat. Cats need more protein and less fiber than most vegetarian diets will give them. Even the Vegetarian Society of the UK espouses a meat-based diet for cats. If you wish to attempt a vegetarian diet with your cat, you must supplement his food or make sure to find a vegetarian cat food that has these supplements in it. You might want to check out supplements such as Vegecat and Vegekit to add to your cat’s food.
We all do what we think is best for our pets, and sometimes what our pets want or need isn’t what we as humans would prefer. If your pet thrives on a vegan or vegetarian diet, wonderful. But if after a few weeks you see your pet isn’t adapting to a new diet, it’s time to rethink the changes. In the end, what matters most is your pet’s happiness and health.