Study surveyed cat parents about diets, health problems
Plos One published the study, which involved a survey of 1,369 cat parents. Approximately 9 percent of the cat parents fed their fur babies a vegan diet. Then, the survey asked about 22 different health issues. Forty-two percent of cat parents who fed their feline friends meat-based diets reported at least one health issue. In contrast, 37 percent of cat parents who fed their fur baby vegan diets reported at least one health problem. The vegan cats also scored higher overall on other health indicators; however, the differences were not statistically significant.
Additionally, the study found that parents of cats on vegan diets claimed that they took their cats to the vet less often. Furthermore, the vegan cats were on fewer medications. Finally, parents of vegan cats were more likely to say that their vet would describe their fur baby as “healthy.”
While the findings are correlational, they suggest that alternative diets are beneficial for cats.
Healthy diets for cats
Cats require a diet rich in particular nutrients, such as the essential amino acid taurine. Some of those nutrients only occur naturally in meat. However, cat food companies can manufacture synthetic versions of these nutrients. They can also source them from certain plants. Then, the companies can supplement vegan food with the same nutrients inherent in meat-based pet food.
“Biologically, what cats need is not meat, but a specific set of nutrients,” Professor Andrew Knight of the University of Winchester said. His team led the study about cat diets. “There’s no scientific reason why you can’t supply all the necessary nutrients through plant additives.”
Granted, some cats – including those on vegan diets – may be sourcing meat outside of the home. While Knight said most of the vegan cats in the study were indoor cats, it’s possible that there was “some supplemental hunting going on.”
Vegan diets increasingly popular for cats
Still, this study is an important step in learning more about alternative pet diets. These diets are increasingly popular as pet parents become more and more concerned about the substantial environmental impact of pet food production.
Not everyone is jumping on the vegan bandwagon, however. The British Veterinary Association previously advised against alternative diets for pets. Now, it is reconsidering that stance.
“There is increasing interest among pet owners around alternative diets for pets and while there is a lot of ongoing research into the impacts of vegan diets in particular, there has been a lack of robust data mapping the health consequences of this diet over time,” said Justine Shotton, the association’s senior vice-president.
She continued: “In light of ongoing research, the British Veterinary Association recently convened a companion animal feeding working group which will inform our recommendations going forward. In the meantime, owners should speak to their vet if they are considering changing their pet’s diet.”