Fri, Jan 13, 23
With the growing popularity of vegan diets, you might be wondering if your cat can be vegan too. Most cat foods rely on meat to provide lots of protein and other essential nutrients, but is it possible to replace those with plant-based alternatives?
Humans are omnivores, which means that they can eat both plants and animals and still get the nutrition they need. Choosing a vegan diet is a good way to make more thoughtful, healthy, and sustainably-minded decisions about the meals you eat. The meat industry uses enormous amounts of water, land, and power which can often factor into your decision to choose a plant-based diet for yourself.
You might also go vegan because you don’t like the taste of meat, or because you want to make a lifestyle change and experiment with some new foods. There are many factors that play a role in the choices you make around diet.
However, cats aren’t capable of making an informed choice about their diet. When it comes to your cat’s nutrition, it’s important to do your research and consult your vet before making any big changes. Your kitty relies on you to give them healthy, tasty meals that will keep them purring by your side for years to come.
Are cats omnivores like humans? The short answer is no. Cats are carnivores, and their biology and makeup are optimized for a meat-first diet. In fact, a vegan diet can be extremely unhealthy or even dangerous to your kitty.
Read on to find out why meat is the best source of protein for your cat, and what you can do to support their wellness and happiness by picking the right cat food.
What Do Cats Naturally Eat?
If you want to know why a vegan diet is unhealthy for your cat, the answer is fairly simple.
Today’s house cats are descended from small wildcats which lived near human settlements thousands of years ago. These wildcats hunted small mammals and reptiles, such as mice and snakes. They were carnivores, relying on a diet of whole-prey meat to survive.
Over time, people realized how useful it was to have a cat around the house. After all, they ate bugs and other pests, and protected food stores from hungry rodents. This was the beginning of the long friendship between cats and humans.
While today’s housecats might be tame, they haven’t changed much in an evolutionary sense. Unlike dogs, which adapted to a more omnivorous diet alongside humans, cats are still primarily carnivores.
This means that their diet should be primarily meat-based, according to what their bodies require. They have the same nutritional needs as wildcats.
In today’s modern world, your cat doesn’t rely on mice to survive, but they still have the same instincts to stalk and pounce on small animals — or a dangling piece of string or hair tie. They’re perfectly suited to a meat-based diet because they can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from animal proteins.
Let’s talk about the specific nutrients that cats require that can be found in meat-based diets.
What Nutrients Do Cats Need To Be Healthy?
There are a few critical nutrients that cats get from a mainly carnivorous diet. These are very hard or impossible to replicate with plant-based alternatives and tend to be less bioavailable in non-meat ingredients.
Fortunately, there are lots of great meat-based cat foods available, such as our Chicken & Veggies Recipe for carnivores. By choosing a food with chicken as the first ingredient, you’re ensuring your cat will get all of the essential nutrients found below.
Taurine is a necessary component of any cat’s diet. It’s an essential amino acid, meaning that cats can’t produce taurine for themselves — they need their food to provide the taurine they require to stay happy and healthy.
Taurine is only found in animals and animal-based foods, such as dairy products. There are no plants with enough taurine for your kitty, and most cats on a vegan diet will quickly develop a taurine deficiency.
Without taurine, your cat can develop a number of health problems, including blindness and dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is a dangerous heart condition that damages your cat’s ability to circulate oxygenated blood throughout the body. When left untreated, DCM is eventually fatal.
All cats need vitamin A — it keeps their vision functioning normally, assists in cell division and growth, and helps the immune system protect your cat against disease.
Vitamin A is found in both plants and animals, but its active form only exists in animals. Plants produce carotenoids, which are broken down by stomach enzymes into usable vitamin A.
Your cat doesn’t have the enzymes required to break down plant carotenoids, so a vegan diet will eventually lead to a vitamin deficiency. To stay healthy, your kitty needs to get vitamin A from animal sources.
Protein is important to all mammals, but cats are especially reliant on it. While you can get your protein from plants or animals, cats aren’t so adaptable.
Most plant proteins aren’t easily digestible by your kitty. In fact, cats do not have a biological need for carbohydrates the way that humans do. Their stomach is equipped to extract high-quality proteins from meat, not vegetables (though it’s important to note they can take it from certain high-protein vegetable sources, like pea protein).
If you pick a protein-rich cat food such as our Real Shrimp & Salmon In Savory Sauce, you’ll be providing your cat with the carnivorous diet they’re suited for. Seafood contains plenty of useable proteins that will support your cat in healing, growing, and maintaining healthy skin.
It’s also great for keeping their coat nice and shiny and providing the essential moisture they need to thrive. Now let’s get into the best way to find healthy options for the cats in your life.
How Can I Find the Healthiest Food for My Cat?
Now that you know why a vegan diet isn’t a good option for your kitty, you might be wondering how to pick a healthy cat food that gives your cat the nutrients they need to thrive.
There are a lot of options out there, so this can be a difficult choice. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
First of all, your cat’s food should be high in meat-based protein. As we’ve discussed already, protein is vital to your kitty’s wellbeing, and meat-based protein is the healthiest option for cats — their whole digestive system is optimized for it. Check the ingredients list to make sure that meat is the first thing on the menu.
At Optimeal®, all of our cat foods are based on meat proteins. Whether it’s chicken, turkey, or salmon, you can be sure your kitty will get a hefty serving of the taurine and vitamins they require. Some of our foods, such as our Beef & Rabbit In Savory Sauce Recipe, use two types of animal protein to make sure your cat’s nutritional needs are completely covered. Mixing up the proteins your cat eats will also ensure variety and rotation.
If you’re shopping for cat food, avoid any recipes with a high carbohydrate content. Due to their evolutionary history, cats aren’t good at digesting carbs, and can’t easily convert them into energy.
Cat foods heavy in carbs can lead to nutritional deficiencies, and your kitty might not get enough calories to sustain itself over a long period of time.
When it comes to wet food and dry food, there are benefits on both sides. Your cat might have a personal preference, or they might not care one way or the other. One factor to consider is that wet food also provides a lot of hydration — if your kitty eats exclusively kibble, it can be a good idea to find other ways to get moisture into their diet outside of just the water bowl.
Scientifically, Cats Are Carnivores
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your cat needs a carnivorous diet to live their best life.
There are plenty of good reasons to choose veganism for yourself. You might be looking for a healthier alternative, doing your part to help the planet, or just experimenting with new recipes and ingredients.
However, your cat doesn’t have the same options available. There’s a pretty small range of healthy cat food ingredient decks, and all of them contain some level of meat.
Due to their evolutionary history, your kitty can’t always eat the same type of food that you do — and that’s okay. There are plenty of tasty, healthy cat foods out there that will have them licking their lips and meowing for more.