Vegan diet for cats: A healthy choice or a risky trend?

A recent study has stirred the debate on whether cats can safely thrive on a vegan diet. The research, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, surveyed over a thousand cat owners to assess the health of their feline companions on vegan versus meat-based diets. The study, however, leaves us with more questions than definitive answers.

What did the study involve?

The authors of the study surveyed 1,369 cat owners, who fed their cats either a vegan or meat-based diet, about their cats’ health. Respondents were mostly female (91%) and represented a range of ages. Most lived in the UK, with others residing in Europe, North America or Oceania.

Vegan diet for cats: A healthy choice or a risky trend?
Vegan diet for cats: A healthy choice or a risky trend?

Most (about 65%) had themselves adopted some form of diet to reduce meat consumption – being either vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian (fish only), or reducing their meat consumption. A small portion (9%) fed their cats a vegan diet in spite of their own dietary choices.

The owners were asked about their cat’s health, including specific health conditions, medication use and how often they saw a vet. They were also asked their opinion on how healthy their cat was, and what they believed their vet would say about their cat’s health.

What did the study find?

Overall, the study found no evidence of detrimental health effects in cats fed a vegan diet. In fact, the authors suggest a vegan diet actually leads to health benefits for cats.

The researchers looked at seven indicators of illness and found non-significant reductions in all of them in cats on a vegan diet. These included reduced veterinary visits, reduced use of medications and fewer instances of owners thinking their cats were in poor health.

Non-significance means the researchers didn’t find strong enough evidence to say there was a meaningful difference between the groups – but it doesn’t mean there was no effect (especially since some of the trends were strong).

They found 15 diseases were more common in cats fed meat, while only seven diseases were more common in cats on a vegan diet.

Is a vegan diet better for cats than a meat-based diet?

The study had its limitations. One key drawback was the inability to verify precisely what these cats were consuming, as some may have had occasional meaty treats. Additionally, the study didn’t specify how long the cats were on vegan diets, a crucial factor as deficiency diseases take time to develop.

Experts in feline health stress the importance of longer-term studies with thorough health assessments. They argue that owner-reported health assessments may not be sufficient to determine a cat’s true health, as cats can hide signs of illness well.

While this study adds to a growing body of research challenging the long-held belief that cats must have meat in their diet, it’s clear that more research is needed. If you’re considering a vegan diet for your cat, it’s advisable to consult your veterinarian and opt for commercially prepared vegan pet diets, along with proper nutrient supplementation.

How common is veganism among cat owners?

The study also revealed some interesting insights into the motivations and attitudes of cat owners who choose to feed their cats a vegan diet. The majority of them (78%) were vegan themselves, and most (88%) believed their cats were healthier on a vegan diet.

The main reasons for choosing a vegan diet for their cats were ethical (animal welfare and environmental) and health-related. Some owners also reported difficulties in finding suitable meat-based cat food, or having multiple pets with different dietary needs.

The study also found that most vegan cat owners (83%) were willing to switch their cats to a meat-based diet if their vet advised them to do so. However, some owners expressed distrust or dissatisfaction with their vets, or felt that their vets were biased or uninformed about vegan diets for cats.

What are the implications of the study?

The study highlights the need for more research on the health effects of vegan diets for cats, as well as the need for better communication and education between vets and cat owners. The study also suggests that vegan cat owners are not a homogeneous group, and may have different reasons and preferences for their cats’ diets.

The study concludes that:

[…] vegan diets for cats are a complex and controversial topic, and one that requires further investigation and dialogue. We hope that this study will contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenon, and stimulate further research and discussion.

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