Yes, its true. Today's blog is about trying to feed your cats veggies alone. Before you start throwing things however, i'd like to point out that this Wednesday is Earth Day! The most helpful thing you could do for the Earth on that day is to stop eating meat and meat by products for the day. Here's Ecorazzi's coverage of Farm Sanctuary's "Vegan for a Day Challenge". Give it a try! Another great Earth Day activity would be to watch The Meatrix videos. Very entertaining AND enlightening!
Ok you may now start throwing things.
But seriously brave blog reader...
Today I challenge you to join me on a little journey...
A journey to a land where Sports Illustrated calls a dude who eats only veggies the "Olympian of the Century" (not enough protein my ass :). A world where the highest paid tight-end in the NFL and the lead singer of the raddest band in the land, both turn their noses up at brie and take no cream in their coffee. And a place where the oldest dog is a vegan???
Yes its true folks. And actually, you don't have to travel very far to get to this land since you live there already.
But ok, vegan cats? At least dogs are said to be omnivores (can survive on meat or veggies). Cats are believed to be obligate carnivores which means though they likely need some vegetable matter, they must eat meat in order to survive and would eat primarily meat in their natural habitat. So, there you go, case closed, right? (if you've been reading the blog, you must know by now that the case is not closed :).
I am going to basically focus on cats in the blog today (being a cat owner) but the same basic arguments apply to dogs (just switch the words in your mind as you read). Let me also offer full disclosure and say that upon first thought, I was completely against the idea of this diet myself. I am now interested in trying this diet out on my cuties, but have not done so as of yet.
In fact the thought of putting the critters on such a diet had not even crossed the ole noggin until one day, a month or so ago whilst searching the internets, I came across an article on the topic. There have been a bunch of media reports of late about a growing trend to feed dogs and cats vegan diets. The backlash to the trend has been extraordinary. Just look at the comments section of any of these articles and you'll see an impassioned outcry against said activity. This one on the Huffington Post's website elicited 11 PAGES of highly heated back and forth (mostly back. very little forth actually). The perpetrators of the diet are denounced as incredibly cruel for imposing their beliefs on these poor animals. How could these owners deprive their cats of their natural nutritional needs not to mention tastes? Are they crazy? Who are these freakish animal "activists" who would impose their weirdo morals on a CAT. 'What's next???' they cry. 'Are these freaks going to go to the Serengeti and start picketing the lions with "SAVE THE GAZELLES" posters???'. In fact, I even noticed there were several vegans and vegetarians who chimed in on the merits of maintaining the natural, meat based diet of a cat and that to do anything else was simply cruel.
Diane Sawyer and Good Morning America did a segment on the diet last week. I found the link through vegan fashionista, blogger and all around hot chick Chloé Jo Berman who makes a cameo appearence in the clip with her vegan doggies. (visit Chloé's amazing blog The Girlie Girl Army). They interview several owners who swear by the vegan pet diet and then counter with many "people on the street" and experts who are not so sure the diet is the cat's meow. There is a pet store owner who says something to the effect of "human philosophy should play no part in the animal kingdom. In the wild, dogs wouldn't think twice about eating a chicken". A veterinarian says something like, "Yes its possible for a cat to be vegan, but that's like saying its possible for a human to live on the south pole. Its true but very few of us would choose to do it". They finish off the segment with Diane Sawyer conducting a little uncontrolled experiment where they bring a dog on set and offer him both a vegan and a meat based treat to see which one he goes for (he doesn't like either, and then ends up eating both).
Ok, I'll get straight to my bottom line folks (after which i'll attempt to pick the above arguments to pieces). If you do your research, and if you let down your guard for a second and listen to what the vegan pet owners are saying, you'll hear them saying one thing clearly. "My cat is doing great". "They love the food". Yes, i've heard now of many people who say that they have tried this diet for their cats, and that the cats not only live long healthy lives, but also thrive. To be sure, there are also stories of where it did not seem to work to the complete exclusion of meat. There seem to be a small percentage of cats that require some extra attention. Having done the research, however and having contacted owners, I am convinced that there definitely are many cats living long happy, healthy lives on it with no special magic. The magic is that the missing nutrients are added to the vegan cat food that would normally be found in the meat.
• "Cats should eat their natural diet".
• "These people are depriving cats of how they would be eating in the natural environment".
• "Human philosophy has no place in the animal kingdom"
If we take a moment to look closer, these end up being pretty hilarious. Simply through the act of keeping a pet in our home, our pets are far from being "natural". They are in our living rooms. If we care so much about our pets being natural, then why don't we set them free into nature? That pet store owner may be right that human philosophy should play no role in the animal kingdom, but its quite laughable at this point in human history to think that it hasn't. If the pet store owner is so concerned about dogs living according to their natural ways then why does she own a PET STORE??? (pet stores being perhaps the thing that MOST prevents animals from living according to their most natural selves. no actually that would be the factory farm. in any case...) So are we just going to pick and choose which unnatural things are ok for us to impose on our pets based on what's convenient??? Are we??? We are? Ok. Well then that brings me to my next point.
The food. This natural food that we're feeding our pets that so closely mimics their natural diet. Have you looked at the list of ingredients in your pet food? It is one of the most processed foods on the planet. Most brands of pet food contain "downed" or diseased meats. And even if you feed your cat the most organic, pure ingredients, how often in nature do you think a cat eats a cow? The thought of my kitty Huck trying to take down a Holstein is a pretty funny image actually :). Are cats going into the water to hunt fish? (Have you tried giving your cat a bath?) And even if they could catch a few sardines in the shallows, do you know how big a tuna is? (hint: chicken of the sea is something of a misnomer here... cow of the sea would be closer). Are we going to just say "meat is meat" here for convenience's sake and its basically all the same to a cat anyway??? Are we??? We are? Ok. Well then that brings me to my next point.
Vets say that the reason cats must eat meat is mainly because of their requirement for the amino acid Taurine found only in meat (or synthesized in a lab). This is why vegan cat food is supplemented with Taurine and minerals like it. What I found interesting was that each of the many meat based cat brands that I buy, ALL have "Taurine" on their labels as an added ingredient! I found this quite interesting... So we're to believe that cats need Taurine to survive, that only meat can provide it, yet we also have to supplement their meat with it? I was pretty sure that cats didn't get Taurine added to their "natural" diets when they lived in the wild centuries ago. I was also sure that a pet food company wouldn't be adding expense to their product without a reason... so I investigated further. I found that Taurine is added to canned cat food because Taurine is destroyed during the cooking process! Cats can't survive on a vegetable diet any more than they can survive on a diet of cooked meat!!! So either way, we're feeding cats a bunch of stuff that's unnatural and inadequate nutritionally and we're throwing in a bunch of vitamins and supplements to make it ok. Hmmm.
Ok, fine, so we've established that inherently as a pet owner we're not even close to helping our animals live "naturally". They live in our homes not the forest. We are feeding them foods which they would not normally eat or need to be supplemented for their survival. We dress them up for Halloween. We have no leg to stand on.
Which brings me to my last point. I will say that one thing we can glean from all these impassioned pro-meat commenters and interviewees is that they certainly do seem to care about animals. Their impassioned attacks, however venomous, are directed toward preserving the welfare of their pets. They decry these vegan fundamentalists only because they feel that the welfare of a beloved, sentient pet is at stake. Interesting how both parties actually seem to be on the same side. The side of preventing cruelty to animals. So where's the problem? What these obviously well meaning people are missing is that it is the vegan owners who are allowing themselves to pull back the proverbial wool from their eyes and take into account ALL the animals in our scenario rather than only their own beloved pet. They are taking into account the thousands of animals tortured and killed each day to make that pet food. They are choosing to not support our backward factory farming system. And they are looking past their biases to allow themselves to at least consider the possibility that the cats actually might like the stuff!
I can only speak for myself, but I have no desire to stop nature. I don't want to go to the Serengeti and filibuster a pride of lions. But the ability to ponder whether a fleeting pleasure such as meat eating is worth another's suffering is a natural ability of a human. And apparently the ability to survive and thrive on a diet of supplemented vegetables is a natural ability of his pet cat.
Will the cats enjoy the food less? I have no clue. I have heard stories from some people saying that their cats seem to enjoy the food very much and live long healthy lives. I am going to look past my biases and try actually believing them for a minute. Who knows? I can say that I have 4 cats of my own who jump all over me while i'm eating food (vegan food) and beg for a morsel.
I also have no idea whether the diet will ultimately work for my cats. I've read that thousands of cats have done it successfully, but that a small percentage require more careful monitoring and adjustments of nutrients to thrive. This is true of any diet though (many dogs, cats and humans have food allergies and require special considerations). I would call it a success even if I could feed them just a little less of the factory farm stuff. In any case, the reasons that people give to not even TRY the diet just fall short. And even if cats do enjoy it less than a meat based diet... Is a pampered, warm, safe, beloved cat's full enjoyment of his meals a justification for me to kill and torture so many of his peers? I think not.
Is a human's?
This concludes the philosophical portion of the blog. However, a helpful reader's comment made me realize that it would be great if I delved further into some of the cautionary and practical aspects of the topic:
With dogs it seems a healthy animal on a vegan diet is a no brainer. Cats are a different story. I'm convinced it can happen without too much effort, but i'm also convinced that this is not necessarily the case. Very serious health problems and death can occur if we are not paying close attention and if we're not willing to adapt whenever necessary. Therefore, one should consider very carefully before trying a diet such as this one. Because it is such an unpopular concept, there are very few companies to support it, and fewer scientific studies about it. This makes it difficult for us as pioneers and we must therefore be extra vigilant. It would be a shame if the diet is actually perfectly healthy when implemented correctly yet gets a bad name simply because the proper methods are not being used. And of course, its possible that some cats simply can't tolerate it. I've heard mixed things about one of the company's products (not all bad things, mixed things) and its made me to decide to go with one over the other. Being such small operations with not a lot of customers, it must be hard for them to insure consistency in the nutritional content of their products. I've heard that the nutritional analysis that is done by most cat suppliers to insure consistency is prohibitively expensive for these vegan cat companies. All this in mind, I would say you should make sure you are committed to the following before trying this diet out on your cat:
1. Do research and talk to other owners to gain from their experience. Join a group like http://vegancats.ning.com so you are part of a supportive community.
2. Recognize that you are not certain it will work.
3. Recognize that even taking away some factory farmed stuff is a good thing and you don't have to go all vegan.
4. Commit to carefully monitoring your cat for symptoms, and be prepared to test the pH of its urine at least every few months.
5. I've read that plenty of water, and NO dry food are helpful in keeping a vegan cat healthy. One of those electric water things is a good option to encourage water drinking since cats often like their water moving (maybe just turn it on when you leave the house and overnight to save electricity).
6. See if you can find a vet that is supportive of the diet (They do exist! ask people for recs). But take what any vet says with a grain of salt. (take what I say with a grain of salt as well).
7. If you have an outdoor cat, consider letting them hunt for their own food as much as possible.
8. Support more humane meat options in our food system. Sadly, there's incredibly few options out there (organic and "free range" most often say nothing about the horrid conditions an animal must live under unfortunately due to lack of regulation). Go see FRESH to see the exciting things that are possible in this area with our support. Maybe someday soon there will be a properly regulated "humane" seal so you'll know your catfood came from a better place.
9. Most of all, don't take my word for it. After all, I haven't even tried it yet! I may talk a good game, but I don't know the answer here. It sounds very possible for a cat to both enjoy and thrive on the diet and i'm going to give it a try, but do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Consult with an open minded, knowledgeable vet throughout.
• An article about a cat who prefers the veggie diet!
• Big name brand "Pedigree" dog food just released a line of vegetarian dog food (only currently available in India). Thanks to VEGdaily for that link.
• Here is the "Facebook" for vegan cat owners! http://vegancats.ning.com
Great tips and advice and like minded people to trade stories and advice with.
• The pet food that i'm going to try is called "vegekit" found here: http://www.vegepet.com/
Also has great information on the site.
• http://www.vegancats.com is a reseller with slightly discounted products and also offers starter packs for cheap so you can give it a low risk trial.
• other vegan cat foods include evolution brand (don't confuse with "evolve" brand) and ami treats.
p.s. - All pictures on the blog to date have been taken with my own camera. The two in today's blog were snagged off the web.
p.p.s Also, here are some excellent interviews with two great authors about our favorite topic here at the blog:
Peter Singer interview on Salon.com
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson interview on salon.com