Monday, April 20, 2009

VEGAN CATS? Ok, its official...I've now heard everything.

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 ChloƩ Jo Berman who makes a cameo appearence in the clip with her vegan doggies. (visit ChloƩ'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 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.

Much Love,

• 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!
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:
Also has great information on the site. 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

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson interview on


  1. Great post!

    My two dogs are vegans. I don't have cats, but if I did, I'd definitely try the vegan food.

  2. Great post, and good luck with your cats diets'. Their curiosity about your food is a great sign.
    Actually, I don't think companion animals who simply eat meat based pet food get enough nutrients- if they lived outdoors they would eat vegetables and fruits as well- few people think to feed their animals a diverse diet.
    For instance, watch how much kitties love brocolli! :)

  3. Very interesting! I have been vegan for several years now. I want to switch my dogs over to a vegan diet. Can someone recommend which vegan wet foods and dry foods are the best? Also, are there any good vegan dog web sites, message boards, forums, or blogs? What kinda treats and snacks can vegan dogs have?

  4. Hey thanks for all the comments guys.

    anon, I don't know a lot about the veggie dog stuff, but I know of a link on the GGA that talks a bit about it.

    Her dogs love the V-dog brand, and this site has some info. Its a good start...


  5. Awesome post, thanks so much for writing about this issue!

  6. Hey Eric,
    Thanks for the awesome post (again.) Great stuff. Wanted to share my personal experience for what it's worth: my sweet rescued boy kitty is within the percentage of cats who really didn't do well at all on a vegan diet. In fact, he almost died...twice. It was the Evolution canned cat food, and I've heard the same from other hardcore human vegans, including Jenny Stein, director of the phenomenal documentary Peaceable Kingdom. Her male kitty blocked like mine (urinary tract) and was in a life-threatening situation. Sooo...moral of the story is, be extra extra careful, especially with male cats. I've come to terms (for myself) that I'm just not comfortable veganizing my cats and will focus on veganizing omnivores instead. My poor feline patient has to be on special "urinary" canned cat for the rest of his life. If he blocks again, they'll cut off his pee pee, and that's owie, so no thank you. But my other kitty gets good natural catfood with rice and peas and carrots and all that good stuff in it, so he's eating fewer animals than he otherwise would be. Everybody's got to decide for themselves what they feel comfortable with, but wanted to share my own experience having "been there, done that"...

  7. Thanks so much for posting that Marisa! It inspired me to write an addendum that gets into more of those kinds of specifics to be sure no one is thinking that this should be undertaken lightly.

  8. There was an interesting discussion about this on my facebook page that I thought I would put here:

    "It's hard for me to say why I wouldn't personally put my cat on a Vegan diet (obviously as I am Vegan). But for one I can say that I saw the humor in the point that a cat isn't ever going to eat a cow in the wild...but my grandparents also had "outdoor" cats that would constantly snack on field mice that they loved to hunt down. And even my indoor cat shows me on a regular basis how much she loves bugs (gross, I know). I guess my biggest reason for not putting my cat on a Vegan diet though is the same reason I'm not an animal activist. I'd have a hard time imposing my beliefs on anyone kitty included. I'd love to live in a compassionate world...I'm just not really a good person to be the one to put the pressure on."


    "I think those are great points and I agree. I don't want to impose my beliefs either. The only thing I would say is that by owning an indoor cat we are already imposing our beliefs on them. We tell them where they will live and what they will eat with very limited choices. If they run into the hall or out the door, we bring them back. We have them fixed and taken to the vet. We can say we are doing this for their own good but we could say that about the vegan diet as well. Also by buying cat food we are imposing our beliefs on the factory farm animals. By supporting it, we are telling those animals where they will live and what they will eat (and how they will die). If I lived in the burbs or the country, then I would just let my cat eat whatever it wanted outside and give it the choice to also eat what i gave it as an option. In my apt, when my kitties want to eat a bug or mouse, i let them eat it. But with all my beliefs being imposed anyway on cats and factory farmed animals, for me, since I hear that cats may actually like this option and thrive, then I see that as a better option and ill at least try it. I see it as switching from one imposed belief to another."

  9. ERock,

    In regards to the Facebook comments:

    This is very sad! BILLIONS of animals are living in hell, tortured and suffering and dying every day around the world and people can't spend one hour a week of their lives to be the animals' voice. There is so much apathy in the world. This is why animal cruelty will never end. It's not enough to just go vegan. It is our moral imperative to actively campaign to end the suffering of these precious souls. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem!

    Not too long ago in this country it was perfectly acceptable to keep another human being as a slave. Do you think slavery would have ended if people just sat on their butts and said, "I'd have a hard time imposing my beliefs on a slave owner. I'd like to live in a world where other human beings aren't beaten and tortured, but I'm not one to put pressure on anyone"


  10. Vegan parents forcing their carnivore to be an herbivore = Christian parents forcing their gay child to be straight?

  11. I don't agree Julie. For one, a gay child is attracted to men only. Its inborn into him. Its not possible to force him to be any other way. Even if a parent was somehow able to physically force their son to only be with women, the son would still only be attracted to men. Not so with cats. They love to eat plants. In fact, even commercial cat food is made up of a high percentage of plants (because its cheaper for the industry, and the cats love it). So what we're talking about here is making your cat eat mostly plants or if they will, then all plants. The difference is that the cats actually like the taste so the forcing is moot. Would they prefer some meat in their diet? Certainly possible. Its also possible that they would even more prefer a live mouse and cricket for lunch everyday rather than processed cow with added vitamins. Its also possible that they'd prefer never to go to the vet or to be neutered. its also possible they'd prefer to live outside. who knows? By owning a cat we are inherently forcing them to do lots of things, but for the most part they really don't seem to mind all that much. But if you have a problem with forcing them to do things, then you should not be a cat owner because even if it doesn't feel like it, you're forcing them to do lots of things everyday.

    Finally, lets assume that somehow we know that our cat is suffering tremendously from eating plants. What is it that makes your one cat's life more valuable than the hundreds of chickens and cows who you are forcing to live a short life of torture and confinement each year? They feel fear and pain and love just like your cat. It might be tough to cuddle up with a cow on your couch during movie night, but to me that doesn't make it ok to send him to Auschwitz. I ask you Julie, why not spread more love and less suffering in the world? What's wrong with that?

    What amazes me is our capacity for denial. We love our animals so, and yet out of sight out of mind. Julie, what you're not seeing is that you and vegan cat owners actually want the same exact thing. For our animals to be treated humanely. The difference is, that at the moment, you only can feel love for the animal right in front of you while a vegan is doing their best to extend that love to all. I hope you open your heart and can at least see the good that a vegan cat owner accomplishes even if you don't decide to become one yourself.

  12. Hi! I love this post and it's inspired me to try my own cat on a vegan diet. The only thing I disagree with is your encouragement of letting outdoor cats hunt as much as they want. Many birds have gone extinct because of hunting by domesticated cats, including the laughing owl. I know my cat would probably love to be allowed to hunt but she has a lot of unfair advantages over those poor birds and mice.

  13. I'm with you Eliza. I'm not crazy about saying "let your cat hunt". But I think its a choice between two evils. If your cat is eating meat anyway, then its likely you're supporting a very cruel existence for hundreds of animals a year. On the other hand, if your cat is able to support itself by hunting, then it will need less cat food, and you'll be supporting less of the factory farms. Also, the animals the cat kills will have been able to live a free life up to that moment. And your cat will have been performing its natural instincts. Its a complex question of course and though this explanation sounds good at the moment, i don't know if there's a simple answer. To me, allowing hunting seems a better option at the moment. Thanks for the comment!

  14. If you like to listen to your research whilst doing the washing up, you can hear Cats: can they be vegan?, the latest episode of The Vegan Option internet radio show.

    I talk to three vets with an interest in the subject - Lorelei Wakefield (the only person to publish research on this), Andrew Knight (pro-vegan-cat campaigner) and Jean Hofve (skeptical holistic vet). And Erin Red drops in.