June 19, 2019 Everyday Medicine

Should cats have a plant based-diet to save the environment?

An outdoor cat looking for food

Should cats have a plant based-diet to save the environment?

June is Adopt-a Cat Month. For the entire month, I’m devoting my blog posts to issues important to feline families. Today’s blog post will focus on plant-based diets and feline dietary requirements.

A recent publication in the British medical journal, The Lancet, which was reported in the New York Times, recommended a plant-based diet for the health of humans and the planet. Pet owners often try to align their pet’s lifestyle with their own, which inevitably brings up the question of plant-based diets for cats.

Designed to eat meat

Cats are obligate carnivores. They need to eat meat. Everything about a cat is designed for meat consumption. They have sharp teeth for ripping and tearing prey and a short intestinal tract because digesting meat does not have the same digestive requirements as tough plant matter. Compare cats to cows: cows have wide, flat teeth designed to chew grains and complicated intestines with a multi-chambered stomach to digest plant matter.

Dietary necessities

Cats have several unique nutritional requirements found in meat. My favorite is felinine, an amino acid named for cats. Cats require other special amino acids including: taurine, cysteine, methionine, arginine and lysine. Feline diets must contain vitamins A and D, as well as the B vitamins pyroxidine, cobalamin and niacin. Compared to other animals, cats cannot synthesize significant amounts of arachidonic acid, making it an essential feline nutrient. Many of these nutrients I have listed are not found in plant material or are in such low levels that cats will become deficient in these nutrients if fed an exclusively plant-based diet without supplementation.

“But I found a feline vegan diet on the internet!”

Yes, some companies offer plant-based diets for cats. An American study evaluated two such diets and found them deficient in amino acids, arachidonic acid and vitamins despite the manufacturer’s claim of nutritional adequacy. A separate study found European feline vegetarian diets low in taurine, calcium phosphorus and vitamins.

While a plant-based diet may help decrease global warming, the Lancet study did not recommend a plant-based diet for all humans. Humans with inadequate protein intake should continue to eat meat. I would add your cat to that list of those who should continue consuming a meat-based diet.