Vegan cat diets could cause ‘death’
Vegans are again being warned not to feed their pets cruel and "dangerous" plant-based diets, with vets warning they could cause chronic illness, blindness and even death.
While dogs, like humans, are omnivores and could "in theory" survive on a plant-based diet, cats are "obligate carnivores, which means they are dependent on a meat diet and cannot be healthy or survive without it", said RSPCA scientific officer Dr Sarah Zito.
Dr Richard Gowan from The Cat Clinic in Melbourne said pet owners who fed their cats vegan diets could be engaging in animal cruelty "through naivety".
"I understand the move towards socially acceptable food, but I think people need to make these informed social choices in the best interests of the health of the animal rather than the person," he said.
Dr Gowan said he had seen a few cats with weak bones as a result of being fed deficient diets by "well meaning" owners.
"I don't think we've got many people wanting to feed their cats vegan diets, I think most cat owners are fairly sane," he said.
"We've got two devout vegan staff members who fully appreciate they own little carnivores and if they wanted a vegan pet they'd get a rabbit."
Dr Gowan said cats had evolved as "whole animal eaters" - crickets, lizards, birds - and relied on those animals to access essential nutrients found in plants.
Cats have not evolved the enzymes and body processes that other animals have to digest plant nutrients, meaning they rely on their prey to predigest things like carbohydrates.
In other words, even though vegan pet foods may technically contain the correct nutrients, they "may not be bioavailable to the cat's body". Pure meat diets, however, also have negative health consequences.
Cats require certain essential amino acids and vitamins, deficiency or excessive amounts of which "both have of which have deleterious health effects, from blindness to kidney failure and sudden death from heart disease".
Dr Zito said dogs were "facultative carnivores, which means that they could, in theory, survive on a plant-based diet", but the diet "would need to be carefully formulated to ensure that it would provide the dog with all of the nutrients that they need to be healthy".
"The nutritional sufficiency of commercially available plant-based pet foods and the potential health effects for the pets who eat those foods have not been adequately assessed," she said.
"There is risk that feeding these diets could result in insufficiency of essential nutrients and there is no evidence that there are health benefits from feeding vegan diets to dogs or cats."
Pet Insurance Australia spokeswoman Nadia Crighton said there had been "a lot of hype" lately around vegan pet diets, causing some owners to unexpectedly put their pets in danger of chronic illness.
"This type of diet is especially dangerous for felines," she said. "There is so much misinformation out on the internet in regards to diets for animals, it is really important that pet owners only seek advice from their local vet."