The natural cat food diet

When it comes to eating and keeping fit, there are many different fads for people diets and meal plans, and when it comes to our pets, it's no different.

With new varieties of this and that type of pet food out in the stores or advertised in the media, isn't it hard to stop wondering what flavor, what brand, what size, what to get next... each time you hit the supermarket or pet shop?

Tabby cat amongst leavesCredit: User:gracey / morgueFile

Cats = Carnivores

One particular diet fad that is worth thinking twice about is cats going vegan. It is always important to remember that cats are born carnivores, and have a physical body structure and digestive system specifically built to live and thrive on animal meat

With an instinct and desire to hunt and kill, and where possible, feed on fresh prey, to give cats anything plant-related is, in my opinion, in direct opposition to their natural eating patterns. “Different animals have different requirements, some being designed to cope with diets low in nutrients, others having very specific needs.” (Agar, p. xvii) And this too, applies to cats. 

Whenever a vegan approach is considered, felines must be treated differently and according to their dietary needs. Cats have specific requirements and are not as adaptable in their food habits as some other animals are, such as dogs. 

Cats should neither be expected, or forced to eat what is unnatural for them. “Carbohydrate is considered a non-essential nutrient for dogs, and particularly cats.” (Agar, p. 6) While dogs are known scavengers and omnivores, they are most likely to be satisfied with a varied mix of protein, fats and carbohydrates (such as vegetables and green matter) in their diet – this is not so for cats.

Deficiency Risks

By excluding meat, a vegan diet on its own cannot meet the nutritional requirements that cats need. Supplements, such as Vitamin A and synthetic taurine, have to be routinely added to meals, and are expected to provide sufficient nutritional balance.

“Most veterinarians strongly recommend against feeding cats a vegetarian diet. While vegetarian cat food can be supplemented and formulated to meet AAFCO standards, there is a paucity of scientific data regarding bioavailability of essential nutrients and long-term
health effects. The bioavailability of synthetic taurine in these foods, for example, is unknown.” (Wakefield, 2005)

Without supplementation in a vegan diet, there is high risk of nutrient deficiencies developing to the detriment of the animal. Cats require a number of essential amino acids in their diets and one of these is taurine. When deficient in taurine, cardiomyopathy and loss of sight can result.

Vitamin A is another necessary nutrient. “Cats need a considerable amount of vitamin A, which they cannot biosynthesize from carotene, as dogs and humans do. Insufficient amounts may cause loss of hearing as well as problems with skin, bones, and intestinal and reproductive systems.” (PETA, 2011)

Seen in this light, a vegan diet does not appear natural nor fully health-promoting for cats. I believe Sandie Agar (2001, p. 26) is rightly true in saying . . . “cats are obligate carnivores whose bodies are programmed to function on a diet consisting mostly of protein and fat . . . cats cannot be vegetarians.”