Owners reported less digestive or liver disease than those whose cats ate conventional diets
The following story was provided by the University of Guelph:
A small but growing number of cat owners are doing without traditional cat food and are switching their cats to a vegan diet. Now researchers at the University of Guelph are doing some of the earliest studies to see how these animals are doing.
“We know from surveys that about one percent of cat owners feed their cats completely vegan, but the health and wellbeing of these cats have not been documented,” said lead researcher Dr. Sarah Dodd, a PhD student in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College at U of G. “So we decided that if this happens, we should find out how these cats are doing.”
Several recent surveys have shown that many pet owners are interested in “unconventional” diets for their pets, including vegan foods. And while some pet food manufacturers are now commercializing such foods, it is not clear what impact they have on animals.
Dodd, Dr. Adronie Verbrugghe from the Department of Clinical Studies and colleagues at U of G-Population Medicine Dr. Cate Dewey and Deep Khosa completed one of the first studies to examine owners’ perceptions of cat health.
Their findings, recently published in BMC Veterinary Research, offer one of the first snapshots of the health of cats fed a vegan diet.
“The study forms the basis for further research into this growing feeding trend,” said Verbrugghe.
The study interviewed a large group of cat owners about their cats’ health, including some owners who fed their cats plant-based foods. The latter group reported that their animals had no more health problems than cats fed meat.
The results surprised the study’s authors, who indicated that the survey was based on owners ‘perceptions of their pets’ health and may not reflect how cats fared on a plant-based diet.
Cats are considered obligatory carnivores, which means that they have stricter nutritional needs than more flexible feeds. Research shows cats get the nutrients they need from meat, including taurine and vitamin B12, Dodd said. Without these nutrients, cats can experience health problems, including liver, heart, skin, and eye diseases. Also, the acidity of a meat-based diet could help cats avoid problems like urinary tract disease and kidney stones, she added.
The researchers expected that owners of cats fed a vegan diet would report some of these known health concerns, particularly urinary and heart conditions. However, they reported fewer digestive or liver disorders than those whose cats ate conventional diets. They also reported that their cats had more ideal body conditions than conventionally fed animals.
“We were surprised with these results,” said Dodd. “In fact, we haven’t found any disease or illness that was more common in plant-fed cats – at least according to the owners.”
She cautioned that when interpreting results from survey-based studies like these, “one thing to keep in mind is that lack of evidence is not evidence of lack of effect. There may be prejudices associated with survey-based studies. “
The researchers used an online questionnaire completed by 1,325 people in Canada and the United States. A little more than 18 percent of those surveyed said they gave their cats a plant-based diet.
Owners were asked to rate pet health by selecting from lists of potential health issues and comparing their cat’s body composition to the images provided.
Research has shown that most people judge their cats’ bodies badly. Therefore, this finding needs to be further explored with more objective studies, Dodd said.
It is possible that cats following a vegan diet will not develop health problems, or that it will take years for nutritional imbalances from vegan diets to become symptoms and some diseases to go undetected.
“Ideally, we would like to be able to make objective assessments of the health of these cats,” said Verbrugghe. “I think this study is a good place to start, but more research is needed to fully understand how cats are doing on plant-based diets.”
For those considering vegan diets for their cats, Dodd strongly recommends a homemade diet. Consider commercial vegan cat food, she said, as some commercial products may be whole; The researchers are also studying these products.
“If you switch your pet to an unconventional diet, tell your veterinarian. Pets following these diets may need more monitoring so that potential problems can be identified and corrected early on. “
Funding for this research was provided through a Mitacs Accelerate grant in partnership with Vecado.