Vegan diets are just as healthy for cats and dogs as meat-based pet foods, according to a study that will fuel a dispute over whether owners should feed their pets plant-based meals.
Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor at the University of Winchester, said his research showed that cats and dogs had as good or better health outcomes on a plant-based diet than on a meat diet, provided that it was carefully supplemented with synthetic nutrients.
Knight’s findings came after warnings that pet owners could be breaking the 2006 Animal Welfare Act if they did not feed an “appropriate diet” that met their dog’s nutritional needs – a £ 20,000 fine or 51 week jail sentence could result.
While the law doesn’t make vegan or vegetarian meals inappropriate, Justine Shotton, President of the British Veterinary Association said, “We wouldn’t recommend feeding a dog vegan because it’s much easier to get the nutritional balance wrong than to do getting it right, which leads to a risk of nutritional deficiencies and related illnesses. “
She added that any change in the diet of pets should be made “only on the advice of a veterinarian with a sound nutritional knowledge” and that people have a “duty of care towards their pets”, including ensuring adequate nutrition.
The head of the veterinary service of the Blue Cross also advised against feeding pets with vegan food. “Pets need a balanced diet, cats in particular have very specific nutritional needs that can hardly be met by a vegan diet,” she said.
The unpublished results from Knight’s research are part of a larger study that found that plant-based pet foods were both nutritionally equivalent to meat-based products and comfortable for pets to eat.
“Dogs, cats and other animal species have a need for nutrients, they don’t need meat or any other special ingredient. They need the nutrients, and provided they are fed to them in a sufficiently tasty and digestible diet that is motivated and digestible, we would expect them to thrive. And that’s what the evidence seems to point to, ”Knight said. “The claim that vegan animals are bound to get sick and that it is kind of cruel to preserve them contradicts scientific evidence and is ignorant.” Cats are carnivores and require several proteins in their diet such as taurine. However, Knight said these are typically broken down in highly processed animal feed and must be synthetically added back to the feed.
He added that it was easier to switch dogs to a plant-based diet because they were omnivores – the result of evolution with humans and scraps of food from prehistoric times.
Guy Sandelowsky, veterinarian and founder of vegan dog food company Omni, said his products, which typically included sweet potatoes, brown rice, and pumpkin, were 30% more protein than most meat-based diets and were carefully formulated to meet all of the dog’s nutritional needs. “It is completely ridiculous to make a blanket statement about plant-based diets,” he said. “When people make the food themselves, they run into problems.”
According to market research company Mintel, 34% of dog owners are interested in feeding their dogs plant-based food on a regular basis. Sandelowsky said this reflects a growing interest in sustainable lifestyles, as pet food causes about 25% of the environmental damage associated with the meat industry, equivalent to 64 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or the same impact on the climate, according to a UCLA study an annual value of driving 13.6 million cars.
He added that the option tapped a growing trend towards treating pets like children, including encouraging better quality foods and reflecting concerns about the link between processed meat and cancer and obesity in humans.
Elisa Allen, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said consumers were also increasingly turned off by meat-based pet foods because they “contained many of the same hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics found in commercial human meat products – collectively with animal parts ”. designated as unsuitable for human consumption ”.