Monday, June 20, 2011

Purrrrfect vegans?

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Cats are carnivores.  They are natural hunters, skilled at stalking and swift at capture.  One of my trio of housecats had a leg and a tail off a skink yesterday before I could do anything about it.

So obviously, I'm now feeding my cats vegan food.

Why vegan?


I'm vegan.  I do not claim cats should be vegan. A cat's natural diet is as much small wild prey as she can catch.
 
But here are two reasons why this vegan chooses to feed our cats vegan food.

Normal pet food:
  • supports the animal product industry
  • is nothing like your cat's natural diet
Savoury Chicken is unsavoury

The meat for pet food comes from animal factories.   It is the meat that they absolutely can't sell for human consumption, and that's really saying something.

As a vegan, I avoid supporting animal producers where I can.  Why then pay animal producers for their lowest quality product? 

As a shock, my previous choice of high quality cat food, Iams, has a known history of cruel animal testing.  It is not the only one, and I had no idea until recently.  Here's more information about avoiding cruelty in pet food companies.

The Natural Diet

Cats survive quite well in the wild.  But cats are also engaging company, and populations of feral cats living naturally don't mix well with human dwellings.  So we feed them to coax them inside to live with us - a major interference in the natural order. 

I don't know about you, but I don't feed my cats mice, small birds and baby rabbits.  Instead, the domesticated cat's diet is manufactured:  dry kibble and pureed meatloaf.

And the meat is domesticated pig, cow, sheep, chicken, or fish flesh.   Not animals your average housecat would be capturing in the wild.  The rest of the food is filler.  

If you feed your cats manufactured food, the "natural meat diet" argument no longer applies.  Vegan cat food (fortified with essential taurine) nourishes your feline friend just as well as one based on factory floor scrapings, and supports an ethical industry instead.

The proof is in the eating

I have two types of vegan cat food.  My friend Alice from Angel Foods kindly sent me samples of both types she had tried, and all our cats gobbled them up.

I bought a popular brand from another vegan friend who is a local supplier, and I also have the rest of one bag from Alice, whose cats sampled another type and never went back.  My cats are getting this remainder bag first in case they decide to be just as choosy.

This cat loves the food so much it was difficult to get a photo.
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Is it safe?

If you are considering transitioning your cat to a vegan diet, investigate first and ensure the food you have chosen has been approved for full nutrient balance.
 
PETA and VeganCats both provide vital information about health considerations.

 

14 comments:

  1. That's real food for thought, even though I'm neither vegan nor a cat-owner (though at the moment I'd like a cat to deal with the rats in my roof!).

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  2. That's quite a compliment, Susan, for this to be interesting to a nonvegan noncatowner :-) Thanks!

    I'm sure there is a wonderful rat catcher just waiting at a shelter for a home like yours.

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  3. Err... you're missing out an obvious third option here, how about feeding your cat actual meat? Go to a good butcher's and ask for pet mince, or better yet, go to Raw Essentials in Grey Lynn where you can get your cat things like rabbit shoulders (from wild rabbits in Canterbury).

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  4. Hi Anonymous,

    Is that what you do?

    The idea of actual meat isn't a new one for me, but pet mince from a "good" butcher sounds like just a more direct route to paying for the worst meat available and again, I prefer not to support the meat industry. I had no idea wild rabbit parts got transported all around New Zealand to be pet food - what a concept!

    It would be quite a step for me to be able to do this, as I have always preferred kibble compared even to traditional wet cat food due to mess and odour issues.

    Some owners find their cats don't thrive purely on the vegan food and I am keeping an open mind. After all, I have fed cats meat-based food all my life so even cutting out a big portion of that is a positive step.

    My husband is not vegan and he might have less trouble with this.

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  5. Yes, I feed my cat meat from Raw Essentials. I eat only vegan food myself. It's a contradiction to some, I know. If I had a dog I'd be fine feeding it vegan food but cats are obligate carnivores and in the wild eat minimal amounts of grass to help pass hairballs.

    As far as I know there have been no long-term studies on cat health on vegan diets. I only buy non-farmed meat to reduce the impact.

    Also, for vegan cat food to have all the nutritional needs it would have to be very processed. I avoid processed food in my own diet so want to avoid it in my cat's.

    You seem shocked that rabbit is transported from Canterbury to Auckland - but there's no vegan cat food made in NZ last I checked and the ingredients of the Australian food most likely does not come from just NZ.

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  6. Not shocked, just curious that nobody closer is enterprising enough to sell dead farm pest animals to pet owners. Doesn't Waikato have rabbits? Possums are everywhere. Perhaps Cantabrian rabbits are healthier?

    Processed vegan kibble will score badly for transport miles, but I expected that. I would also assume a cat would be healthier eating wild rabbit.

    On the other hand, PETA says
    "Studies have shown that the ailments associated with meat consumption in humans—such as allergies, various types of cancer, and kidney, heart, and bone problems—also affect many nonhumans." and that matches my experience with pets that have lived to old age.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_food#Vegan_and_vegetarian_diets
    "In 2006 the first study of the health of a population of long-term vegetarian cats (most, in fact, were vegan), was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.[22] Most were clinically healthy, barring minor blood value changes in three cats, who were fed partly on table scraps."

    It's hard for me to conclude an absolutely unassailable position on what to feed a natural hunter once you have domesticated her.

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  7. With all the bait and poison drops in NZ to control pests I wouldn't imagine rabbits are a healthy option. "Raw essentials" even states on their website rabbit sourced from Canterbury is not fit for human consumption. I wonder why? Most vegan kibbles are completely healthy, are not highly processed and contain all the essential vitamins and minerals. Thousands of cats worldwide are vegan and healthy. That is not to say every cat is suited to a vegan diet, the same way all cats are not suited to a meat diet, especially ones that contain meat from species such as wallaby, venison, turkey, ostrich, tripe,chicken necks and fish from the deep ocean, not one of these foods were ever eaten by a cat "naturally"
    Providing the same care is given to a cat on a vegan diet as you would to a cat on a meat diet, (that is take into consideration the cats age,previous and current health condition, a vegan diet for cats is healthy and in some cases has proved to be healthier. If you want further research on the benefits of a vegan diet for cats and dogs contact Dr Andrew Knight.

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  8. Wow, I am learning so much from all the commenters, thanks for this informative debate!

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  9. "Studies have shown that the ailments associated with meat consumption in humans—such as allergies, various types of cancer, and kidney, heart, and bone problems—also affect many nonhumans." - I'd believe that's true for omnivores but would be quite surprised if that applied to carnivores.

    The 2006 study looked at only 34 vegetarian cats and only 17 of these had their blood levels checked. To me that's not enough to make a statement on the health of the diet. I also checked to see who in academic circles had cited this study. It was only cited by a letter to the editor.

    As for being "fit for human consumption" - cats have quite different nutritional needs so I don't see how that's a valid criticism.

    "Most vegan kibbles... are not highly processed" - where do you have evidence supporting that?

    "Thousands of cats worldwide are vegan and healthy" - sure, and thousands of smokers worldwide are healthy. Anecdotal evidence doesn't count for me (and science in general).

    - the first anonymous on this thread

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  10. It's always fun to debate! I'm suspicious, though, that you would not support a vegan diet for cats,and would not feed it to your cat, regardless of evidence provided :-)

    Meat consumption problems: it applies directly to carnivores - they have short lives and are plagued by ailments like kidney failure and cancer in their old age. Believe it.

    You can choose not to accept the 2006 study as valid. I feel fortunate that anyone cared enough to do any study, and as for citations, it's also not likely to excite general interest.

    The longterm vegetarian cats were in good health - that is genuine data. If they were significantly sickened by their diet, this would not likely be invisible. The blood tests provide even more compelling data.

    "Fit for human consumption": you are letting debating spirit run away with you. The differences between cats' and humans' needs will never affect such a label. This is rabbit meat, which some humans eat. It is labelled unfit because it has not been tested for poisons or diseases to the level required for safe consumption by humans. Cats are legally vermin so it would be a minor issue to society if yours got poisoned or infected by a Canterbury rabbit.

    "Thousands of smokers are healthy"? No point awarded: millions of smokers are sick and dying. Where are the dying vegan cats? Where are the earnest cat lovers saying "I fed my cat a vegan diet and WHOOOAAA, don't do it!" I know cat lovers, and they would not be quiet about it.

    The only evidence shows basically healthy cats on vegan diets.

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  11. Right, we obviously have quite different views on science, so I think my debating on here can't go any farther. There is a small amount of evidence of cats being healthy on vegan diets. That's not enough for me. If a drug had been tested on 17 people, that definitely would not be enough evidence for me.
    The rabbit meat is probably quite fit for human consumption but only farm-raised meat slaughtered the right way is allowed to be labelled that way.

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  12. We may well have different views on science! As already pointed out, it is a combination of the evidence of cats being healthy, plus a lack of evidence of cats being UNhealthy, which is compelling. There is a big world out here generating evidence as well as the controlled world of the science laboratory.

    "The rabbit meat is probably quite fit for human consumption but only farm-raised meat slaughtered the right way is allowed to be labelled that way."

    Not quite. As already pointed out, it's also an issue of testing for diseases and poisons.

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  13. Hi guys - I don't know if I want to open up this can of worms, but I don't have extensive knowledge on the vegan pet food industry and am very curious to hear your opinions. Has anyone read the questions and answers on VeganCats.com? Here is the first and its answer:

    ''Is it true that vegancats.com is telling some people to feed their cats meat?

    Yes. After much soul-searching, we have decided to change our official recommedations for certain cats.

    Urinary tract problems are extremely common in cats and, because of the relative acidity of meat to vegetable protein, many vegan cats suffer from them.

    Although we have been giving advice for some time on how these problems can be minimized while still feeding a completely vegan diet, we have found that the vast majority of our customers have not been following this advice.

    Unless you are very committed to following the advice outlined below, we therefore recommend that you mitigate the risk of urinary tract problems by feeding males cats only a 25-75% vegan diet and females a 50-100% vegan diet.

    Our mission is to reduce suffering as much as possible through reducing dependancy on meat products for your companion animals, but at the same time, we also have great concern for the overall health and well-being of cats who are prone to urinary tract problems. We do not believe in making companion animals suffer health complications simply because we'd like to feed them an exclusively vegan diet; rather, we believe that people should do the best they can to find a balance that keeps their companions healthy while reducing dependancy on meat products to the greatest extent.''

    It continues on their website.

    I am a vegan and have been for 14years. Prior to that I was vegetarian for 10 years. If there was a way I could be 100% certain that I was making the right decision for my cats and for the sake of other animals, I would switch my cats to a vegan diet immediately. However, I am also a veterinary nurse. Seeing cats - male, or female with bladder issues can be heartbreaking, and blocked urethra's are very life threatening. We see it occur all the time on meat based kibble diets, and if vegan pets are saying it occurs more on vegan diets, then it must be a lot. It is something to consider if you are feeding a vegan diet, and perhaps in time the vegan pet food companies will find a way to combat this.

    Unfortunately, what is needed is more research, time, and a whole bunch of money - which doesn't flow freely in such a small market.

    It's really tough being aware of what goes into our products! For the time being, I am definitely advocating vegan dog foods, and will continue to search for the answers on vegan cat foods.

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  14. Hi Bronnie,

    It is absolutely crucial for anyone considering this step that they read all the information available, especially about the UTI problems.

    I am interested in your experience with problems "all the time" on even meat kibble only diets? I have never heard this from our vets and both our previous (long lived) cats had kibble only. I'm pretty sure my sister also feeds her cats on kibble only.

    Has this been studied as a cause, or is it a strong observed correlation?

    I am not yet certain what path I am going to take, especially as 2 of our cats are male and more prone to the urinary problems.

    However, all this learning is a positive step.

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