Can cats be vegan? Study finds 'vegan' cats might be slightly healthier than their carnivorous counterparts

In a study based on owners' own reports, cats on vegan diets needed fewer vet visits and were on less medication
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Owners of cats on vegan diets report their pets are slightly healthier than the owners of cats that eat meat, scientists have found.

A new University of Winchester study published on Wednesday (13 September), aimed at helping better understand whether our feline friends can thrive on a vegan diet, analysed surveys filled out by 1,369 cat owners - who were asked to report about a single cat in their household that had been fed either a vegan or meat-based diet for at least one year.

Around one in 10 participants, or 9%, said they fed their cat a vegan diet, while the rest were on meat-based diets. After statistically accounting for other factors that could influence health - such as a cat’s age or whether it was neutered - the research team found that participants reported that vegan diets were associated with a lower risk of several health issues - although only by a narrow margin.

Study co-author Professor Andrew Knight told SWNS that compared to owners of cats on meat-based diets, owners of cats on vegan diets "tended to report fewer veterinary visits, less medication use, and that their veterinarian would be more likely describe their cat as being healthier".

A new study has found so-called vegan cats might be slightly healthier than their carnivorous counterparts (Photo: Emma Trimble / SWNS)A new study has found so-called vegan cats might be slightly healthier than their carnivorous counterparts (Photo: Emma Trimble / SWNS)
A new study has found so-called vegan cats might be slightly healthier than their carnivorous counterparts (Photo: Emma Trimble / SWNS)

But he said when it came to illnesses, the difference was quite minor. "The survey also asked about 22 specific health disorders; 42% of owners of cats on meat-based diets reported at least one disorder, compared to 37% of owners of cats on vegan diets.

"Many pet foods contain cooked meat as the primary protein source, but a growing number of available products use alternative protein sources, such as plants or fungi," Professor Knight continued. "Some veterinary professionals have voiced concerns that vegan diets - which lack meat, eggs, and dairy - are less healthy for cats than meat-based diets. However, limited research has examined these concerns."

The researchers say their findings, published in peer-reviewed science journal PLOS One, support suggestions that a vegan diet can be healthy for cats, although Knight noted that they did not analyse the nutrient content of the cats’ diets.

Aren't cats 'obligate carnivores?'

Vets and other experts have previously warned against removing meat from our moggies' diets, although many now say the jury is still out.

British Veterinary Association Senior Vice President Justine Shotton told NationalWorld there was increasing interest amongst owners around alternative diets for pets. "Whilst there is a lot of ongoing research into the impacts of vegan diets in particular, there has been a lack of robust data mapping the health consequences of this diet over time," she said.

"In light of ongoing research, the British Veterinary Association recently convened a companion animal feeding working group which will inform our recommendations going forward. In the meantime, owners should speak to their vet if they are considering changing their pet’s diet.”

A previous Conversation article by Australian and Mexican veterinary science researchers said that while dogs can survive - but might not necessarily thrive - exclusively on a plant-based diet, cats are "obligate carnivores", meaning naturally at least 70% of what they eat is meat, and they cannot digest plant material well.

Their key concern about vegan pet diets was that the most common plant-based proteins contained fewer essential amino acids - necessary for maintaining good heart, eye and liver function.

Past studies have found while some vegan pet diets, particularly "homemade" ones as opposed to commercially-designed products, do fall short nutritionally, more research on actual animals who have been on these diets long-term is needed.

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