The popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets is constantly growing. Their choice is usually based on beliefs about the ethical aspects of animal husbandry. Some pet owners who follow a meatless diet also try to introduce it to their dog or cat. There are more and more plant-based pet feeds on the market. Is a meatless diet generally safe for dogs and cats?
Meat-free diets are becoming more common among humans and their pets
In developed countries, more and more people are opting for a vegetarian or vegetarian diet, or at least partially reducing the proportion of meat in their diet. The motives behind this choice are usually concerns about the well-being of livestock, the impact of their agriculture on the environment, and the health aspects of the consumption of meat and other animal products. When it comes to people, the decision to change your diet is entirely conscious and at your own risk. Some pet owners want to go a step further and try to transfer their lifestyle to a dog or cat.
Given the large demographic situation of people who keep pets, this trend is expected to increase in popularity in the coming years. It is estimated that about 95 million cats and 83 million dogs are kept in the United States, more than twice the number of children under the age of 18 in the country. In the UK, about 40% of households keep pets – there are about 57 million people in the country.
Not surprisingly, the popularity of the idea of a pet-free diet with many pet owners, many of whom are interested in new trends, health and the environment. Year after year, more and more vegetarian and vegan animal food offers appear on the market. Although in some cases the cause of a decrease in meat in the diet of a dog or cat is health indicators, the vast majority of pet owners choose vegetarian and vegan foods based on their worldview.
Are plant-based diets safe for companion animals? Studies show that It is possible to improve the nutrition of pets without meat, but its improper use can result in serious health problems. This is especially true when the owner does not consult a veterinarian about changes in the pet’s diet and does not conduct periodic tests of the pet, which are necessary for such feeding.
Can dogs and cats be vegetarian?
Both domestic cats and domestic dogs are species of predators. As a result, they have a number of evolutionary adaptations for the processing, digestion and absorption of animal tissues. The main adaptations here are the teeth that allow you to cut and slice (and not rub like grass eaters) and a shorter digestive system than grass-eaters with different digestive enzymes and bacterial flora. Plants are more difficult to digest than animal foods and require adaptations other than those that allow them to be used (as in the case of a cow with 3 stomachs).
A typical carnivore is a domestic cat in particular, which has not changed significantly along with humans during the evolution of its gastrointestinal tract. As human companions, cats were mainly used to hunt pests, and their diets were largely not based on human food. Therefore, cats do not have the typical adaptations to plant foods.
In the case of a modern domestic dog, we can talk about versatility. Over the centuries, these animals have adapted to the use of plant-based foods. Compared to other carnivores, the domestic dog has an excellent ability to absorb large amounts of carbohydrates from the diet.
Given the adaptation of the digestive system, vegetarian and vegan diets are not particularly recommended for domestic cats – although some of them work well in them. In the case of well-prepared foods, the idea of changing the diet may be successful in domestic dogs, but it requires knowledge. and consult a specialist.
It is difficult to prepare a vegan dish
Animal feed manufacturers are trying to create a meatless feed for dogs and cats that provides them with all the necessary macro and micro ingredients. Unfortunately, in many cases, feeds only show their full value in the packaging.
A few years ago, research in the United States tested the composition of vegetarian and vegan animal foods available on the market. It turned out that only 5 of the 21 foods available on the shelves were healthy and meets accepted nutrition standards. The other 3 specialized, veterinary feeds were of the highest qualityis subject to strict control during production. However, it should be noted that none of the veterinary foods was completely devoid of animal raw materials.
In other studies that randomly tested various non-meat foods for companion animals, inter alia, it was not uncommon to find. Insufficient energy, protein, some essential amino acids, vitamins – especially from the B group or important trace elements such as calcium and phosphorus. Feeding such animals to animals can lead to serious deficiencies and consequent health consequences. A greater risk than feeding ready-made, meat-based store foods is the burden of preparing “home” vegetarian or vegan diets.where it is difficult to accurately control the composition of food.
Potential health problems
One study examined the health and well-being of dogs and cats on a vegan diet for at least some time. 6 months. The animals included in the study were from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Owners of vegan dogs and cats say that a meatless diet has a positive effect on the condition of the skin and fur of their pets, as well as their smell. In many cases, it also eliminated allergies caused by animal foods. However, blood tests showed some shortcomings – iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid – as a result of a meatless diet.
Diets based on meatless sources in domestic cats often lead to increased urinary alkalinity – which can lead to the development of chronic and disturbing lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). Cats on a lean diet will need regular urine tests to prevent this condition.
However, several studies have shown that dogs and cats on a meat-free diet can stay completely healthy, and deficiencies are not necessary for them. The main thing is to properly monitor the composition of the food they eat and conduct regular health checks. However, attempts to introduce vegetarian and vegan diets for young, still growing dogs and cats are strongly discouraged. Any malnutrition can end tragically for them. Particularly dangerous for puppies and cats is a lack or inadequate ratio of calcium and phosphorus in the diet, which can lead to impaired skeletal growth.
Pet owners who refuse to breed can consider other, “less radical,” alternative food options for their pets. There are more valuable animal feeds on the market based on fish, insect or game animal proteins.
Knight, A., & Leitsberger, M. (2016). Vegetarian and meat-based diets for companion animals. Animals, 6 (9), 57.