On occasion, we have people who ask Mud Bay for a vegan or vegetarian dog or cat food. While we try to stock foods that meet a variety of solutions for many different types of pets and owners, we’ve investigated these foods and found that they don’t provide the necessary ingredients to help your dog or cat thrive.
To learn why vegan cats and vegetarian dogs are both at risk for health problems, we talked to our in-house veterinarian, Dr. Katy Patterson-Miller.
MB: What’s the risk to cats who eat vegan and vegetarian foods?
KP: Cats are obligate carnivores, so their bodies are built to need meat to survive. The domestic house cat is in the same family (Felidae) as lions, tigers and leopards, which all naturally hunt and eat meat.
Without synthetic nutrients, vegan and vegetarian cats would die of nutritional deficiencies. Even with synthetic nutrients, cats are at risk of developing significant nutritional deficiencies. There is also anecdotal evidence that cats who eat vegan and vegetarian foods have shortened lifespans.
MB: What about dogs? Can they eat vegan and vegetarian foods?
KP: Dogs are facultative carnivores, which means they need meat to thrive. If you think about it, a dog’s closest evolutionary relatives, such as coyotes and wolves, eat meat every day.
People often don’t think about the differences between a carnivore’s body and herbivore’s body. It’s not just about teeth shape. Herbivores have long digestive tracts that can efficiently break down plant matter so it can be used by their bodies. Carnivores, by comparison, have much shorter digestive tracts. And they don’t make the necessary digestive juices to fully digest plant matter.
KP: I admire vegans and vegetarians who are living their values by avoiding animal products. I also think it’s clear that Americans eat too much meat and could limit meat consumption. But as omnivores, we humans have the biological ability to process nutrients from plant-based food. We can choose to eat only plants because of our inherent physiology.
Dogs and cats are biologically different than we are, so I think we should respect our differences and feed them a meat-based diet. If you’d like to decrease the amount of meat your dog or cat consumes, make sure that you’re not overfeeding them and you’re choosing a moderate protein diet. We have other suggestions to limit your pets’ meat consumption on our handout about vegan and vegetarian diets for dogs and cats.
Ultimately, I truly believe that feeding a dog or cat a vegan diet can limit their lifespans so I cannot support these diets. There are significant differences in the digestive systems of carnivores versus herbivores, which makes it impossible for a dog or cat to get the necessary nutrients they need from plant-based sources.
MB: What would you suggest for vegans and vegetarians who are looking for a new companion to add to their household?
KP: Because many people grew up with dogs or cats, I think it’s really common for people to think of these species when they look for a pet. But if you want an animal that can share your nutritional convictions, there are many naturally vegan animals that provide great companionship and would be happy to share your life!
Rabbits provide excellent companionship—our co-CEO Marissa Wulff owns several—and they can easily live seven to ten years or more. They can be litter-box trained and groom themselves just like a cat. There are also plenty of birds and other small animals that many people find are deeply rewarding pets. And if you have some outdoor space, horses and goats are great companion animals that can form profound bonds with humans.***
Katy Patterson-Miller, DVM, CVFT is the Director of Dog and Cat Health and Nutrition for Mud Bay. Before joining Mud Bay in 2011 and focusing on small animal nutrition, Dr. Patterson-Miller enjoyed six years in emergency medicine and general practice. She is a graduate of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine with her clinical year spent at Louisiana State School of Veterinary Medicine.