Vegan diets could be OK for felines, study shows

by samantha_ashenhurst | March 17, 2021 12:44 pm

In response to the growing number of cat owners doing away with traditional food and opting for plant-based fare, researchers at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College are exploring the potential impact of vegan diets on feline health. Photo ©[1]When it comes to what type of grub is best for our feline friends, the jury’s still out.

This is according to the University of Guelph’s (U of G’s) Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).

In response to the growing number of cat owners doing away with traditional food and opting for, among other options, plant-based fare, researchers are exploring the potential impact of vegan diets on feline health.

“We know from surveys that about one per cent of cat owners are feeding their cats entirely vegan diets, but the health and wellness of these cats has not been documented,” says lead researcher Sarah Dodd, DVM, a PhD candidate in OVC’s department of population medicine. “So, we decided if this is occurring, we should find out how these cats are doing.”

Through an online questionnaire, researchers surveyed 1325 cat owners in Canada and the United States, asking respondents to evaluate their pet’s well-being by choosing from lists of potential health problems and by comparing their cat’s body composition with provided images.

Cats are considered obligate carnivores, according to U of G, which means they have stricter nutrient requirements than more flexible feeders.

Indeed, felines obtain needed nutrients from meat, including taurine and vitamin B-12, Dr. Dodd says. Without these, cats can experience health problems, including liver, heart, skin, and eye ailments. Additionally, the acidity of a meat-based diet may help the animals avoid problems like urinary tract disorders and kidney stones.

More than 18 per cent of the survey’s respondents said they fed their cats a plant-based diet. While researchers anticipated felines in this group would exhibit symptoms related to urinary and/or heart disorders, owners reported their pets had no more health problems than cats fed meat-based diets.

“We were surprised by these findings,” Dodd says. “We actually didn’t find any disease or condition that was more prevalent in the cats fed plant-based diets—at least according to owner reporting.”

She adds, however, when interpreting findings from survey-based studies, “a lack of evidence is not evidence of a lack of effect.”

Notably, the results were based on owners’ perceptions of their pets’ health and may not reflect how cats fared on an exclusively plant-based diet. Likewise, it can be difficult for owners to accurately judge their cats’ bodies.

“There can be biases that come hand in hand with survey-based studies,” Dodd explains.

“Ideally, we would like to be able to perform objective evaluations of the health of these cats,” adds co-author Adronie Verbrugghe, DVM, PhD, Dip. ECVCN, EBVS. “I think this study is a good starting point but, clearly, further research is needed to fully understand how cats on plant-based diets are faring.”

Researchers are reminding owners to talk to their animal health professional before making any changes pets’ diet.

“If you’re going to switch your pet to any unconventional diet, let your family veterinarian know,” Dodd says. “Pets on these diets may require more monitoring so any potential problems can be caught early and corrected.”

The research, which has been published in BMC Veterinary Research, was also co-authored by Cate Dewey, DVM, M.Sc., PhD, and Deep Khosa, B.Sc., BVMS, MANZCVS (small animal medicine), PhD. Find it online here[2].

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