Posted by: petsweekly | June 1, 2010

Vegetarian Diets for Pets

Today is the start of Vegetarian Week in the UK. Now normally, I don’t get involved in food debates. On any level.

However, I do have some opinions on the topic. Now, I know that this is a hot topic with vegans and carnivores and pet owners around the world, but I hope that you’ll calm down and make any comments with grace and dignity, because if you don’t, I’ll delete them .

I promise. I really will…

Here we go:

In fairness, I’m by no means an expert on this subject and really just struggle to feed a good diet to my pets, one  that benefits them the most based on things I read, research I do, how much I can afford, and talking to some experts in the field (none of which can ever agree on anything).

First off, my opinion: Vegetarian diets are not only unnatural for carnivores, they can be dangerous when not researched and prepared properly.

Why? Because most people do not bother to put in the time required to understand and keep up with the latest advances in pet nutrition. I follow the pet industry for a living and I can barely keep up. But, here are a few basic facts:

FACT 1. Cats are “obligate carnivores.” This means that they need the benefits of protein, taurine, and many other things that cannot be obtained (without a LOT of work) in a vegan/vegetarian diet.  Cats cannot convert the beta-carotene in plants such as carrots and dark green vegetables into vitamin A. Rather, they require “pre-formed” vitamin A, such as found in liver and fish oils. Cats also need dietary sources of taurine (an amino acid-like nutrient) and arachidonic acid (an essential fatty acid), both of which are found in appreciable levels only in animal tissues. (FDA, 2009)

FACT 2. Dogs are “carnivores,” and have only recently been considered an “omnivore.” Still, just by comparing the dentition of dogs and cats with that of humans and herbivores (plant-eaters, such as cattle and horses), it is readily apparent that their teeth are designed by nature for eating a diet largely comprised of animal tissue. Their short intestinal tracts compared to humans and especially to animals like sheep or horses also indicate that they are not designed to accommodate diets containing large amounts of plant materials. Their nutritional requirements, such as the need for relatively high amounts of protein and calcium, reflect these dietary limitations. (FDA, 2009)

FACT 3. The 2007 Pet Food Recalls left a sour taste in our mouth and with good reason. We don’t trust manufacturers anymore and the truth is, we never should have. The food industry (even our food) is still woefully under-regulated and until we get actively involved in educating ourselves on nutritional needs and the current regulations on food for ourselves as well as those of our pets, it will continue to be under-regulated. People and pets will continue to die. We need to be more vigilant and aware of what both we and our pets eat.

FACT/OPINION 4. Some studies suggest that a vegetarian diet is okay. But I don’t trust those studies… For example, Nestle’ conducted a study in 2006 that essentially said “34 vegetarian cats they studied were healthy.”

Cool. More power to them. But, I’m not taking this study at face value. First off, Nestle’ is a decent company, but this was ONE study with only 34 cats. Other studies have come out touting that vegetarianism is okay for cats and dogs, but most of these studies are conducted by, or funded by, pet-food companies. So, I’m just saying – always check your source…

OPINION 1. My thought is that if you want to be a vegan/vegetarian with a vegan/vegetarian pet – that’s amazingly fantastic. But, don’t adopt a carnivore as a pet and try to “convert them.” Seriously – don’t. It just throws off the food chain and nothing good can come of that. Besides, there are lots of great herbivores out there that need homes. Rabbits, goats, mice, birds (some of them), and… well, you get my drift. Live within your abilities and if you’re only able to provide a vegetarian diet to your pet, get a vegetarian pet.

OPINION 2: I think it’s unfair to force our own beliefs on others (whether they are other people or other pets). Now, that is NOT to say I won’t try to make you believe what I believe. I will – trust me, I’m one of the most opinionated and controlling people I know.

I will try.

I don’t expect you to cave in and believe me. I do expect you to listen with an open mind (just as I will listen to your stance with an open mind), then calmly and rationally, we can make an attempt to understand the others beliefs. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to change. We just need to communicate and share.

Who knows? We both may learn something.

So – keeping that in mind, what is your opinion on a vegetarian diet for pets?


  1. I agree that “vegetarianism” (if that’s a word) is more a belief system than science-based, especially when we’re talking about cats and dogs. I can see adding fruits and veggies to their diet, because the animals they would have eaten in the wild would have these things in their stomachs too, so these food groups would naturally be a part of a carnivorous diet. But rice and potatoes? I don’t think so, unless you want a high-glycemic index carb diet for your pet. Not a good thing, in my book.

    Humans are omnivores, not carnivores, and we can get by without meat just fine. But we mustn’t force this on our meat-loving animals please. And if you do, be prepared to spend good money on taking care of skin problems, among other things.

  2. I agree whole-heartedly with your post. I not only feed my cats a meat based diet, but I feed them a grain-free diet as well. Grain free diets help regulate blood sugar in cats and people, so I think it’s particularly excellent for my older cats who are at risk.

    I don’t think we should be trying to force anyone, be they humans or non-human animals, to be something he or she isn’t. Cats aren’t vegetarians. Period.

    Having studied biology, I also take issue with people who decide to be vegetarian for “health reasons.” We are meant to eat meat, just not in the quantities we do in modern society. I absolutely respect the desire to boycott meat because the animals were abused with drugs or living conditions. I respect the inability to eat meat because you can’t help but think of the poor animal who sacrificed his/her life for your meal.

    If you want a pet who doesn’t eat meat, get a hamster or a bird. Just don’t mess with the food chain – mother nature knew what she was doing.

  3. Thanks for writing this blog and suggesting that vegetarians and vegans adopt herbivores instead! Great idea!!!

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