Plant-based foods are increasingly found in all shapes and sizes, including in pet shops. If we want to keep our meat consumption in check, it is not only interesting to look at ourselves, but also at our pets. Is it a good idea to feed your cat vegan food?
When it comes to global meat consumption or, even more broadly, the "ecological footprint" of our lifestyle, we often think of our own. But it is definitely interesting to also take a closer look at the diet and lifestyle of our pets. Every day, some 1.3 million dogs and 2 million cats in Belgium consume 153 tonnes of animal by-products. In fact, in absolute numbers, more animals are slaughtered for the production of pet food than are fed with it.
Made from offal?
Half of the animal food consists of animal products. Some of these are offal, animal products that we Europeans would rather not consume ourselves. Think of chicken brains, pig penises or cow's legs. But animal food also partly consists of "premium ingredients" for which animals are indeed slaughtered, such as Australian kangaroos or African wildebeests.
A vegan cat, is that possible?
There is no doubt that cats love animal food, but the key question remains whether they can do without it. Not an easy question, as it turns out. Cats are carnivores by nature and their metabolism is designed to digest meat. There are studies that show that when certain substances such as taurine, methionine, vitamin A or B are not consumed enough, cats can go blind or suffer from heart problems. But these results too are the subject of debate within the scientific community.
On the one hand you have Professor Andrew Knight (University of Winchester). He states that cats do very well on modern, vegetarian or vegan food. "There is nothing natural about meat food: cats don't catch cows in the wild either. Animals don't need specific ingredients, they need specific nutrients. There is no reason why plant-based food with certain supplements cannot meet that need," he told at vegetarian lifestyle exhibition Veggieworld in Utrecht. He emphasises that modern, vegetarian animal food does indeed contain the right amounts of taurine, methionine, vitamin A and B.
Another voice in this debate is Esther Hagen-Plantinga, veterinarian and animal nutrition consultant. She argues that it is not easy to switch to vegan food for cats. According to Hagen-Plantinga, it is theoretically and nutritionally possible to meet a cat's nutritional needs without animal products, but there has been insufficient research into what vegetable-based foods do to a cat's metabolism. It is all about synthetic additives, the long-term effects of which we do not yet know.
Conclusion: be critical
If there is one thing that all parties agree on, it is that the bar needs to be raised within the production world of pet food. There are indeed brands of plant-based cat food that provide the right synthetic substitutes for animal products. On the advice of your vet, you can also put together a diet with the necessary supplements for your cat yourself, thereby minimising the risk of deficiencies. But those who choose vegan pet food at random can find themselves cheated in the long run. So it is extremely important to do your research on the composition of your pet's food.