Explaining to your friends and family that your cat (or dog) is now vegan is tough.
Our family and friends don’t have the benefit of seeing the research we’ve done prior to switching, and they certainly don’t see all the pros and cons we’ve carefully weighted. They simply “know” that cats/dogs need meat. And they are not wrong, since that’s the very definition of an obligate carnivore to hunt prey and eat flesh. They may also think you’ve gone a little too far with the whole vegan lifestyle and saving animals 'thing'. Others may even start thinking you are downright crazy and call you animal abuser, since you “force your believes” on your poor cat/dog to eat only lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
So how do you explain to your family and friends that you are not some crazy vegan, abusing your cat or dog by switching them to a vegan diet?
In this post we’ll try to equip pet guardians with “tools” to help answering those tough questions. Once you get familiar with these, it will be like answering
“But where do you get your protein?” question,
“But where do they get their taurine?” question.
Without further ado, let’s dive into it.
Your first line of defense is to help people understand that vegan does not mean just lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. That would definitely be wrong and lead cats to lose their eye sight and damage their heart function. On the contrary, modern vegan formulas are made with oats, corn, soy, sunflower seeds, pea protein, and supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, vegan formulas contain just as much protein (or more) as the meat-based counterparts. A properly balanced vegan diet provides the proteins, the correct amino-acids (including Taurine), the fats and nutrients cats/dogs require to thrive. People who create these specialized diets are nutritional professionals with PhDs and with a great deal of understanding of cat- and dog- nutritional requirements. So a vegan formula is definitely not a salad mix; rather it is a sophisticated formulation tailored for cats'/dogs’ needs.
Second, cats/dogs require specific nutrients, and not specific ingredients. Animals (including cats) require specific nutrients such amino-acids (building blocks of proteins), fats, vitamins and minerals, and not specific ingredients (such as fish or meat). So when they are provided with the required nutrients they are healthy, and it does not matter from which ingredient those nutrients come from. Veterinarian Dr. Armaiti May said it nicely in this short video.
This is exactly why the regulatory bodies that govern pet food standards (AAFCO, FEDIAF) define pet food requirements based on Nutrients, and not on specific ingredients. They never say use 100 g of beef or liver. Instead, they say cats, for example, require xx% protein composed of a, b and c type of amino-acids.
Third, there are veterinarians knowledgeable in plant-based nutrition that support properly balanced vegan diets (emphasis on “properly balanced”). Dr. Andrew Knight, Dr. Sarah Dodd, Dr. Armaiti May, Dr. Pitcairn just to mention some reputable names.
Fourth, there is research on vegan pet food showing that properly balanced vegan diets work. Veterinarian Dr. Andrew Knight talked about a study in this video. There is a recent longevity study suggesting that cats live just as long on a vegan diet as on a meat-based diet. Longevity study link. Here are a few more studies which you could mention:
Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals 2016
Evaluation of cats fed vegetarian diets and attitudes of their caregivers 2006
Fifth, in many taste trials cats have actually chosen the taste of a vegan formula over a taste of dead/cooked carcasses in meat-based formula. Example video where cat prefers a vegan formula over a meat-based formula.
Finally, cats and dogs derive significant benefits from vegan diets – better/shinier fur, less fatigue/more energy, avoiding common allergens, avoiding toxin accumulation (study “Polluted Pets”), significantly lower chance of poisoning from bad quality meats and many more.
Some of your friends may say that you are forcing your morality on your cat or dog. They may say it is not natural for cats/dogs to be vegan. The question of what is natural and what is not natural can be subjective. For example, prior to the invention of dry kibble in the 30's, dry pet food was deemed unnatural, because in nature animals eat flesh containing 70-75% moisture, whereas dry kibble only contains 10% moisture. Now fast-forward 90 years, and almost no one gives dry kibble a second thought, accepting it as a perfectly normal variety of dog food, granted that it contains the required nutrients and the cat/dog stays healthy.
Similarly, in the past vaccination and neutering/castration of dogs and cats was not common. It was deemed unnatural to vaccinate and to neuter cats and dogs. However, over time, for one reason or another, it became a societal norm to carry out these procedures. Vecado does NOT advocate for any of these procedures, instead, we are making a point that the norm is established by a society, and not necessarily by what would be in the best interest of cats and dogs, and what is natural or not natural (much like in the example of dry kibble in the 30's) is highly subjective and depends on societal acceptance.
So we propose to shift the subject from "natural/unnatural" rhetoric to what would be beneficial to cats and dogs. And, as veterinarians, studies and real-life cases demonstrate - a properly balanced plant-based pet food provides cats/dogs with all the nutrients they require to thrive and there is Zero harm to our companion animals from vegan diets. There are situations when a vegan diet is not advisable (for example, for male cats with a history of urinary stones), but, keep in mind, those cases are exceptions, rather than the rule. The majority of cats/dogs thrive on a properly balanced plant-powered diet.
Your vegan friends may appreciate you pointing out that other animals don’t have to be killed to become food for cats/dogs. Over their lifetime a cat eats about 500 chickens (or other farm animals). But with a properly balanced plant-based diet Zero chickens are killed for food, meanwhile the cat/dog lives a long, healthy life. Help your vegan friends realize that their household can be 100% vegan (no meat at all!) at no health ‘expense’ to their cats or dogs.
Your environmentalist friends already know that the meat- and poultry industry has a devastating effect on the planet and on the future of our kids. By purchasing meat-based products for our pets we are subsidizing the destruction. But for what? Our cats/dogs can thrive on a balanced plant-based diet – they are healthy, they like the flavor, they live just as long, and therefore it makes no environmental sense to buy meat-based pet food.
There are cases when a plant-based diet is not suitable (for example, for male cats with a history of urinary crystals/stones), but even in those cases vegan diets can work by utilizing proper acidifiers. Veterinarians are able to recommend the right course of action for even such tough cases.
Lastly, there are now 1000s of thriving vegan cats and even more vegan dogs. Vegan pet food has been around for 30 years, and multiple generations of cats and dogs have been raised on a vegan diet.
We hope that this post provides you with some useful explanations, which you can share with your friends and family. But if none of these were at least somewhat convincing, then we don’t know what can be. You might as well accept being called ‘that crazy vegan person’ 🙂
It would be super interesting to see how your friends and family react, and what counter arguments they use. In the comments please let us know which explanation was most helpful with your friends and family. Perhaps you have other convincing explanations - let us know as well.
Lots of love!
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