Mikhail Goussev, the founder of Vecado Plant-Based Pet Foods, spoke with Len Goldberg on the topic of plant-based cat diet on June 9, 2020. Check out our live stream video and below excerpts from the interview, where you will find answers to common questions on the topic.
Len Goldberg: Mikhail is the owner of Vecado – a long running vegan company which specializes in distributing vegan food for dogs and cats. Lets start with asking Mikhail the most basic question that people have on their minds regarding the topic. Cats are carnivores, so why would anyone suggest that we would not be feeding them conventional food, comprised of fish and chickens? And instead would be feeding them plants?
Mikhail Goussev: Yes, cats are carnivores, but nutrition comes down to nutrients. If we look at biology of cats and their nutritional requirements, you will see that it is certain amount of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, etc. that they require. They have specific requirement for nutrients, but not actual ingredients that these nutrients come from.
Len G.: In other words, they don’t need animal flesh per se, but what’s contained in the flesh?
Mikhail G.: Exactly. Animal flesh contains certain nutrients that satisfy requirements of cats. The same requirements can be met with ingredients from other sources, such as plants.
Len G.: When you refer to nutrients, do you mean vitamins, minerals, amino-acids?
Mikhail G.: Yes, exactly. Vitamins, minerals, amino-acids and other nutrients that cats require are very well documented for cats of different life stages. There are two established standards that define nutritional requirements of cats – AAFCO (American Association of Feeding Control Officials) and NRC (National Research Council). When you look standards established by these organizations, you will not find that ‘the cat needs 100 g. of meat’. You will see that the cat needs this much protein, fats, carbs, and protein has to be composed of certain amino-acids. So the pet food standard is not built on ingredients, it’s built on nutrients.
Len G.: I’ve met Mikhail before and consider him to be a compassionate person, someone who started a business to extend compassion to the whole animal kingdom. Is it correct to say that compassion is your primary motivation behind starting a business?
Mikhail G.: Yes, absolutely. When I started looking into what is happening with pet foods, I found out it’s a pretty gloomy story. Conventional pet food is composed of dead and diseased animals, meat of very poor quality. Also, when you look at the number of lives that a single cat consumes over a lifetime – that’s a lot of chickens and a lot of cows. That's a lot of lives! We did a calculation – a single cat consumes about 500 chickens over a lifetime. So life of one cat is supported by 500 lives of other animals.
Len G.: Initial motivation behind founding Vecado revolved around both ethical implications and health. What are your health concerns around our cats consuming conventional pet food?
Mikhail G.: The mainstream food sold in supermarkets is downright not healthy, to say the least. Ingredients in majority of pet foods, made by international conglomerates, are of very poor quality. They use meat that is not fit for humans to consume and they put it in pet food. That includes dead animals, sick animals, euthanized animals. The don’t even sort out the leashes, collars. They just grind it all up into a sticky, messy substance, and add chemicals to make it smell nice. But it’s so unnatural and so sick. Not good at all.
Len G.: I’ve witnessed how slaughterhouses operate. They take a bunch of stuff unfit for human consumption – and that includes guts, beaks, feet, all the mulch which originates from animals in a very diseased, stressed state to begin with, full of antibiotics and chemicals – they put it in a truck and take it to a plant owned by Purina. Then they take this mulch and pretty it up with chemicals to make it smell good. Could we say that feeding this garbage is the underlying cause of so many diseases that our companion animals seem to develop, cancers in particular?
Mikhail G.: From studies that I’ve seen, cancer and other problems are on the rise. Cats visit veterinarians more frequently, and there is a link with food that they eat. For example, 30-40 years ago, when there was no such as a thing as commercial pet food, there were fewer cases of many health conditions that we observe today. But now veterinarians are facing more problems and a lot of them are linked to the food that animals are consuming.
Len G.:This makes sense. But what about high-end meat-based food? Is that appropriate for a cat who is a carnivore?
Mikhail G.: Even high end brands are not always good ones. Just because food is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. But for the sake of argument, lets assume that you have found high quality food for your cat and it’s working well. There is still an implication of taking an animal’s life and feeding your cat with that life. And to me, that does not make sense. You can feed your cat with a high quality plant-based food, that ensures that they get all the nutrients that they need without sacrificing the lives of other animals. Some people see this as a contradiction: if I feed my animal vegan food, then I’m sacrificing their health. However, it’s not the case.
Len G.: If we release cats into the wild, they might eat mice. That’s a freshly killed animal. With high end food, these chickens were killed months ago, and there is no reason to believe that components of those foods (vitamins, amino acids), which were sterilized at very high temperature, processed, canned and stored, actually resemble what cats would eat in the wild. And what we are seeing is that they are adding back all those amino-acids, vitamins, taurine, etc. that disappeared due to manufacturing.
Mikhail G.: They are. These foods undergo high temperature and pressure treatment and during this process, one of the critical amino acids – taurine – is essentially getting baked off and loses its potency. And what the manufacturers have to do to compensate for that is to add synthetic taurine back into the food, to ensure that it has sufficient amount of taurine. So even high end foods are supplemented with vitamins, minerals, amino-acids.
Len G.: I wonder if there is government inspection of pet food?
Mikhail G.: There is a guideline that pet food manufacturers have to follow, such as AAFCO requirements. Companies are stipulated to follow them, but these are not laws. It’s not the same as for human nutrition. These are loose requirements.
Len G.: Guidelines, not laws? So Purina can do whatever they want?
Mikhail G.: Especially in Canada. Canada is very loose in its requirements.
Len G.: It’s no wonder then that all the non-vegan animals I know they die of miserable death. They all develop arthritis, cancer diabetes. That’s not natural and that shouldn’t be happening.
Vecado means VEgan CAts and DOgs. How do plants meet requirements of cats and keep them healthy?
Mikhail G.: First of all, I’d like to dispel a myth that vegan cat food is simply a mix of vegetables. It’s not so at all. We work with American and European manufacturers that have been around for 20-30 years. The formulas they developed and that we distribute were created by nutritionists and veterinarians who are knowledgeable in the topic. The foods have been formulated to meet AAFCO requirements and even the higher NRC requirements. AAFCO is an industry level organization that recommends which nutrients pet foods should contain and NRC is a scientific organization that does research on nutritional requirements of pets.
Len G.: What ingredients are in your pet foods and how can we assure people that they meet nutritional requirements of pet companions?
Mikhail G.: These foods use pea proteins, sunflower seeds, non-GMO and organic soybeans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other ingredients to create protein base. Actually, vegan products contain higher protein percentage than meat-based products. For example, Evolution Diet products contain 30% protein, compared to about 25% in meat-based products. These ingredients have a rich profile of amino acids which satisfy requirements of cats at large. The amino acid that is not found in plants – taurine – is supplemented. Combination of ingredients and supplemented nutrients make the food nutritionally complete.
Len G.: Conventional pet foods add the same amino acids, vitamins and minerals as vegan pet foods do. Basically, all pet foods contain the same basic building blocks – disgusting mulch with no nutritional value in case of conventional food and plant ingredients in your case. With your products, you are not starting with vile toxic base.
Mikhail G.: This is a very accurate description and we did a comparison of ingredients in meat-based products and vegan products. We discovered that the number of ingredients on either side is about 30 ingredients. If you look at any conventional meat-based product, the number of ingredients ranges from 30 to 40. Since manufacturers cannot guarantee that whatever mulch they initially had fulfills requirements of AAFCO or NRC, they are forced to add these minerals and vitamins back. So the majority of meat-based food is very heavily supplemented to meet nutritional requirements of cats. The comparison of ingredients that we did showed us that all foods are heavily supplemented.
Len G.: Clearly, for the situation we are in right now with our domestic cats, vegan food is the best choice. If someone is trying to veganize their companion cat, what do you offer?
Mikhail G.: We offer kibble, canned food, treats, from various manufacturers. We have non-GMO, organic options. Our selection of products is fairly broad and is readily available throughout the country.
Len G.: Can you name primary companies whose products you distribute?
Mikhail G.: Evolution Diet is a US manufacturer who have been around for over 30 years. Thousands of cats and dogs have tried their products and it’s a third generation of cats now that have been raised entirely on Evolution Diet products. Another brand is Ami Pet Food – the maker of Ami Cat Food, an Italian manufacturer. There is also Benevo – a UK manufacturer. Finally, there is Vegepet, produced by Compassion Circle, the creator of supplements for pet guardians who make their own pet food at home. People can buy the same basic ingredients that I mentioned – peas, soy, sunflower seeds - and cook well-balanced meals at home by adding those supplements, that contain taurine and other nutrients. So they can make fresh food at home that meets 100% of nutritional requirements of cats and dogs.
Len G.: Whether you are in Maritimes, British Columbia or somewhere in between, Vecado can help you out. Vecado also distributes outside of Canada, although their primary focus is Canadian market. What is the best way for people to order a Vecado product?
Mikhail G.: You can order on our website www.vecado.ca and through social media.
Len G.: Lets move on to Q&A part of our discussion.
Question: Why would we feed vegan food to our cat if our veterinarian is against it?
Mikhail G.: Veterinarians are divided on this topic. There are veterinarians that support vegan pet food options and there are veterinarians that do not. Dr. Sarah Dodd is one of the veterinarians that specializes in vegan pet food. In addition to having a veterinary degree, she is also a PhD graduate with research focus on vegan nutrition for companion animals. Proponents of vegan pet nutrition agree that the food has to be properly balanced and nutritionally complete. Dr. Armaiti May is another outspoken supporter of vegan pet diet, and there are many others.
Len G.:Mikhail, what kind of feedback have you received from your customers over the years?
Mikhail G.: When you switch a cat to a vegan diet, they do not become more prone to illnesses. Health characteristics of these cats are similar or slightly better than they were when they were on meat-based diet. A recent study conducted by Queen’s University sent out surveys to about 1300 cat guardians.The study examined longevity of cats on vegan vs meat-based diet. Results of this survey showed that lifespan of vegan and 'meat-based' cats is about the same. Regarding feedback of our customers, cat guardians do report that their cat’s fur becomes shinier, cats are less lethargic, their breath improves after switching to plant-based diet.
Len G.: Would you agree with this statement: if you are a true animal lover, you would veganize your cat?
Mikhail G.: Yes. You would provide the nutrients that your cat requires while also not hurting farm animals.
Len G.: Purina and other commercial pet food companies are using chickens that are already killed. They are using by-products. Can we argue that no additional harm is being done so it's acceptable?
Mikhail G.: Factory farms are actually making a lot of money from meat by-products. If there was no use for by-products, there would be less motivation for these companies to produce meat. By-products make these companies a lot more profitable, and without them these companies would have less motivation to promote and develop animal farming.
Len G.: If we removed our dollars from companies that sell us toxic food that kills animals and destroys their health, they would be less motivated to promote animal farming and make money out of it. These companies would have to look elsewhere to make profit and may turn to plant options such as ‘vegan meat’ plant. Instead, we are making these companies richer and empowering them to cause so much destruction. Feeding our companion animals vegan pet food is definitely a preferable solution.
Len G.: Mikhail, were can people buy your products? Do you sell in stores?
Mikhail G.: Several stores in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal carry our products. Please refer to our website for complete list. We also run convenient shuttle delivery in Toronto, London ON, Ottawa and Vancouver areas. People have an option to get their order delivered to their home for free or a small fee.
Len G.:You are a compassionate person. You obviously care about animals, the whole animal kingdom. It’s your life purpose to provide vegan pet food in a responsible way. Would you like to add anything?
Mikhail G.:Transition to vegan diet has to be responsible and I encourage everyone to do their own research. It’s an important decision and I encourage everyone to explore the subject further.
Len G.: How would people go about switching their cats to vegan food?
Mikhail G.:Transition must be gradual and done over a period of two weeks. In the beginning, add some vegan food and slowly incorporate it to their old food. By the end of the second week, start feeding only vegan food.
Len G.: Would you encourage people to take their cats to veterinarians, to make sure they are healthy on a vegan diet?
Mikhail G.: For sure. I would encourage them to do a blood test at the veterinarian office before they switch to a vegan diet and then after the switch. Many customers report great results after the switch and it’s interesting to observe.
Len G.: Thank you very much, Mikhail Goussev, a distributor of healthy plant-based food for our cat companions. So that they can live healthiest lives and we can save 100’s-1000’s animals per cat of chickens, fish and other animals that need our compassion, respect and love. Although we do have close connection with our cats which we do not have with other animals, it’s still important to give all animals the same respect.
Mikhail G.: Thank you Len.
Vecado Plant-Based Pet Foods is committed to providing healthy, 100% vegan pet nutrition in Canada and beyond. If you are thinking of transitioning your companion animal to plant-based diet, please read about Vegan Cats 101 and Vegan Dogs 101 pages, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.