Frequently Asked Questions


Q. Cats are obligate carnivores. How can they be vegan?

A. The word vegan for many is associated with tomatoes, cucumbers and other veggies. When thinking of cats we think carnivores, hunters and sharp instincts. No wonder then that putting the two words - vegan and cats - in the same sentence has been the subject of so many heated debates.

In this response we'll reconcile the two word in 3 ways:

  1. by comparing two formulas - a meat-based formula and a vegan formula
  2. by peaking into a recent study
  3. by looking at other considerations

    Comparison of two formulas

    The meat-based formula in our comparison is a very typical cat food formula - Purina Friskies Savoury Selections. The vegan cat food formula is Evolution Diet Maximum Life. To help with the comparison we'll group the ingredients in three categories:

    1. animal-based sources - provide proteins and fats
    2. plant-based sources - provide proteins, fats, carbs and fibre
    3. produced in a lab - vitamins and minerals and certain amino-acids

    As carnivores, cats require specific nutrients: protein, fat, fibre, fatty acids (such as arachidonic acid), vitamins (A, B2, B3, B12, E etc), amino acids (taurine, arginine etc) and many others. The table below helps us understand where these nutrients come from with each formula.

    Meat-based diet

    [ingredients in Purina Friskies Savoury Selections cat food]

    Plant-based diet

    [ingredients in Evolution Diet Maximum Life for cats and dogs]

    Animal sources (A)
    • Meat and Bone Meal (protein and fat)
    • Beef Tallow Preserved with Mixed-Tocopherols (Form of Vitamin E) (fat)
    • Turkey By-Product Meal (protein and fat)
    • Fish Meal (protein and fat)
    • Animal Liver Flavour
    Plant sources (P)
    • Ground Yellow Corn
    • Soybean Meal (protein)
    • Corn Gluten Meal (protein)
    • Dehulled Sunflower Seeds (protein and fat)
    • Pea Protein Concentrate (protein) 
    • Soybean Meal (protein)
    • Whole Dried Peas (protein, fibre)
    • Tapioca
    • Soybean Oil (fat)
    • Whole Dried Potatoes
    • Brewer’s Dried Yeast
    • Dried Molasses Products
    • Yeast Culture
    • Dried Chicory Root
    • Dried Kelp Meal (source of arachidonic fatty acid)
    • Yucca Schidigera Extract
    • Rosemary Extract
    Made in lab (L)
    • Phosphoric Acid
    • Salt
    • Choline Chloride
    • Added Colour
    • Taurine
    • Potassium Chloride
    • DL-Methionine
    • Zinc Sulphate
    • Red 40
    • Ferrous Sulphate
    • Manganese Sulphate
    • Niacin
    • Vitamin E Supplement
    • Yellow 5
    • Blue 2
    • Vitamin A Supplement
    • Calcium Pantothenate
    • Copper Sulphate
    • Thiamine Mononitrate
    • Vitamin B-12 Supplement
    • Riboflavin Supplement
    • Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
    • Vitamin D-3 Supplement
    • Folic Acid
    • Calcium Iodate
    • Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Source of Vitamin K Activity)
    • Sodium Selenite
    • Biotin
    • V-4520-C
    • Calcium Carbonate
    • Monocalcium Phosphate
    • Dicalcium Phosphate
    • Salt
    • DL-Methionine
    • Potassium Chloride
    • Choline Chloride
    • Dextrose
    • L-Carnitine
    • Taurine
    • L-Lysine
    • Ascorbic Acid (Source of Vitamin C)
    • Vitamin E Supplement
    • Niacin Supplement
    • Ferrous Sulfate
    • Zinc Oxide
    • Vitamin A Supplement
    • Copper Sulfate
    • Manganous Oxide
    • Sodium Selenite
    • Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide
    • Calcium Pantothenate
    • Thiamine Mononitrate
    • Riboflavin Supplement
    • Biotin
    • Pyridoxine
    • Hydrochloride
    • Vitamin B12 Supplement
    • Vitamin D3 Supplement
    • Folic Acid
    • Mixed Tocopherols
    • Cobalt Carbonate

      The first glance at the table immediately tells us that vegan cat food is not simply a salad mix, it is an advanced formula composed of numerous ingredients. Furthermore, note that in both formulas the majority of ingredients are actually made in the lab (third section in the table). Notably, taurine, an amino-acid critically important for cat's eye-sight and cardiovascular function, is produced in the lab and added to both diets. The heavy supplementation in both diets is the result of compliance with AAFCO cat food standards. AAFCO prescribes that cats have to have certain amounts of vitamins and minerals and hence the heavy supplementation.

      Furthermore, both formulas obtain protein (wholly or partially) from plant-based sources. For example, soybean meal and corn gluten meal in Purina are rich sources of plant-based protein, and that definitely contributes to the overall protein content in that meat-based formula. So using plant-based proteins is not a new practice - the meat-based kibbles have been using them for a long time. Of course Purina also contains meat-, bone-, fish- and turkey-meals, while Max Life does not. The question then is if we are to source proteins from plant-based sources alone - will the cat be ok?

      To answer that question we'll need to look at protein structure. Proteins are composed of amino-acids

       

      AAFCO prescribes the "ideal" amino-acid profile for obligate carnivores. 

      Amino-acids Kittens and pregnant cats (%) Adult cats (%)
      Arginine 1.24 1.04
      Histidine 0.33 0.31
      Isoleucine 0.56 0.52
      Leucine 1.28 1.24
      Lysine 1.2 0.83
      Methionine 0.62 0.2
      Methionine-cystine 1.1 0.4
      Phenylalanine 0.52 0.42
      Phenylalanine-tyrosine 1.92 1.53
      Threonine 0.73 0.73
      Tryptophan 0.25 0.16
      Valine 0.64 0.62
      Taurine (extruded) 0.1 0.1
      Taurine (canned) 0.2 0.2 

      The only essential amino-acid for cats that is hard to find in plant-based sources is taurine. All other amino-acids can be found in plants in abundance. And so the only way to meet the taurine requirement for vegan cat food is to add synthetic taurine. Adding synthetic substances doesn't sound very natural, however, Purina and all other producers also add synthetic taurine in meat-based foods, because during the manufacturing process the natural taurine is baked off from animal ingredients due to high temperature and pressure. As a result, both formulas use synthetic (vegan) taurine. And with this addition the amino-acid profile of plant-based proteins becomes complete and 100% sufficient for cats. 

      By comparing the two formulas we have established that

      • properly balanced vegan cat food is not a salad mix, but rather an advanced formulation
      • the majority of the ingredients in both formulas are actually made in the lab (to meet AAFCO standards)
      • both meat- and plant-based kibbles utilize plant-based proteins, which are very much digestible and palatable
      • the amino-acid profile of plant-based proteins becomes complete with the addition of the synthetic taurine, which is used in both meat- and plant-based diets

      Overall, looking at the fundamental nutritional blocks - proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins - the two formulas are not that much different and meet the requirements of AAFCO.

      Recent study

      The above comparison provides a good theoretical foundation, however, to make the definitive argument it would require the support of practical experimentation, which is why we wanted to see if studies have been done with cats and vegan cat food. There are not many studies, however, there is one recent study (1) - see references below - that looked into vegan diets for cats. The study concluded that

      "Both cats and dogs may thrive on vegetarian diets, but these must be nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced."

      One word of caution from the study is that

      "Owners should also regularly monitor urinary acidity, and should correct urinary alkalinisation through appropriate dietary additives, if necessary."

      This is a great segue to our next section.

      Other considerations

      Urinary health

      plant-based diet contributes to making a cat's urine more alkaline. In itself it's not a problem, however, in male cats urine with more alkaline pH can lead to the formation of struvite crystals in the urinary tract (a mixture of magnesium, ammonium, and phosphate), which in turn can lead to urethra obstruction.

      To bring urine pH back to normal, cats (especially male cats) need to be supplemented with acidifiers, which dissolve the struvite crystals. Most popular vegan dry kibbles (Evolution Diet and Ami) and meat-based diets (see the table above) are supplied with ingredients like DL Methionine and other ingredients to help keep acidity in the 6.0 - 6.5 range. So again, in that regard the two formulas are not different as both rely on an additive - DL Methionine - for pH balance. See more information about urinary health in this article.

      Recalls

      One fact that definitely sets the two formulas apart is the risk that comes with meat-based diets. Regular meat-based cat and dog food is notorious for poisonings and recalls. This page shows that there were over 200 reported recalls since 2008. 73 out of 200 cases are the Salmonella contamination cases. Salmonella is a bacteria found in raw meats, eggs and poultry. In most meat-based formulas the quality of meat is very low and keeping the meat safe is a big challenge. Vegan formulas, on the other hand, have no meat-based ingredients, and therefore present a much lower risk of poisoning.

      Externalities

      The above comparison of two formulas and the study show nutritional adequacy (and in the case of recall safety - superiority) of vegan diets. Many cats have gone through the transition and they are doing really well. In addition, vegan diets are also better than the meat-based diets from the ethical and the environmental perspectives. 

      In the making of meat-based cat foods there are 2 often-ignored factors (which I call externalities) -

      1. an animal (a cow, a pig or a chicken etc.) had to be slaughtered in order to make cat food
      2. a large dose of greenhouse gases was emitted in the process of growing the animals, and the gases ended up in the atmosphere thus contributing to global warming

      With vegan diets no animals were killed and a small fraction of greenhouse gases was emitted. So if people were to consider the impact of these externalities for meat-based foods, then the vegan diet is so much better.

      Conclusion

      To conclude, commercial vegan formulas are carefully formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of cats and are not simply a salad mix.

      • From nutritional perspective
        • When properly balanced, vegan diet is healthy for cats and a recent study supports this. Cat guardians, however, should be cautious to monitor the pH of cat's urine to avoid urinary health issues (cat guardians feeding their cat with meat-based products - and especially those feeding dry kibble - should also pay close attention to urinary health since urinary issues are currently the leading illness in cats).
      • From the recalls and safety perspective
        • vegan diet is safer than meat-based diets.  
      • From ethical and environmental perspectives
        • vegan cat food is superior.

      References

      (1) Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals Andrew Knight and Madelaine Leitsberger, Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester, Winchester SO22 4NR, UK; Published: 21 September 2016

      Related Products

      Maximum Life - plant-based vegan cat food; grain free, gluten free, 100% non-GMO and is formulated for your cat's maximum health
      Ami Cat food - plant-based vegan cat food formula from Italy - complete, balanced formula, ideal for adult cats, and made from 100% plant-based sources with no artificial dyes or preservatives
      Gourmet Fondueformulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO cat food nutrient profile for all life stages
      Gourmet Vegetable Stew - CAT & DOG Moist Food  (12 cans) Moist Food in Cans - used to provide adequate hydration, which in turn helps avoid urinary tract issues, and to ensure that Urine Specific Gravity stays at normal levels 
      Cranberry Treats - used as acidifier to dissolve struvite crystal and to lower pH; also used as a delicious cat treat
      VegeCat Phi - used as a supplement for vegan home-made meals; contains an acidifier Sodium Bisulfate, which helps making alkaline urine more acidic
      VegeYeast - used to enhance the flavour as well as to acidify the food to make alkaline urine more acidic
      Pure Vegan Chic'n Cheese Flavouring Nutritional Yeast 'Cheesy Chic'n' flavour - used to enhance the flavour of cat food. Cats go crazy about it!

       

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