Why Your Cat Has to Eat Meat
Vegetarian and vegan diets are increasingly popular. People choosing these paths believe that they are healthier, more humane, and more sustainable. Those who opt for this lifestyle often want to apply the same principles to their cats. However, these diets are not appropriate for felines because cats are “obligate carnivores” — the very word “carnivore” means “meat eater”.
In other words, a cat’s complex nutritional needs simply cannot be met by a diet that’s devoid of animal products. Here are some reasons why your cat has to eat meat in order to thrive.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are too high in carbs for cats
Plant-based diets are high in carbohydrates; often, more than 50% of their calories come from carbs. All carbohydrates (except fiber) ultimately break down into glucose; and refined processed carbs do this very quickly. This causes unnaturally large swings in a cat’s blood glucose, which in turn can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
Cats eating carb-heavy diets also tend to gain weight — another factor in diabetes. They digest carbohydrates perfectly well, but they can only use dietary glucose for their immediate energy needs (which are low). The remainder of the carbohydrates in the food are quickly and efficiently stored as fat.
Cats have higher protein requirements than other animals
While dogs, humans and other omnivores readily use carbohydrates, protein or fat for energy, the feline metabolism prefers to use protein for energy as well as for structuring tissues and producing hormones and other vital molecules. That’s why a cat’s protein requirements are higher than those of other animals.
Proteins are made from amino acids, which means the feline requirement for specific amino acids is also higher. Humans need nine essential amino acids, and dogs need ten, including arginine. Cats need 11, including arginine and taurine. Several of these amino acids (taurine, arginine, tyrosine and carnitine) are found primarily in meat. Since the cat’s natural diet of raw prey animals contains these nutrients in abundance, access to these amino acids only becomes a problem when meat is absent. Essential nutrients like these must be consumed in the diet; the body can’t make them.
Additional issues with vegetarian and vegan diets
- High-carb diets limit the cat’s ability to digest and absorb protein; even though there is enough protein on paper, the cat may be unable to use it.
- B vitamins, especially B1 (thiamine) and B12 are deficient for a cat’s requirements.
- Vitamin A,* found only in animal tissues, is also deficient. Other animals can make vitamin A from beta-carotene, but cats cannot.
- Vitamin D3,* found primarily in the liver, is deficient. The plant-based substitute, vitamin D2, is only 30% as potent, and has a much shorter duration of action.
- The fats linoleic acid (Omega-6) and alpha linolenic acid (Omega-3) are essential, and while both are found in vegetables, vegan cat foods tend to be low in fat, leading to dry skin and poor coat condition.
- Arachidonic acid, not found in vascular plants, is essential for the feline immune system.
- The Omega-3s EPA and DHA are essential for kittens and highly beneficial to all cats. Currently, available vegan cat foods do not contain either.
- Commercial vegetarian and vegan cat foods use highly-processed, fractionated, chemically-extracted and synthesized ingredients to provide enough protein and other nutrients. Whole foods containing all the trace minerals, co-factors, and nutrient groups are far healthier than refined or synthetic versions.
- Cats consuming meat-based diets have a naturally-low acidic urinary pH of about 5 to 6. Vegetables cause urine pH to become alkaline, which may allow urinary crystals and stones to form. This can cause life-threatening urinary blockages in male cats. A survey of 300 vegetarian- or vegan-fed dogs also found a higher incidence of urinary tract, ear, and other infections.
The consequences of feeding a vegetarian or vegan diet to cats are reasonably expected to include obesity, diabetes, urinary tract disease, kidney disease, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, and skin and coat problems. However, nutrition is a young and inexact science; we are all still learning. Maybe one day these deficiencies will be resolved, but for now, it is best to feed your cat a meat-based diet.
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