Are you a vegetarian? A vegan? Do your cats share your dietary choices? Do you wish they did? If so, you might want to read my take on this subject:

I’ve only ever dealt with a handful of cases where owners adamantly sought assistance converting their cats to the vegan/vegetarian diet they kept for themselves. In all cases I explained that such was not my recommendation.

But most of these owners made a go of it after reading much online in favor of such regimens. (PETA has a pretty positive spin on feeding pets vegan diets, by the way.)

Nonetheless, I’ve had very little success converting cats to a vegetarian or vegan (no egg or milk protein) diet. Though commercially available vegan diets (along with special supplements) now make this diet a nutritionally viable reality (at least in the short-term), it’s my impression that cats know best…most won’t eat it without serious coaxing.

Cats are obligate carnivores, as I’m sure you know. That means their bodies (specifically, their gastrointestinal tracts) are not ideally suited to digesting non-meat foods. Though cats may seem to do well on these diets once they’ve acclimated to them, the long-term effects of feeding feline diets that lack animal proteins have not been established.

On the other hand, I understand the predicament any self-respecting vegetarian or vegan faces. Following such a lifestyle is a laudable ethical choice many people increasingly elect for themselves. I can see why buying standard cat foods, with all their reliance on cheap meats, might seem anathema to the moral agenda that enjoins thoughtful humans to choose this path.

It’s argued, however, that extending our own moral codes to our obligate carnivores in this way is akin to subjecting factory-farmed animals to our animal confinement-accepting human values.

After all, no cat would choose such an abnormal diet for himself. In fact, cats would never survive such a dietary change without rigorous management of their nutrition similar to the way we manage our animals under certain agricultural conditions.

Viewed in this light, it seems to me that accepting a meat-based diet for a feline could be considered consistent with a vegan’s values.

Considering the likely prevalence of an understandable distaste for standard commercial feline food among vegans or vegetarians, however, it strikes me as odd that no one’s ever asked me about humanely raised meat alternatives. To me, it makes sense that the commercially available vegan diets could be easily supplemented with the high-quality, humanely-raised meats most farmer’s markets offer.

Not only would that solve the problem of poor palatability that plagues these foods, it would address the issue of animal cruelty when it comes to inflicting our human dietary mores on our cats—while correcting the potentially major nutritional down-side of feeding a cat a vegan diet. 

Gina Spadafori over at PetConnection wrote something a couple of days ago on this subject in her characteristically plain-spoken sort of way. What was it? Oh yeah,

“I’m not a vegetarian, and my dogs and cats certainly are not. (Honestly? I believe forcing carnivores to be vegans because of your philosophical beliefs is animal abuse. Want a vegan pet? Get a rabbit … or, a chicken.)”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, if you feel strongly enough about adhering to a strict vegan diet for your pets you might want to consider a goat. Members of this species make great pets (I keep two and they’re amazingly companionable). Moreover, they don’t require that you compromise your vegan values in the slightest—unless you eat them or drink their milk, of course.