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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Can Cats be Vegetarians? Part 2

September 28, 2012 / (4) comments

In response to my Can Cats be Vegetarians post from a couple of weeks ago, Ludmila Marshal commented that a study published in 2006 came to different conclusions than the one I referenced questioning the nutritional adequacy of vegan cat foods.

The study Ms. Marshal is talking about is entitled "Evaluation of cats fed vegetarian diets and attitudes of their caregivers." You can take a look at the abstract on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website. I do not believe that this paper is in conflict with the 2004 article that I previously referenced.

The scientists looked at only the cobalamin (vitamin B12) and taurine status of cats fed vegetarian foods. Results showed that all of the cats had normal serum cobalamin concentrations, and 14 of 17 had blood taurine concentrations within reference range. The cobalamin findings are reassuring, but almost 18 percent of the vegetarian cats "had blood taurine concentrations between the reference range and the critical concentration, suggesting that their dietary intake was marginal, but that they were not clinically deficient." I hardly see this as a ringing endorsement for a vegetarian diet being able to provide optimum nutrition for cats.

In praise of this paper’s findings, a veterinarian wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in a subsequent issue of JAVMA. The letter concluded, "It is reassuring to know that I can recommend a meat-free diet to those clients who want to eliminate the link between their cat and the slaughterhouse." The authors of the original article felt compelled to respond in this way:

We would like to point out that although it was encouraging that none of the cats tested in this investigation had taurine or vitamin B12 deficiency, we feel that given the limited scope of the study and the self-selection of the population, our findings should be interpreted with caution. We recommend that people who wish to feed vegetarian diets to their cats be counseled about the potential risks and the need to use a properly formulated recipe or commercial food. We also recommend follow-up contact of those owners with their veterinarians at least twice a year to monitor proper recipe use and examine their cats for signs of nutrient deficiency or excess.

That’s good advice. This study found that 82 percent of owners who chose a vegetarian diet for their cats cited ethical considerations as their reason for doing so. I certainly understand how people who are vegetarians themselves have issues with feeding their cats meat. However, deciding to make your cat a vegetarian adds an extra level of responsibility to ensure that your beliefs don’t adversely affected the well-being of the animal under your care.


Evaluation of cats fed vegetarian diets and attitudes of their caregivers. Wakefield LA, Shofer FS, Michel KE. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006 Jul 1;229(1):70-3.

(2006) Letter to the Editor. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 229:4, 498-498. Online publication date: 1-Aug-2006

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Do I look like a vegetarian to you? by Samira / via Flickr

Comments  4

Leave Comment
  • Taurine and B12
    09/28/2012 11:03am

    If taurine and B12 supplements were given to the cats in question, I would ask from what are those supplements created?

  • 09/29/2012 02:08pm

    I believe that taurine supplements are all synthetically made in China, which raises a whole other group of questions. Re. vitamin B12, take a look at this link. I believe there are some vegan supplements available (e.g., those used in breakfast cereals)but naturally, it occurs primarily in animal-based ingredients.


  • 09/29/2012 04:34pm

    Very interesting paper!

    It appears that a B12 deficiency is really bad, but it also addresses a lot of the hype about B12 and folic acid preventing heart disease.

    Thanks so much.

  • Whose ethics?
    09/30/2012 03:30pm

    The 2006 article concludes that "Vegetarian diets are fed to cats primarily for ethical considerations. Results of this study should aid practitioners in communicating with and providing advice to such clients."

    The first sentence is dead-on accurate. The second sentence is off the mark. The "ethicists" are not the owners; they are the cats' veterinarians. They are the bozos living in the alternate universe, who think that grains are the answer. They are the ones who push junk food like feline Hill's Science Diet, which has NO MEAT.

    This veterinarian ethics pours over to the canine diets as well, in fact, especially well. It is the warped-minded veterinarians who insist that dogs are not carnivores and that they "thrive" on vegetarian diets. The early education of vet students in the field of companion animal nutrition, funded by Hill's and Purina, et al., is one of the causes of this career-long ignorance of vets who push non-meat diets for cats and dogs.