Any vegetarian or vegan who has a cat, at some stage thought about feeding it vegetarian diet. Out of all the domestic animals cats are unique. A study by the National Cancer Institute suggests that all current domestic cats in the world are descendants from a group of self-domesticated wildcats 10,000 years ago. In fact there’s still no conclusive evidence that domestic cats should be classified as a separate species.
Being a true carnivore a cat (domestic or wild) subsists on a diet consisting primarily of meat. In its natural state the cat will hunt and provide for itself at every opportunity. A wild cat eats all of its prey including hair, skin, flesh, bones and internal organs. Cats are very unlikely to give up meat voluntarily. If you intentionally feed cat vegetarian diet, it will look for meat somewhere else. Many cats will hunt and kill mice, rabbits and birds. Certainly they will consume other foods as well, especially of animal origin. However as these are not important in their diet, cats will eat them only in small quantities and not on a regular basis.
Cats lack the physiology to properly digest vegetation. It’s no coincidence that a cat eats grass to induce vomiting to get rid of the hair collected in its stomach. The cat’s digestive system cannot convert plant based nutrients in to the form that its body can utilize. That’s why cat are are called strict carnivores, as they need to take the active form of the nutrients from other animals, who do the conversion beforehand.
Here’s 7 most important nutrients that your cat is unable to get from a vegetarian diet:
- Taurine is an amino acid essential for cats as unlike other mammals, cats cannot synthesize it. In the absence of taurine, a cat’s retina slowly degenerates and the cat suffers eye problems and can become irreversibly blind. This condition is called central retinal degeneration (CRD). Cow’s milk is a poor source of taurine and there is none in plant foods. The only rich source is meat.
- Arachidonic acid is one of the essential fatty acids. Dogs and humans can convert linoleic acid found in vegetable fats into arachidonic acid. Cats are unable to do that, as their liver doesn’t contain delta-6-desaturase enzyme (no kidding!). Cats need arachidonic acid to be able to produce an inflammatory response so that the body can protect itself in case of disease. Arachidonic acid also helps control skin growth and is necessary for proper blood clotting, proper functioning of the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems. Animal fat is the only major source of arachidonic acid, very small amount can be found in eggs and milk. Arachidonic acid deficiency takes some time to develop but its effect on the cat is profound.
- Vitamin A found in vegetables (carotenoid) cannot be converted by cats in to the active form of vitamin A (retinol). As cats do not have the necessary enzyme to do the conversion they have to hunt other animals that have done it for them (mice, rabbits). There are sufficient quantities of retinol in meat and very small amounts in eggs and milk. Liver is the richest source of preformed Vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency in cats can cause night blindness, retarded growth, and poor-quality skin and fur.
- Vitamin B12 is another vitamin that cannot be synthesized by cats. Vitamin B12 is present only in animal products.
- Niacin can be synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan by many mammals but not cats. Meat is the best source of niacin. Insignificant amounts of niacin can be found in milk and eggs. Lack of niacin in cat’s diet can cause loss of appetite, loss of weight, inflamed gums, and hemorrhagic diarrhea.
- Thiamin (vitamin B1) has an important role in carbohydrate metabolism. Cats are very susceptible to deficiency of this vitamin. Thiamin is rapidly destroyed by heat, that’s why only raw meat is the only good source of this nutrient. Very small amount can be obtained from eggs and dairy. Thiamin deficiency in cats can lead to anorexia, ataxia, paralysis and finally permanent brain damage.
- Protein is required by cats in large amounts. Over 30% of a cat’s diet should consist of protein and this can be a problem on a vegetarian diet.
For all these reasons cats must not be fed vegetarian or vegan diet. Cats have very specific nutritional needs which you must meet if you want to keep them fit, healthy, and happy.
You might have to make some hard choices as this is a question of life and death for your cat. It might be impractical or impossible to let your cat hunt, but killing your cat by feeding it food they cannot digest is just another way to participate in animal cruelty that we’re trying to avoid in the first place.