Is a vegetarian diet good for cats?

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Is a vegetarian diet good for cats?

I’m a vegetarian (OK, I do eat seafood) for many reasons, health being one. And I want my cats to be healthy, so is a vegetarian diet good for cats? Turns out I’m not helping them by making them eat what may be healthy for me, but isn’t for them. In fact, a vegetarian diet for cats can be detrimental. Cats like meat, probably because their bodies are designed to digest meat and have nutrional needs requiring it. In fact, not only are cats carnivores they are obligate (biologically essential for survival) carnivores.

Sources of protein in a vegetarian diet

Legumes and beans often provide adequate protein in a typical vegetarian diet for humans. That’s because beans and legumes are high in fiber, folate, iron (when eaten with a source of vitamin C), and complex carbohydrates, plus they’re low in fat.

legumes in vegetarian diet

lentils are a legume
photo by shari smith dunaif © 2016

A legume

is a type of food that comes from a specific type of plant that is also called a legume. Legumes come from the family Leguminosae, and a trait all legumes share is that they grow in a type of pod. Lentils, soy, peanuts, split peas and clover are all legumes. Legumes are high in protein and not very fatty, so they are generally considered healthy.

is a vegetarian diet good for cats

can of beans
photo by shari smith dunaif © 2016

and beans

are a seed you can eat. You might love garbanzo beans but detest large, green lima beans. When you order rice and beans at a Mexican restaurant, you get a plate full of deliciously spiced, slightly mashed pinto or black beans. You might plant beans in your garden, vine-like climbing plants that grow pods with beans inside. Coffee and chocolate are both foods that start out as beans.

 

Phytates and lectins (lectins are sticky proteins) are naturally found in legumes. For cats, this is a problem because cats lack phytase, the necessary enzyme to process phytates. Phytates are also known to bind to minerals like zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, and therefore depletes them from your cat’s body. This occurs during a meal containing phytates, not subsequent meals that do not contain legumes. But if your cat is fed a steady diet that does use legumes for protein, you should expect health risks.

A large proportion of the total protein in most cheap processed cat food is from plants, not animals. These ingredients artificially boost the total percentage of protein in cat food by manufactures.

cat food labels

cat food labels
photo by shari smith dunaif ©2016

 

Although manufacturers are required to list ingredients in order of precooked weight, you must read the labels carefully, and learn: how to interpret cat food labels.

 

Another major problem caused by using plant proteins as the protein source for cat food is that taurine, an amino acid, is missing in plants. Taurine must be consumed by cats, since their bodies can not produce it, and taurine deficiency causes cardiovascular disease and blindness.

Some cat owners believe they can feed their pet a vegetarian or vegan diet, and add a taurine supplement. In my opinion, this is the equivalent of eating nothing but iceberg lettuce and taking a synthetic multivitamin. That vitamin can’t possibly make up for all the nutrients missing from an iceberg lettuce-only diet.

Dr. Becker, DVM

Taurine is the amino acid found in animal muscle meat, especially in heart and liver.

The biological value (BV) of a protein is an important measurement, since it measures the bioavailability of its amino acid content. Proteins from animal muscle meats typically have high BVs, because it’s easier for cats to digest, absorb and use properly. Whereas proteins from snouts, beaks, feet and tails have 0 biological value (BV) because they are basically indigestible.

cat eats animal protein

Toby eats animal protein
photo by shari smith dunaif © 2016

So my fellow vegetarians, respect that cats are by nature meat eaters, and are designed to hunt and consume animal meat and organs. Corn, soy, rice, beans and legumes benefit the profit of cat food manufacturers, to the detriment of your cat.

Love your cat and feed your cat what is referred to as a “species appropriate” diet.
That means animal protein.
Let’s keep our cats healthy!

let's talk about cats!