The results of a study published on September 13, 2023 on the PLOS ONE website reveal that the participating cat owners decided that their cat was healthier on a vegan diet compared to a meat-based diet. The findings are going to be controversial and have been reported in the news media online. There are some weaknesses in the study.
Of the 1369 respondents to the questionnaire, 91% or 1,242 fed their cat a meat-based diet while 9% (127) had their cat on a vegan diet. That’s the first problem about this study namely that the number of cats on a vegan diet, as expected, is small which is why, I believe, the results are described as not being statistically significant. It seems that the study researchers have told us that their results are not worth considering which looks odd but true. There needed to be much larger numbers.
The second problem which I will mention right away is that they don’t tell us the exact diet that these vegan cats were on. They didn’t even ask the respondents to tell us. The point I’m making is that you can put cats on a vegan diet provided there are added nutrients and supplements to the plant-based protein to ensure that the diet is balanced and complete. I think we need information on this but I couldn’t find it in the study.
That said, if the vegan diets were deficient in essential nutrients such as taurine the cats would have become ill over one year and therefore, I presume that these vegan cats were on a commercially manufactured plant-based dry cat food which is on the market right now.
Having got that introduction out of the way, all the cat owners who fed their cat a vegan diet reported improved health over those on a meat-based diet.
- They reported a 7.3% reduction in veterinary visits
- A 14.9% reduction in the use of medicines in treating their cat
- A 54.7% reduction in “progression into therapeutic diet” which I believe means a change of diet to one which deals with health issues
- A 3.6% reduction in veterinarians assessing their cat as being unwell
- A 7.6% reduction in veterinarians assessing more severe illnesses in the cats compared to those on meat-based diets
- And a 22.8% reduction in the cats’ owners opinion that their cat is suffering from a severe illness.
I stress, the report states that “No reductions were statistically significant”. They are saying, as mentioned, that the results can’t be relied upon and this must be because of the small sample of 127 vegan cats. Although disappointingly they don’t spell that out.
The study also states that respectively 42% of the cats fed meat and 37% of those fed vegan diets suffered from at least one disorder and of the 22 disorders, 15 were more common in cats fed meat and 7 in cats fed vegan diets.
The scientists concluded that overall the results indicated that “cats fed vegan diets tended to be healthier than cats fed meat-based diets. This trend was clear and consistent”. And they said that these results were also consistent with previous similar studies.
You can read the full study yourself by clicking on this link if you wish.
Fifty-eight percent of the other 1,368 cats mostly stayed indoors. This was 57% and 67% for cats fed meat-based and vegan diets respectively. The remaining cats were reported to stay mostly outdoors, or to spend significant time in both locations.
Comment: personally, I think a vegan diet for cats is fine provided it is commercially prepared and complete and balanced and based upon plant protein rather than animal protein. This kind of diet may be beneficial to cats because all the reports that I read about humans eschewing meat are that they are healthier. In short, veganism appears to improve a person’s health according to the reports and therefore the results of the study are in line with the general reports about people.
Below is another extract from the report. One final point which the scientists make is that there is an increased concern about environmental sustainability and about the welfare of animals subjected to intensive farming. There is increased concern about climate change which is exacerbated by cattle emitting methane and in South America cattle is often kept on farmland carved out of the Amazon Forest which has been burnt. These all contribute to climate change which is of great concern to hundreds of millions of people. They are encouraged to turn to a vegan diet for their cat. The important point is that they must ensure that it is a complete and balanced diet.
Guardians were asked about the main ingredients within their pet’s normal diet. They were asked to identify whether the diet was based on conventional, raw or in vitro meat, insects, fungi or algae, or whether it was a vegetarian, vegan or ‘other’ diet. Respondents could select only one option. Vegetarian diets were explained as including eggs or milk, but not meat, and vegan diets as eschewing any animal products. Guardians were also asked about any treats/snacks/scraps or supplements provided. We did not further inquire about details of diets, including nutritional soundness indicators, such as packaging claims of compliance with the nutritional guidelines of the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF), or the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).Quote from study: Vegan versus meat-based cat food: Guardian-reported health outcomes in 1,369 cats, after controlling for feline demographic factors.
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