This article concerns a study about dogs which I think is helpful to cat owners. Almost universally cat caregivers feed their cats with processed meat-based commercially prepared cat food. It’s either dry or wet but ultimately, it’s meat-based or fish-based. It is rarely plant-based although today there are commercially-prepared cat food products which are vegetarian. These are controversial. I would suggest that they will be less controversial after people have dipped into the news media today and noticed that vegan hounds are fitter than those fed on their conventional dog food diet.
Human experience and shift to eating less meat
Andrew Knight, a professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester said: “People are recognising in their own lifestyles that we have to look at things differently and, actually, some people are starting to think about that for their dogs as well”. To this statement, we can add cats. It’s important to note, however, that vegan people should not try and turn their cats into vegan animals. You can buy commercially prepared plant-based cat food but this is not the same as giving your cat vegan foods on an ad hoc basis. The commercially prepared foods have supplements which ensure that the product is balanced, whole and complete. That’s important to note.
RELATED: Shift Towards Vegan Cat Diet?
Dogs healthier on vegan diet
However, dogs are omnivores although they are described as carnivores. The dog is more flexible diet-wise that the cat and in this study of 2,536 dogs (the largest study of its kind) researchers found that dogs put on a vegan diet were healthier than those given standard dog food and at the very least were as healthy as those on raw meat diets.
The Times newspaper reports on the study and the author of that article, Tom Whipple, the Science Editor, states that the 13% of dogs put on a vegan diet “were about a third less likely to be on medication, about a third more likely to be considered healthy by their owners, and just under a third less likely to suffer from one of a range of common conditions”.
Andrew Knight said: “It’s clear that these dogs are significantly healthier than those on a conventional diet. There is no doubt about that. And I think that’s good news for anyone that is looking at their lifestyles and how they feed their companion animals and wondering if there is some way that they can feed a diet which might be better for the pet, the environment, and probably animal welfare too.”
Dangers of raw
Although raw diets (dogs fed raw meat with supplements to ensure that it is balanced) appeared to be similar in performance to a vegan diet in terms of health, there was the added problem of contracting an endoparasite infestation. And therefore, the conclusion is that the best diet out of a raw, commercial dog food or vegan, is the latter.
He reminds us, as I have above, that it is not satisfactory to simply chuck vegetarian or vegan foods as a dog because this would be unbalanced. It would not include all the nutrients that a dog needs to stay healthy. Commercially prepared vegan or vegetarian dog food is going to include added nutrients.
As happy on vegan foods
There was a question as to whether a dog fed a vegan diet would instinctively want to chase meat on the hoof such as a squirrel in order to satisfy their urge to eat meat. Apparently, this is an unwarranted concern. Dog owners might be concerned that their dog would become unhappy on a vegan diet. But Mr Knight and his colleagues found no signs of distress or unhappiness when monitoring the behaviour of the participating dogs in their study when fed a vegan diet. There was no difference in their behaviour when fed a vegan diet or a conventional diet.
What about cats?
Does this study help us in deciding what best to do when feeding a cat? I think it provides a pointer or a reminder to the fact that it is probably fair to say that conventional, commercially prepared cat food is not ideal (to put it mildly). It is everywhere and cat owners have no choice but it is not the best. It is possible to substitute meat protein with plant protein in my opinion and therefore a plant-based diet for cats is workable provided it is commercially prepared and contains all the nutrients required.
A raw diet for a cat is arguably better than tinned and packaged commercial food. The problem is that you have to add the right supplements and you have to store the food properly to avoid cross contamination and finally, as mentioned above, there is the possibility of feeding your cat with the oocysts of the toxoplasma gondii protozoan or some other species of endoparasite.
I think, today, it is accepted by people generally that dog and cat owners can also benefit from avoiding meat. The question is whether it is necessary to eat meat in the quantities that we eat today? It is obviously natural for humans to eat meat but a study has found that people who eat meat more than five times a week are at a greater risk of developing cancer compared to those who eat small amounts, according to researchers at Oxford University.
They found that in studying 470,000 Britons, vegetarians and vegans had a 14% lower chance of developing cancer than carnivores. And for those who just ate fish i.e. pescatarians, there was a 10% lower chance of developing cancer. Note: the researchers make it clear that the findings do not conclusively prove that regular meat-eating increased the risk of cancer.