Threats of a £20,000 fine and jail if cat and dog owners put their pets on a vegetarian diet

UK – NEWS AND COMMENT: The Daily Mail is reporting on a story which I find a bit extreme. They say that the Blue Cross charity are reminding dog owners (we have to include cat owners as well) that if they feed their dog a vegetarian diet because of their beliefs, they could be exposing themselves to prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in the UK.

Vegetarian cat food
Vegetarian cat food. Photo: PoC.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I have sourced the relevant section of that act and reproduced it below. As you can see, it states that a person commits an offence if they do not provide their companion animal with a suitable diet. This is part of an animal’s needs. There are other needs which the act also specifies.

The relevant section of the Animal Welfare Act 2006

I have highlighted the relevant part of this section.

“(1) A person commits an offence if he does not take such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice. {the concept of “good practice” will evolve as people become more aware of animals’ needs}

(2) For the purposes of this Act, an animal’s needs shall be taken to include—

(a) its need for a suitable environment, {suitable home}
(b) its need for a suitable diet, {suitable food}
(c) its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, {allowed to behave normally}
(d) any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and {some animals’ normal behavior includes living with other animals}
(e) its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

(3) The circumstances to which it is relevant to have regard when applying
subsection (1) include, in particular—

(a) any lawful purpose for which the animal is kept, and
(b) any lawful activity undertaken in relation to the animal.

(4) Nothing in this section applies to the destruction of an animal in an
appropriate and humane manner.”

It doesn’t specify whether a vegetarian diet does or doesn’t meet an animal’s needs. It is stated quite generally. But this charity is hinting that providing a vegetarian diet does not meet the nutritional needs of a dog or cat as per the report.

Clearly, dogs, although classified as carnivores, are omnivores whereas cats are obligate carnivores. And therefore a vegetarian diet for domestic cats is dangerous, far more so than four dogs.

Plant-based proteins plus supplements are as good as animal-protein based foods. Disagree?

Update: a veterinary professor has chipped in and he supports exactly what I have stated below. Please read the last paragraph below to see what he states.

“Many of the same hormones, pesticides and antibiotics found in commercial meat products for humans – along with animal parts deemed unfit for human consumption.” – Elisa Allen, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The above is true only the manufacturers cook it at high temperatures to kill off all the bad stuff.

The charity is stating that if you want to put your companion animal on a vegetarian diet you should consult with your veterinarian. I would say that it is possible for both cats and dogs to receive all the nutrients that they need in a plant-based commercially prepared food. This is because the manufacturers can add in the nutrients such as arginine and taurine et cetera.

There is evidence that replacing animal proteins with more plant-based proteins can benefit health. Eating proteins doesn’t have to mean eating meat. There are vegetarian foods which are high in protein and heart-healthy (for humans) too. Some pet owners swear by plant-based foods as they say that their pet’s health has improved.

My argument is that provided a plant-based food contains the precise nutrients required it must be a suitable diet. There are a lot of people who would disagree with that because they say that cats have to eat meat and only meat can provide those nutrients.

I would argue once again that you can create artificial meat which contains the right nutrients. Artificial meat is plant-based. It is a discussion that will go on for a while. However, I think it is scare tactics and incorrect and rather shortsighted to, in effect, threaten dog and cat owners with prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 if they provide a vegetarian diet for the companion animal.

Genuine vegetarian diets are indeed incorrect and dangerous

I think this charity should have been more precise. This is because some dog, and indeed cat owners, do provide a pure vegetarian diet for their dog or cat. This is a diet without supplementary nutrients. That is dangerous especially for cats and it is highly incorrect. A cat will become seriously ill and probably die on a pure human-style vegetarian or vegan diet. It is these pet owners who could be prosecuted.

But if you buy a commercially prepared product, manufactured under veterinary supervision, I would suggest that you must be protected from any possibility of prosecution. It’s a question of how you go about providing this vegetarian or plant-based diet.

Lewis Hamilton

Apparently, Lewis Hamilton often states on social media that he feeds his well-known bulldog Roscoe on a plant-based diet. I don’t know the exact diet that he provides his dog but I would almost guarantee that it is healthy and suitable for a dog because Lewis Hamilton is a smart man. He is thoughtful and sensible and importantly he loves his dog and I think he is sensitive to animal welfare in general. I don’t think he’s careless, far from it. It is wrong therefore to quote his name in the Daily Mail article.

The president of the British Veterinary Association, Daniella Dos Santos

The president of the British Veterinary Association, Daniella Dos Santos, has chipped in and said: “In the UK, under the Animal Welfare Act the owner has the obligation to feed the animal an appropriate diet. If your personal belief system means you don’t want to eat any animal protein, that’s fine, but that diet is not designed to meet the welfare standards of your pet”.

She is saying that plant protein cannot substitute for animal protein. But she does go on to say that it is theoretically possible to feed a dog a vegetarian diet but it is harder to get it correct. I have already said above that it is possible to substitute meat protein with plant protein. Wrong? Tell me in a comment.

Catit Nuna
Catit Nuna, an insect-based cat food from Canada.

Vegetarian cat food has been available on the market for quite some time. There is also insect-based cat food. Both of which contain protein in sufficient amounts to meet the dietary needs of a domestic cat.

Postscript: in response to the study which I have discussed above, a veterinary professor has said that vegan pet food is as healthy for cats and dogs as meat provided plant-based meals contain added nutrients. This is exactly what I have been stating for quite a long time. The research of Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor at the University of Winchester, found that pets had better health outcomes when on plant-based diets provided the food was carefully formulated to include additional synthetic nutrients. His research is currently unpublished I understand. But it was part of a larger study which found that plant-based pet food was nutritionally equivalent to products containing meat and as enjoyable as meat for cats and dogs eat.

As I stated, he is staying that cats and dogs require a set of nutrients and they don’t have to come from meat. They can be created, if you like, artificially.


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