Plant-Based Cats Are Healthier, According To Guardians
Being obligate carnivores, cats generally require a much higher intake of protein, dietary provision of taurine, certain fatty acids, and vitamin A — unlike domestic dogs, who can thrive on simple plant-based diets. However, nearly 1% of all cat caretakers, and 10% of vegan cat caretakers specifically, choose to feed their feline companions entirely plant-based diets. Previous research findings suggest that this should be done carefully, as despite there being no evidence to support a significantly higher incidence of adverse health or nutritional outcomes, dietary nutrient insufficiencies are documented in plant-based cats. Moreover, it is generally said that providing plant-based foods to cats may predispose them to health disorders, including lower urinary tract diseases, especially in male cats. Nonetheless, up until recently, only one study had investigated guardian perceptions of the health of their plant-based cats.
In this study, a team of Canadian researchers from Ontario Veterinary College gathered 1,325 questionnaires to assess how guardians evaluate the health of their cats fed plant-, meat-based, and mixed diets. Demographically, cats fed plant-based diets were more often of mixed breeds or their breed was unknown. Generally, cat age ranged from 4 months to 23 years, without any association with diet type. Although most respondents indicated that their cats do not hunt prey, of the plant-based cats, 35% were given unlimited access to the outdoors, suggesting that their diet could be supplemented with hunted prey. Overall, 65% of the cats were fed a meat-based diet, whereas less than a quarter received a strictly plant-based one.
The researchers found thar more guardians who fed their cats strictly plant-based diets reported their cat to have an ideal body composition score, and fewer reported them being overweight. Cat age and male sex were the two factors most significantly associated with a higher prevalence for disorders, while plant-based and mixed diets were associated with fewer disorders. When other confounding factors were removed, diet was significantly associated only with dental, GI and hepatic, and ocular disorders. Among the respondents, cat food was mostly chosen based on whether or not it was complete and balanced across the board. Guardians in support of meat-based foods commonly reported a desire to avoid by-products, grains, ‘fillers,’ or additives when searching for new cat food. All respondents exhibited similar avoidance of specific plant-derived ingredients such as corn and soy.
Most survey participants sought cat health-related information from veterinary professionals, followed by internet and social media. Here, it is important to note that significantly fewer plant-based feeding guardians got information from their veterinary team, instead relying much more on information available online and in various social media discussion groups. Unsurprisingly, guardians feeding plant-based diets may feel uncomfortable discussing their feeding practice with veterinary specialists and may not regard them as an informed resource for discussing plant-based nutrition.
Caution is warranted. The researchers highlight that questionnaires were filled out voluntarily, suggesting that the respondents may be exceptionally interested in companion animal health and wellness, and may misrepresent the attitude of the “average” cat guardian. Furthermore, these findings reflect the opinions and beliefs of cat guardians, not the definitive health status of the cats, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt. Although the study is not without its limitations, it adds further data as animal advocates suss out the debate about plant-based cats.