Can I feed my Cat a vegetarian or vegan diet?
“I eat a vegetarian diet and want my cat to enjoy the same benefits!”
The above is a common statement that we hear in modern times.
But can our furry friends really thrive on a meat-free diet as we often can?
Join Dr Janey as she addresses this ‘hot topic’ of opting for a diet that conforms with our own dietary choices.
A notable issue in determining whether our dogs are carnivores or omnivores revolves around the ability of dogs to digest grains and vegetables. The digestive tracts of animals give clues as to what kind of diet they can eat. The shorter the length of small intestine, the less capable the animals are of digesting plant materials. Herbivores have very complex and long digestive tracts, whereas humans have somewhat simpler and shorter digestive tracts. If you compare the length of the small intestine in cats (obligate carnivores) with that of a dog, the dog’s small intestine is longer relative to the animal’s body length (4:1 intestine/body length ratio in cats, 6:1 in dogs). Based on digestive system anatomy, and plant digestibility, it would seem that dogs are adapted to eat a diet that includes vegetable material.
The next issue is amylase, the enzyme that digests starch. Grains are mostly starch, so an animal would need to make amylase if it is going to digest starch. People have amylase in their saliva, so starch digestion begins when you chew your food. Dogs, like cats, don’t have amylase in their saliva. But this ignores the fact that dogs secrete large amounts of amylase from their pancreas. Since meat doesn’t contain starch, why would dogs need to make amylase in their pancreas? Obviously because they are equipped to eat and digest plant-derived starches. Foxes, which are closely related to dogs, eat just about anything in the wild, from bugs to birds, to fruits, grains and berries. They too are very adaptable “carnivores”.
Taurine is essential for all animals, but because it is absent in plant material, herbivores and omnivores must synthesize it from other amino acids in their diet. In order for obligate carnivores to get enough taurine, they must eat other animals that contain taurine in their meat and organs. Cats need taurine in their diet, and they are obligate carnivores.
So what about taurine in dogs? Dogs can synthesize their own taurine, indicating that they are not obligate carnivores in terms of physiology.
Therefore, in conclusion, cats most certainly require a diet that contains a high meat protein content and in our opinion, would not perform well on a vegetarian diet. Dogs on the other hand, can perform adequately on an exclusive vegetable diet. That said, one should be extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and ensure that they receive the correct supportive nutrients and that the protein content is sufficiently high.