17 September 2012

TDIV Q&A: How do vegans justify feeding meat to cats?

To some, the title of this post may seem morally contradictory, and understandably so. To feed meat to your cat means supporting the meat industry, the exact opposite of what any vegan wants to do. It’s an ethical dilemma that I struggled with for many months before finally reaching what I believe is the right decision for my cat.

I feed my cat a meat-based diet.

About six months after adopting my first cat (outside of the family cats I grew up with), the realization hit me that though I was picky about choosing a food with simple, organic ingredients, I was still feeding him meat. Though I was vegan, for some reason I hadn’t occurred to me that his diet wasn’t vegan. In that moment, I decided I was going to switch my cat to a vegan diet.

I started looking up brands of vegan cat food and reading reviews. I found the brand that I thought I would try. But then I started looking beyond just food brands and at the question of whether or not cats could truly thrive on a vegan diet – was it really right for them?

Unlike dogs, who, like humans, are natural omnivores and are generally able to adapt fairly easily to a diet of vegetables and grains, cats are obligate carnivores, which means they require a high-protein diet to survive; namely, meat.

From a scientific, evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense:

- A cat’s teeth are made for tearing, not for efficiently chewing food.

- Cats don’t have the enzyme amylase in their saliva, which is necessary to break down starches.

- A cat’s gastrointestinal tract is much shorter than that of omnivores’ and contains lower amounts of the digestive enzymes necessary for digesting carbohydrates.

These were some of the facts that made me question whether it would be right to switch my cat to a vegan diet, and which, after more detailed research, made me reconsider my original desire to make the change for my cat. We see that lions and other wild cats naturally consume meat, so it seemed natural that a domestic cat would do the same.

The decision to feed my cat meat, and yes, ultimately support an inhumane industry that I stand strongly against, was not an easy one. But I justify it by considering his health first. Despite the fact that I believe eating animals is morally incorrect for me and would never consider changing that because my body is healthy without it, I don’t believe the same would be true for my cat.

Does feeding my cat make me a bad vegan? Some people may say yes, but I don’t believe it does. As a health-conscious vegan I am picky about what I put in my body. I obsess over ingredient labels, shunning foods that are heavily processed, with long ingredients lists I don’t understand. I take the same care when it comes to feeding my cat because he depends on me to make the best choices for him and his health. Though choosing a non-vegan food for my cat is a moral sacrifice I have chosen to make, it is one I make for my cat because I believe it is the best choice for him to be healthy.

The alternative could be choosing to not have a cat, and therefore, to not have to make that choice, but there are too many cats that need help, who would starve and die, or be euthanized, without compassionate people to take care of them it. For me, that alternative is worse than the moral sacrifice I make now.

There is anecdotal evidence for cats thriving on vegan diets, and I don’t doubt the success these people have had. With the right care, I believe that some cats can and will thrive on a plant-based diet. But with the evolutionary evidence against it, I just don’t believe a vegan diet is right for the health of all cats. I justify my choice by my cat’s health, and for me, that’s all I need.

Jessica Bader | Facebook | Twitter
Waldorf, Maryland Jessica is a graduate of Western Washington University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a minor in English. She adopted a plant-based diet seven years ago after making the connection between the food on her plate and the animals she loved; she went vegan four years later after an “aha!” moment while watching The Cove and hasn’t looked back. For her, veganism isn’t just about compassion, but has expanded to an obsessive interest in sustainable living, nutrition and holistic health. The only thing she enjoys more than talking about food is eating it, or talking about her bowtie-wearing cat.

Photo credit:cc: Wikimedia Commons/Mstachul