ONTD Political

Vegan pet food triggers meaty debate

9:42 am - 05/02/2012
Vets have advised against non-meat and non-dairy diets for domestic pets despite the increasing popularity of a vegan product designed to cover cats' and dogs' dietary needs.

Vegan Pet was developed by a Victorian health food maker to include the essential nutrients cats and dogs would miss out on in a vegan diet.

Derived from entirely non-dairy and non-meat sources and designed with the help of a Murdoch University professor, studies have shown it can provide the short-term dietary needs of domestic pets.

It is sold in Queensland at the ethical alternative pet food store Complete Pet Company in Keperra. Owner and operator Jenny Golsby says vegan and vegetarian pet foods are becoming more popular as pet owners search out ethical alternatives to mainstream pet food.

Despite the product's growing popularity and dietary provisions, veterinarians still hold concerns a non-meat diet could harm domestic animals, especially cats.

Australian Small Animal Veterinary Association president David Neck said he would immediately advise owners against feeding their animals an exclusively non-meat and non-dairy diet.

Dr Neck was particularly concerned with how a non-meat diet could provide carnivores, such as cats, "a complete and satisfying" meal.

"Millions of years of evolution have dictated what is best to go into these animals, and [some pet owners] trying to change that in the course of one generation does not make sense to me," he said.

"It really is a concept I struggle to come to terms with, that you would take what is the natural diet of such an animal and alter it in such a radical way.

"I can tell you from my experience with cats and dogs they don't have any ethics about where their food source is derived from.

"If a vegan pet owner is making that decision on behalf of a pet that they own, they should perhaps consider the reasons they have that pet."

Vegan Pet creator Sandy Anderson said she understood the concern veterinarians had with animals being fed vegan food.

Her decision to develop dry food and tinned food products was motivated by the concerns she had seeing her friends feed their animals vegan food not designed for pets.

"I realised the animals weren't getting everything they needed having studied a basic nutrition course," Ms Anderson said.

"So what I did then, for their good, was try and find out whether you can have vegan cat food [with the proper nutrients]."

Ms Anderson developed the products with the help of Nick Costa, head of biochemistry and nutrition at Murdoch University's School of Veterinary and Biomedical Science, ensuring the food met the needs for complete and balanced diet, according to the dietary requirements tabled by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

The food passed tests for short-term effects, palpability and digestibility.

Concerned with the quality of pet food sold by mainstream distributors, Ms Anderson said the proof of the food's suitability for animals was in their reaction to it.

"Some animals have been on it for eight or nine years and they are still thriving on it," she said.

"People say that cats are carnivore and they should be fed meat, which they should.

"But my theory is if you can feed an equivalent that the cat enjoys equally and it supplies everyone of those nutrients in the meat source, what harm is being done?"

Professor Costa said long-term studies needed to be conducted on the product and he personally believed a meat diet was preferable for cats.

But he said the product was a viable alternative for people wanting to feed their animal a vegan diet.

"What it does do, through Sandy's efforts, is for those people who are vegans, and who eschew red meat completely, and meat products generally, then this gives them an alternative that has complete and balanced nutrient profile that has been partially tested in terms of digestibility and palatability," Professor Costa said.

"What it hasn't been tested for is long-term trials, where you can see if it is affecting reproduction long term, heart function long term, through taurine, or whether it is affecting visual processes long term.

"But in support of the food it has been going a decade and if those systems were problematic Sandy would have heard from people who had been suing it by now."

Dr Neck believes there is another solution for animal lovers keen to feed their animals a vegan diet.

"If you're a vegan, and you have ethical concerns about feeding animal-derived protein to your pet, well I could probably recommend a rabbit or a guinea pig as a pet, that you can source their nutrients from," he said.

"Rather than make ethical choices for an animal."

Hmmm, well I know one thing about my cat, there is nothing that gets him more excited than fresh chicken or tuna he gets once a week. He'll eat the dry processed food happily - but he'll only go into kittty paroxyms of joy over meat. But I do wonder if the vegan option has a less offensive kitty litter odour, I might try it for a while to see (but he'll still get his chicken)

ms_maree 2nd-May-2012 12:40 am (UTC)
But they said they had a Professor to work out a way to come up with a vegan suplement and that cats have been on this diet for their entire lifetimes and it's worked for them. So, are we to assume all these people who fed these cats this are making up lies about the health of their animals?
iheartomntd 2nd-May-2012 12:56 am (UTC)
sorry to butt in, but you're really missing the point. Cats are OBLIGATE carnivores, even if they are fine, they are still missing vital nutrients that they should be getting from a meat based diet. Yes it works for them, but it doesn't mean that it's healthy for them in the long run. All of the results from cats that are subjected for vegan diets were for short-term not long term. And the rise of diabetes amongst pets, especially indoor cats, that are on primarily on grain diets, tells otherwise.

Edited at 2012-05-02 12:56 am (UTC)
layweed 2nd-May-2012 12:58 am (UTC)
Not only that, but I'm sure for many people who report pet successes with vegan diets, there are those who fail and have to switch back because it just isn't feasible long term. Just because a professor of something says it's a good idea doesn't mean it necessarily is.
circumambulate 2nd-May-2012 01:01 am (UTC)
well, I am on the side of cats are carnivores, don't have one if you're not willing to do that, but there is a difference between forcing them onto a nutritionally inadequate diet, and providing them an alternative diet that is nutritionally complete. I would hope that the latter is really what is provided in the linkage. And, what's linked is probably a hell of a lot better for a cat than the average bag of Friskies, frankly.
ms_maree 2nd-May-2012 01:03 am (UTC)
I'm not missing the point. I know cats are obligate carnivours. My point is that if they can come up with non-meat substitute which has all the necessary ingredients that cats need then it should be considered. I'm not saying this is the case here, obviously everyone should take accept these things cautiously, I'm just wondering why everyone is having a knee jerk reaction to someone coming up with this, it's not like it's saying 'go feed your cats carrots and celery'

Farming practices are bad for the environment, if a substitute can be found I'm the first one on board. And no, I'm not going to put my cat on a vegan diet.
perthro 2nd-May-2012 12:58 am (UTC)
No. I am saying that most deficiencies are invisible until it kills the animal. There are nutrients in meat specifically that do not exist in plants. Nutrients that help humans AND animals break down your basic Centrum-style run-of-the-mill vitamins. That's why most vegans lose parts of their brains after so many years on a strict animal-free diet (about 6% over 10 years, if I remember the study results accurately). It's about hormones, tissues, all kinds of things nearly impossible to synthesize in a way that a cat can digest. WE can digest them because we are omnivores- we have the ability to break down both forms, although we break down veggie sources of nutrition far less readily than meats (about 3% of protein in plants vs 15% in meat). THEY most often cannot. And since taurine levels can decline within weeks, sometimes days, your animal might be dead before you notice anything wrong.

Sure, a lot of animals feel better after getting away from commercial cat food. Cheap companies often use "meat" sources like roadkill and other euthanized animals. I'd feel better too after not eating that! The problem isn't animals eating meat. They are SUPPOSED to eat meat. The problem is that we're feeding them poison! If you want your pet to be healthy, you need to do some digging and figure out where the sources of their food are coming from. That bag says Made in America, but the food might be produced in China (ie, the melamine deaths). It says "animal by-product", but that could be rancid remains of butcher floor birds, or in some cases, other cats and dogs. Dry foods have to include fat- but fat gets rancid fast, now doesn't it? Yet, that bag has probably been on the shelves for MONTHS, between the delivery trucks, warehouses, and the grocery store. And you wonder why they're sick from it?

Do your best to feed them better food. Do your best to make sure they have 'clean' food. DEMAND clean food for them. Call the companies you use. Write to them. Boycott them. I refuse to buy from at LEAST three companies because of their shitty practices. Meow Mix is on my most-hated list for good reason.

It IS possible to ethically raise food for our animals. It IS possible to not have chickens in 1'x1' cages for their entire lives. It IS possible for it to be made illegal to use substandard 'meat products' in their food. It IS possible to be humane about feeding them. Veganism is not the way to go about it.
layweed 2nd-May-2012 01:05 am (UTC)
I would also add that it really isn't that much more expensive feeding your cat GOOD stuff instead of Science Diet/Meow Mix/etc. I agree it can get expensive if you have more than one cat or dog (or a bigass dog), but one or two indoor cats? C'mon. I went from Science Diet/Fancy Feast to Wellness Core/BFF and it really didn't cost me that much more in the end. The added proteins/nurients in good cat food more than makes up for the difference in cost.
alryssa 2nd-May-2012 01:09 am (UTC)
Thank you for being all up in this so I don't have to, because ARGH. This really is a big hot button topic for me.
angelofdeath275 2nd-May-2012 01:11 am (UTC)
I refuse to buy from at LEAST three companies because of their shitty practices.

would you mind telling me which companies?
ms_maree 2nd-May-2012 01:15 am (UTC)
Is royal canin or science diet on your black list?
armina_skitty 3rd-May-2012 06:10 am (UTC)
I want to sincerely thank you for all the information you've been sharing in this post. I work for Petco and I was better able to advise my customers today thanks to you. I'll also be feeding my own pets better after this. Thanks.
spyral_path 2nd-May-2012 01:11 am (UTC)
The article states "some pets have been on it for 8 or 9 years." Not cats, pets. And since the life span of a cat is about 15 years on average, it is mathematically impossible for cats to have been on this diet for their entire lives. They only talk about it being proven safe in the short term, and even the professor who helped develop the product says it hasn't been studied for long term use and that cats should eat meat. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. I wouldn't feed this stuff to my cats, and I'm vegan.
thevelvetsun 2nd-May-2012 05:12 am (UTC)
Vegan pet food is a trend, someone is making a ton of money off convincing you and people like you that it's healthy for carnivorous animals.
lastrega 2nd-May-2012 09:29 am (UTC)
Did you notice the disclaimer in their use of the phrase "short term"?
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