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)

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 01:08 am (UTC)
And bearing in mind, too, that a better food means you don't have to feed as much of it in order to meet nutritional/caloric requirements.

booksforlunch 2nd-May-2012 01:17 am (UTC)
Plus, better food can mean overall better health, which cna save you money in vet bills.
kaowolfie 2nd-May-2012 01:27 am (UTC)
My husband and I are saving about $20/month in vet bills since we switched our cat to a grain-free raw diet. Her allergies and struvite crystals went poof about a week after she accepted the raw stuff as food. Now she's happy and obnoxious around food time, and playful because she's not unable to breathe and in pain.
iheartomntd 2nd-May-2012 01:35 am (UTC)
I want to switch my cat food. They've been on Purina Cat Chow for years now and they're doing great but one of my babies has basically stopped eat it and I've noticed the change in her coat, so she's been on wet food for the past two weeks. They both hate the vet brand food, so I'm looking for a good alternative. Can you recommend a good one?

Edited at 2012-05-02 01:35 am (UTC)
layweed 2nd-May-2012 01:42 am (UTC)
Not really, I've only had mine for 1.5 yrs so it's not like I have a whole lot of experience either.

He used to be on Science Diet, but I switched it to Wellness Core. I really like the stuff. It's pretty highly recommended and the ingredients look good, no random by-product meat listed, grain-free. On the downside, it smells fishy as hell so your cat's breath may be super foul after eating it. He also eats a lot less of it, so consequently, the regurgitation after eating dry food has gone down almost entirely.

I'm sure there are better/other alternatives out there, Wellness Core just seemed to be a good balance of price/ingredients.

Edited at 2012-05-02 01:51 am (UTC)
perthro 2nd-May-2012 01:51 am (UTC)
My cats are all on a rotation of Wellness, Innova, or Evos 99% meat foods, all in the wheat-and-fish-free varieties. Check the ingredients labels carefully. They run about $2.50/12oz can, or $35-ish a case. I check to see who has sales locally and online, and get whichever one I can afford in as large of a quantity as I can. They get 2-3oz per meal. It will seem small, but it's packed with nutrients, so they need less to maintain their weight. Sometimes they still beg for food because they used to eat a lot more in dry, so I mix it with a little psyllium husk or pumpkin. Not all cats like pumpkin, but it's good for fiber to help them feel more full.

I paid about $16/case for Fancy Feast. For all the gravy and carbs and such in that, they were getting sick. Ounce for ounce, between coupons from the manufacturer and sales, I pay about the same or less for the good stuff than I did for the 'cheap' stuff. It might take a little more work to get it, if you go the deal-hunting route. I think of it this way: time hunting for good cat food, or time and suffering for vet care. If money isn't an issue, you can get any of this stuff at Petco or Petsmart.
deathchibi 2nd-May-2012 02:48 am (UTC)
We like blue buffalo. :D It's moderately cost and uses human food grade ingredients.

They have wilderness, grain free, regular and sensitive stomach lines alongside their canned foods.
gothic_hamlet 2nd-May-2012 02:53 am (UTC)
If there's any way you can switch to a a full or partial wet-food diet, do it! Although there's arguments for better dental health with dry, wet food is the best way to get cats hydrated since they're used to getting their water with their food. Most cats unfortunately are dehydrated normally, which can cause a really surprising number of health issues when they get older (diabetes, liver problems, crystals, etc). For any type of food, always try to find something that is 1) grain-free, and 2) lists meat and not meat by-product as the primary ingredient. For dry, I've feed my girls Merrick grain-free and Wellness but you also have cheaper grain options like Blue Buffalo, Innova, etc. For wet there's lots of good grain-free brands like Wellness, Merrick, Natural Instinct, Weruva.
elialshadowpine 2nd-May-2012 05:15 am (UTC)
I have fed my cats grain free alternatives like Innova and Evo and Taste of the Wild and they LOVE them. (Particularly Taste of the Wild, they NOM that shit up.) It's done amazing things for their coats and energy levels, and they don't have to eat as much of it to be sated, either, so it ends up being cheaper in the long run.

If you happen to be in the Western Washington area, look up the Mud Bay stores. They have LOTS of samples of the different cat foods they are more than willing to give out to people. If you aren't, check around for locally owned pet stores; places like Petsmart and Petco aren't so great about stuff like that, but local stores sometimes are better. If you can get samples, you can try out a few things to see what your kitties like best :)
schmanda 2nd-May-2012 07:22 am (UTC)
You asked the question I would have wanted to ask; it's kind of one of those "So many options, where do I even begin?" things.

Got a lot of promising candidates out of the answers for my boy -- thanks, everyone. :)
tabaqui 2nd-May-2012 12:52 pm (UTC)
We give our cats and dog 'Taste of the Wild' - really very good stuff, and my 'Purina-fed' cats switched over with no hassles or issues. It's all the dog's ever eaten.

jei_corsair 2nd-May-2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
Adding to the recommendations here. I give my cats the indoor cat formula from Castor & Pollux's Organix line. http://www.castorpolluxpet.com/product/organix-indoor-adult-cat-food

We also use their wet food. When we rescued our latest cat, she came home that was noticeably rougher than our other one. She was also missing hair from when she had fleas that had never grown back. The shelter had her eating Purina for the past month. Not sure what the previous owners used. Since we started her on C&P her coat has become MUCH more silky to the touch, and some of her missing hair has even started to grow back. :)
lone_concertina 2nd-May-2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
If you or someone you know has a Costco membership, their Kirkland brand pet foods are some of the best and most affordable stuff you can get.
skellington1 2nd-May-2012 01:45 am (UTC)
And there are a host of other side benefits. My kitties (I feed 'em EVO) hardly shed - their 'big' spring shed is the only time I even notice it. The vet assumed I brushed them daily. Their littermate is at someone else's house, eats grocery store kibble, and sheds like mad.

Plus, smaller amount for nutritional and caloric requirements means they just don't go through it as fast.
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