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)

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?
perthro 2nd-May-2012 01:46 am (UTC)
Meow Mix is the biggest one. I had 15 cats, after people in the neighbourhood (including some cat shelters) decided that my house was a new shelter. I wasn't going to kick them out. I was determined to find them homes. And I did, most of them. But with this many cats comes certain concerns: keeping up on everyone's vaccinations, checkups, who's eating what from where, etc. You have to watch to see who gets food last consistently (cats are hierarchical creatures), etc. otherwise you'll have a sick cat. You learn to watch EVERYTHING they do. It becomes a habit.

Two of mine, as I mentioned, are incredibly allergic to fish and wheat. Even the vet couldn't figure out why one pulled out her fur- it was up to me to figure it out. Cat allergies are tricky. By now, I can pretty much tell you if your cat is susceptible to certain common conditions by their habits; pulling out fur can be nervousness, or it can be allergies to something. Others will get crystals in their urine, swollen faces, scabs, a million symptoms. I KNOW which of my cats had allergies.

Meow Mix had them ALL in bleeding blisters all over their faces and heads within an hour of eating. ALL of them. Vomiting everywhere. A few months later, a friend I hadn't talked to in awhile said his cat was really sick, but he couldn't afford a vet. Turns out, he was feeding the baby Meow Mix. Stop the food, the sickness stopped.

I mail Meow Mix about it. Their response? Not our problem! Your cats must be allergic. It's common to have allergies. Take him to the vet.

... How about a hearty FUCK YOU. NO, this is not a common allergy. This is half a dozen cats at LEAST, in two different homes, having the SAME symptoms after eating your food, with no other health issues. So much for responsibility on their behalf.

The other two are Hartz (anything they make; especially flea products) and Science Diet/Prescription Diet. Look at the ingredients. For the cats with allergies, the vets had me give them this: http://www.hillspet.com/products/sd-feline-adult-sensitive-stomach-dry.html For something like $35/bag, do you see much meat in that list? It's almost entirely corn, beans, or other starches. Almost 40% carbs. You know, those things that makes them diabetic because it's WAY more sugar than a cat gets in it's natural diet.

Their food is practically poison. It's like a human eating a diet of Cheerios, expecting to be healthy because "look at the other nutrient levels! It's got proteins and stuff!" Yeah, but it's still 40 freaking percent CARBS. For a CAT. Which I expect in 1) dry food, and 2) cheap food... but not in something supposedly so healthy and expensive for them. If I'm going to pay that much, there had better be some real substance.

I acknowledge that while I do have very nutritionally-balanced recipes for cat food, I do not have the energy or equipment to properly make it. Therefore, my cats will get occasional cat-safe 'treat' meals made of chicken, bone powder, taurine, beef, and a little psyllium husk for fiber, etc etc. One of them (I kid you not) demands scrambled eggs if he sees the carton in the fridge. And he CHECKS for that carton! So I still have to give in and buy commercially-made food. For $35 a case, I can get Innova, or Evos 99% meat cat food. Or Wellness, who I know at least had the decency to e-mail me when they had a bad batch, and recalled ALL of the food just to be safe. No confusing customers with lot numbers and specific lines, etc, etc. Just bring it in for a known-good batch. No questions asked. All have affordable options that are low-carb, wheat-and-fish free, for about the same price as Fancy Feast, ounce for ounce.

It isn't perfect; I can't say those chickens or turkeys were free-range, or that everything in it is organically-raised. But I know it's way better than just about anything else they could have. And I make effort to buy them good snack foods that I make from organic pumpkin, beef or chicken, and other things that they love and that are safe for them. I check approximate vitamin counts so they never go without. Once you get in the habit, it's pretty easy, and it's relatively cheap. But if I HAVE to buy commercial, I stick to that boycott list. Never again will they earn my money if I can help it!
castalianspring 2nd-May-2012 01:57 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting all this. I've been thinking about getting another cat again once I've settled down a bit more from my move, and it's nice to know about the healthier options.
kishmet 2nd-May-2012 02:11 am (UTC)
I was gonna comment on the Science/Prescription diet here myself. The vets recommend it because they get hefty commissions to do so, but that stuff is such crap. I think they rely on the fact that humans need a more balanced diet instead of mostly meat, so most people will assume that's good for their dogs and cats too and just roll with it. So annoying.
halfshellvenus 5th-Feb-2013 10:32 pm (UTC)
Argh. We've fed our cats Science Diet forever, mainly to avoid getting crystals and also becaue both now need tthe "Light" formula.

We live in Northern California, and prefer to go with dry food. Any recommendations for something with more meat that won't turn our cats into butterballs?
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