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)

shedove 2nd-May-2012 01:36 am (UTC)
cats eat other animals in nature. It IS nature. Cats eating mice keep rodent populations down, there's a whole cycle to this. Cats are carnivores. Feeding them anything else goes against biology.
muggy_wump 2nd-May-2012 03:31 am (UTC)
Just because something is natural doesn't make it right. That is a terrible justification for anything. It might be your cats 'natural' inclination to hunt down small, endangered animals and birds, but that doesn't make it right for an owner to let their pet do that.

If there are pests in your house which need to be killed in order for you to live a healthy life, then of course it makes no difference if you cat eats them or not. But when you are buying food from the store, you may as well support a more ethical industry by buying a non-meat product. If enough people switch to it, then fewer animals will be raised and slaughtered in factory farms.
layweed 2nd-May-2012 04:04 am (UTC)
I disagree. You are talking about an animal whose biology has evolved over thousands of years to REQUIRE nutrients that are found in meat. THEY HAVE TO EAT MEAT. Just because people have somehow found a "meat-less" alternative to it does not make it a good substitute. Look at sugar substitutes, aspartame, sucralose, cyclamate, and saccharin all have serious health risks associated with them.

You might object to their "nature", but you shouldn't go messing around with it by trying to substitute alternatives for it. It's one thing to be vegan/vegetarian as a human, but it's another thing entirely to push it on a species that are obligate carnivores. If you disagree with their nature, don't get a cat.
homasse 2nd-May-2012 04:17 am (UTC)
Everything you just said.
mornings 2nd-May-2012 06:35 am (UTC)
This, so much. Wtf is up with some people.

(The thing that kept popping into my head while reading this thread is that yeah, they once thought that cigarettes were healthy.)
sephirajo 2nd-May-2012 07:02 am (UTC)
I'm in love with this comment and everything that it stands for.
mirhanda 2nd-May-2012 05:31 pm (UTC)

I do not understand people wanting to basically torture an animal they claim to love. Do not understand!
homasse 2nd-May-2012 04:23 am (UTC)
This has to be the single most surreal comment I have ever read.

I do not understand your logic. At all. Nor can I get how you think it's OK to apply human ethics to a cat's hunting instinct.

I just sincerely hope that you never, ever, EVER get a cat. Stick with dogs, since they're at least omnivores. :/
muggy_wump 2nd-May-2012 04:35 am (UTC)
I uh. I live in Australia. I believe you can actually be fined if you let your cat wander the outside world without a small warning bell attached to its collar, because otherwise it will kill and eat endangered wildlife (such as native birds and marsupials). It is absolutely OK to apply our ethics to a cat, if it prevents the extinction of unique and extremely precious fauna. It's not a wild animal, it's a domestic and introduced species. I uh... Is that crazy? I don't think so.
ms_maree 2nd-May-2012 04:38 am (UTC)
In Brisbane you have to register your cat, if it's not registered and found wandering about it's get taken away.

I wouldn't personally ever let my cat go out and about. I know what people think about cats in Australia and they have good reason to think that (they do cause damage). And many cats do end up dead. I just don't want my cat to end up that way.
homasse 2nd-May-2012 04:50 am (UTC)
When I had a cat, it was an indoor cat. Didn't stop him from catching and eating bugs and spiders. And many other countries besides Australia do allow cats out collared, plus, homes sometimes have mice, and cats are champs at catching them. That, y'know, kinda being why cats ended up mostly domesticating themselves - they came were the mice were, and humans keeping seeds and other foods brought the mice.

And it is not OK to apply your HUMAN ethics to non-humans. Because they are not human. They do not think like us, they do not have the same dietary needs as us, and they are not us. If you want to choose veg*nism for yourself as a human, that's all well and good; good luck with that. But when you start trying to make an obligate carnivore do it, or apply morals and ethics to a living creature that does not even kind of have the same thought processes, then yes, you are wrong.

You can try to stop them from hunting in Australia, because they are an introduced animal and so Australia's native animals have no defenses, but you can not stop a cat from wanting to hunt, or needing to eat meat, and it's ridiculous to say a cat is "bad" for doing what cats do and have done for as long as their have been cats.

Edited at 2012-05-02 08:23 am (UTC)
aiffe 2nd-May-2012 03:09 pm (UTC)
If you find it morally wrong to feed a housecat meat that was killed by humans, then don't have a housecat. You're right, there's nothing natural at all about an animal that is confined indoors and is not permitted to feed itself. Domestic cats are only barely domesticated, as feral cats everywhere prove. Feral barn cats, who are taught to hunt by their mothers, and are kept in an environment with plenty of rodents, can feed themselves, without you having to support the meat industry.

So live on a farm and have feral barn cats. Many shelters have feral cats that are good mousers and need homes with lots of space and rodents. Or, if you want something cute and fluffy in your house that doesn't go outside, and don't want to feed it meat, get a rabbit. Because if you take a cat's ability to feed itself away from it, you have an obligation to give it biologically appropriate food. Cats are obligate carnivores.

You say stuff like, "if it could meet all their needs," and TBH the reason no one is taking this seriously is because it goes against biology and nutritional science. It doesn't meet all their needs. If it did, then screw cats, I'm getting a pet unicorn and feeding it rainbows.

ETA: I just read your comments that you're in Australia, so I'd add that if you ever did get that theoretical farm full of feral cats, it obviously wouldn't be there. Though if you could train them to just kill rabbits....XD

Edited at 2012-05-02 03:12 pm (UTC)
castalianspring 2nd-May-2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
I'm getting a pet unicorn and feeding it rainbows.

I ♥ this comment.
muggy_wump 3rd-May-2012 01:43 am (UTC)
You say stuff like, "if it could meet all their needs," and TBH the reason no one is taking this seriously is because it goes against biology and nutritional science. It doesn't meet all their needs. If it did, then screw cats, I'm getting a pet unicorn and feeding it rainbows.

In the cited study, it did meet their needs. It appears that we can now make meat substitutes which meet the needs of a carnivore. Our bodies make meat out of vegetable protein all the time - why is it impossible that human beings can now do it in a lab setting? And I don't think believing a scientific study is equivalent to believing in unicorns.

Basically, we "go against biology" and "go against the natural order of thing" all the time. This kind of research could have huge environmental and ethical benefits for everybody, but people have to overcome their knee-jerk reactions to it being "unnatural".

I just read your comments that you're in Australia, so I'd add that if you ever did get that theoretical farm full of feral cats, it obviously wouldn't be there.

Yes, I think we are coming at this from a different cultural perspective. When people talk about letting feral cats 'roam free' and 'act out their natural instincts'... That invokes a pretty knee-jerk reaction from me (and I assume other Australians). Feral cats in Australia grow up to a meter long, and are responsible for the extinction of at least one native bird species and the depleted populations of hundreds of marsupial and amphibian species (like this cute little dude). Letting a cat 'act out its instincts' in Australia would completely destroy ecosystems, so you should keep it indoors, or only let it outside with a bell on its collar to warn prey. It's different in America where the native wildlife has evolved with some cat-like predators and is in with more of a fighting chance.

aiffe 3rd-May-2012 07:26 am (UTC)
The problem people are having with this study is that those are not the results it found. It was a short-term study, and the vet could not fully endorse it. And as others have said, just because the cat can survive (in the short term, which is all that's been proven) it's extremely dubious that they're as healthy as they would have been on meat--look at what commercial cat food has done to the health of cats, or what things like HFCS have done to the health of humans. Many cats already can't handle all the grain filler in their food, and develop food intolerances and/or become obese--unlike humans, obesity is something that's completely unnatural to cats, that they can't handle at all, and puts them at constant risk for hepatic lipidosis, should they then miss even one meal. They can't metabolize the fat they've stored like we can.

But everyone in this thread has already made those points, so I'm not sure why I bother. :/

And I agree that cats (and rabbits, for that matter) should never have been introduced to Australia's ecosystem.

I don't get why you're personally invested in a vegan diet for cats (which multiple people are telling you is a terrible idea and a great way to wreck a cat's health) since no one is making you get a cat. You have plenty of reasons to be anti-cat, they kill cute marsupials and they require meat, which you'd have to buy and have in the house if you wanted to keep yours alive and healthy. So seriously, don't get one.
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