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)

kishmet 2nd-May-2012 02:18 am (UTC)
Cats are obligate carnivores, though. And dogs have been proven to process meat products far more efficiently than non-meat. I'm not a fan of how meat animals are treated, but it's not really fair to deny meat to animals who are supposed to be carnivorous.

Idk, I think about the way I feel when I'm iron or protein deficient, and I wouldn't want to impose that on my pets. They can't tell me when they're feeling crappy unless it's really bad, so yeah, I'm gonna go for the ideal diet for them.

Edit for initial brainfail

Edited at 2012-05-02 02:19 am (UTC)
muggy_wump 2nd-May-2012 03:40 am (UTC)
Well, the point is that this product mimics the properties of meat, and so might be able to replace it entirely.

And I think we have a pretty good idea of how our cats and dogs are feeling. My dog seems pretty good at communicating things like "I'm hungry! I want a walk! Play with me! I feel sick! Feed me dinner! Pay me attention!" If a cat is switched to a vegan diet, but within a few weeks has dramatic behavioural changes, becomes lethargic, shows little interest in food and has other visible problems (like vomiting or diarrhoea) then obviously a caring pet owner will deduce that their cat is unhappy, and switch them back to a diet which is healthy for them. Not to mention that, after beginning such a novel diet, I should hope that a good owner would take their cat to the vet regularly, and check them for any problems that might arise.
txvoodoo 2nd-May-2012 05:11 am (UTC)
You're missing the entire thing where it might mimic the NUTRIENTS but not the other components which allow those nutrients to be digested and absorbed.

Many illnesses in pets show no symptoms until they keel over, and the next step is death. They cannot communicate nuances of "I don't feel so great." They're not human.

Your argument is invalid.

homasse 2nd-May-2012 05:53 am (UTC)
Especially cats - they usually don't show signs they are sick until they are very, very, VERY sick.

They're like Macs, in a way - OK, OK, OK, OK, O--hunh?, dead.
layweed 2nd-May-2012 05:58 am (UTC)
More so Windows, tbh. One day it's fine, the next, BSOD, sorry no reboot for you, time to buy new computer.
homasse 2nd-May-2012 06:02 am (UTC)
heh - when I had windows, they'd be erroring constantly leading up to them giving up the ghosts, so I knew it was coming. Every mac, though, worked perfectly until the screens went black or a sad mac appeared and computer no worky no more. >XD;;;
txvoodoo 2nd-May-2012 06:08 am (UTC)
Exactly. Same with dogs though, really. They can have a major organ thing going on, and suddenly go downhill in 2 days. We lost one that way in 2009 - his liver gave out, but there were no symptoms until those last few days.

And it's not just macs - it's all computers! (unless you're a geek who runs diagnostics all the time. *cough* :D)
riath 2nd-May-2012 11:24 am (UTC)
Yep, rabbits are the same. Being prey animals, they hide any illness they get, so by the time you notice something is wrong it's often too late. I watch mine extremely closely for any changes in behaviour or eating/drinking patterns and check her over at least once a day.

Never had a Mac, but I hate Windows. I stick with Linux since it doesn't regularly crash on me like Windows did.
babysinclair 2nd-May-2012 05:34 am (UTC)
You obviously never been around cats before have you?
muggy_wump 2nd-May-2012 06:26 am (UTC)
I'm not a cat person, no. But I hope that anyone putting an animal on a new diet would monitor it carefully for health changes.
aiffe 2nd-May-2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
Cats are notoriously stoic. One of ours had an infected tooth leading to a hole in her gum and an infected jaw, and showed no outward symptoms. She seemed frisky, happy, cuddly, and ate her meals. It's not just that they don't speak English, it's that they go out of their way to hide any signs of illness. One of the feral cats I was feeding had his throat cut by some terrible person with a knife, survived, and I actually didn't notice the wound for several minutes because he seemed completely normal. (He was a longhair, so it was a bit hidden.) Then I happened to glance at his neck, and HOLY GAPING WOUND. I had to rush him to the vet to get stitches. He never showed even a hint of pain about any of it.

Even when I lost one of mine to cancer, she was so strong right up to the end that I didn't put her down as soon as I probably should have. She still seemed so full of life. She hid it until she couldn't, and by that point she was hours from death.

Basically what I'm saying is, even with the most well-intentioned person, it wouldn't work. And as kishmet said, deficiencies can cause misery of the sort that's more consistently feeling awful and "down" but not screaming agony, which is completely impossible to detect on a cat because they do not communicate any kind of physical problems they are capable of hiding.
angelofdeath275 2nd-May-2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
oh my fucking god.
muggy_wump 3rd-May-2012 01:45 am (UTC)
artichokes 3rd-May-2012 02:28 am (UTC)
Everyone here is freaking the fuck out and yelling "obligate carnivore! abuse!" like it's just morally reprehensible to even attempt to use vegan cat food because it's ~against nature. Well, so what? I'll happily feed a cat the best meat food I can, but not without trying a well-researched vegan diet first. I'm not going to stubbornly sit around and watch a cat die, but it seems people would almost prefer it that way than entertain the very idea of a healthy vegan cat.
homasse 3rd-May-2012 02:44 pm (UTC)
Or you can get a goddamn rabbit, which will thrive being vegan, being an herbivore and all.

And funny how people "freak the fuck out" over people claiming to love animals basically saying they plan to abuse one for the sake of their ideology.
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