Cats may be carnivores but new research suggests our feline friends could potentially benefit from eating a vegan diet.
A survey of cat owners found that those who fed their cats vegan diets tended to report fewer visits to the vet and less medication use.
Many pet foods contain cooked meat as the primary protein source but a growing number of available products use alternative protein sources, such as plants or fungi, like mushrooms.
Some vets have voiced concerns that vegan diets – which lack meat, eggs, and dairy – are less healthy for cats than meat-based diets.
But limited research has looked into this.
To help analyse how healthy vegan cat diets can be, researchers looked at survey responses from 1,369 cat owners who were asked to report about a single cat in their household that had been fed either a vegan or meat-based diet for at least one year.
The survey asked people several questions about their cat’s health, followed by questions about its diet.
According to the findings, about 9% of respondents reported feeding their cat a vegan diet, and the rest a meat-based diet.
Study leader, veterinary professor of animal welfare Andrew Knight, a visiting lecturer at the University of Winchester, said: “For every single general health indicator studied, these cats had better health outcomes when fed vegan diets. This represents a strong and consistent trend.
“It indicates that pet food manufacturers are now designing and creating vegan pet foods to include all necessary nutrients, but with fewer of the dietary hazards that are prevalent within meat-based pet foods.
“Cats consuming vegan diets have better health outcomes, as a result.”
After accounting for other factors that could influence health – such as a cat’s age or whether it is neutered – the researchers found that people reported that vegan diets were associated with a lower risk of several health indicators.
After analysis, there was no statistically significant difference between the reported health indicators of cats on vegan diets and those on meat-based diets, but researchers suggest the findings may help address concerns that vegan diets are worse for cats’ health.
The survey also asked about 22 specific health disorders, and found that 42% of cat owners that had pets on meat-based diets reported at least one disorder, compared to 37% of owners of cats on vegan diets.
According to the study, cats on plant-based diets were 7.3% less likely to visit a vet with unusual frequency, indicating treatment for illness, 14.9% less likely to be on medication, and 54.7% less likely to be on a special therapeutic diet.
Prof Knight said a switch to vegan diets for pets could have enormous benefits for the planet.
He added: “There could be major savings in greenhouse gasses, land and freshwater use, and food energy.”
Addressing concerns that a vegan diet may be unnatural for cats, Professor Knight said there is “no evidence to suggest that cats suffer in any way from a nutritionally-sound vegan diet”.
The findings are published in the Plos One journal.