Why Cats Can't be Vegetarians

Recently I received several questions about whether cats can be vegetarians. The answer is a very simple no. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and you object to feeding meat to your cat, you will be seriously jeopardizing his health if you try to have your cat follow your nutritional beliefs or routines. Cats are obligate carnivores and can only get much needed vitamin A from animal sources. They can't convert beta carotene into vitamin A. It must come from meat. Cats also need the amino acid taurine in their diet and unlike dogs and humans, their bodies can't manufacture it. Taurine must be supplied in the diet. Taurine deficiency can lead to blindness and life-threatening heart problems.

Other questions I've received recently on nutrition have to do with feeding cats a homemade diet. Good quality commercial cat food is specifically formulated to meet a cat's nutritional needs. Cats require higher amounts of protein and fat than dogs do, and they also need a specific balance of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Cat food companies spend lots of money researching and formulating their foods to meet the specific life stages of cats. If you decide to do a homemade diet you have to make sure you create the correct balance. All-meat or all-fish diets without other nutrients can cause serious nutritional deficiencies. Providing what your cat needs isn't as simple as cooking some chicken. If you are absolutely set on feeding a homemade diet, talk to your veterinarian and get guidance on the best way to do it and what will have to be supplemented. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize your cat's health.

Another mistake a see many owners make is letting the cat and dog share food. Cats require higher amounts of protein and fat in their diet. Very often, the family dog is attracted to kitty's food because of how tasty the extra fat and protein make the meal. Unfortunately, a steady diet of cat food can lead the dog to potential kidney problems and obesity, to name just two. If your cat is allowed to eat dog food, he won't be getting the amount of protein, taurine, and fat he needs and that can lead to serious, and even life-threatening health issues. Make sure everyone's nose is in their own food bowl.

If you have questions about your cat's nutritional needs, talk to your veterinarian. He/she can guide you on what your cat should be eating and the quantity to feed based on your individual cat's age, activity level, physical condition, and health. Veterinary nutrition has come a long way in the last decade.

For help with behavior issues centered around mealtime, refer to the book Starting from Scratch.

Starting from Scratch
Starting from Scratch

Pam Johnson-Bennett is a certified cat behavior consultant and owner of Cat Behavior Associates, LLC.

The blog is not intended to diagnose any medical conditions. If you have questions regarding your cat's health, please contact your veterinarian.