I’m a veterinarian who has been vegan longer than being a vet.
Care Bear Cold Heart
Back in 2001, I was working as a veterinary technician at Compassion Veterinary Clinic in Marlborough, MA. Somehow I ended up fostering two 3-day-old orphaned kittens that needed bottle-feeding. So I cared for them like their mom would have, including feeding them Kitten Milk Replacer every two hours. When it was time for weaning, they refused to eat cat food. One day the little boy kitten, Speck, crawled onto my plate and started scarfing down Morningstar Burger Crumbles – his first food! So quickly they were eating solid food that I was ready to return them for adoption. Then my boyfriend at the time called me “Cold Heart – the Care Bear with a black heart of stone” for even considering giving up the little cuties. Thus my foster kittens found their forever home.
The sudden thought of having to support the meat industry by purchasing cat food for them presented a real ethical dilemma. I hoped there was another option and went out in search of it. Luckily, I found a food called VegeKit online and ordered both the supplement to home prepare the recommended recipes and James Peden’s book Vegetarian Cats and Dogs. The book was great and included his nutritional research and anecdotal stories about individual cats. Unfortunately, there was no hard scientific data about the safety of feeding cats, and especially kittens, vegetarian diets. I ended up speaking via phone with James Peden and he convinced me that I could safely raise these kittens vegan. I explained that I wanted to do a study to gather scientific evidence about the health of cats eating this way. He discouraged me out of concern that it would be akin to animal research, but I didn’t think lab animal use was at all necessary. I knew there would be another way. Continue reading
Most veterinarians strongly recommend against feeding cats a vegetarian diet. While vegetarian cat food can be supplemented and formulated to meet AAFCO standards, there is a paucity of scientific data regarding bioavailability of essential nutrients and long-term health effects. The bioavailability of synthetic taurine in these foods, for example, is unknown. However, the majority of commercial cat foods add synthetic taurine because the natural taurine is denatured during high-heat processing. So there is a huge sample of cats lacking any signs of deficiency during a lifetime of consuming and utilizing synthetic taurine. Still, the bioavailability of many supplemented nutrients remains unknown.
Anecdotally, the thousands or tens of thousands of cats currently on vegetarian diets are in adequate to excellent health.3 Veterinarians such as Beth Johnson, DVM, have remarked on the apparent health of these animals, “The Home at Last [absolutely no-kill vegan sanctuary] dogs and cats appear in excellent physical condition. The dogs are enthusiastic with vibrant coats and show no evidence of nutritional deficiencies. The cats, who are kept indoors, also appear very healthy without any evidence of nutritional deficiency.”6 Continue reading
In his book Obligate Carnivore, Jed Gillen writes about the difficult decision caregivers are forced to make where essentially they are choosing between animals. He speaks of his newly adopted kitten: “Nature may have evolved her to be a carnivore, but it most certainly did not evolve me to go into the grocery store and buy dead animal parts to feed to her. Those same laws of nature that designed her to eat flesh did not tie my hands at all. If I chose to sustain this one life at the expense of many ‘food animals,’ on what would this decision be based? The fact that she was adorable and lived in my house, while they were just nameless and faceless statistics?” That sort of thinking is defined by Peter Singer as speciesism, which is arbitrary discrimination based on species.
From a utilitarian point of view, the reduced quantity of farm animal suffering and sacrificed lives far outweighs the possible health detriments and taste preferences of a single companion animal. Gillen explains further using Regan’s principle of inherent value: “If I were killing chickens to feed a cat, what message would I be sending other than I value cats more than I value chickens, and it is perfectly valid to create a hierarchy of inherent worth based on species?” One could pose that caregivers feeding cats vegetarian food are forcing their morality on them. Continue reading
Whether it meets with their vet’s approval or not, many caregivers have begun to feed their cats vegetarian food. The purpose of this study was to gather preliminary data so veterinarians can properly advise clients that want to feed their cats vegetarian food.
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
July 1, 2006, Vol. 229, No. 1, Pages 70-73
Evaluation of cats fed vegetarian diets and attitudes of their caregivers Continue reading