How It All Began – A Tale of Two Baby Kittens

I am a veterinarian who has been vegan longer than I’ve been 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 kittens who required bottle feeding.  So, I took care of them like her mother had done, including feeding them a milk substitute for cats every two hours.

Vegan kittensWhen it came time for weaning, they refused to eat cat food.  One day our little kitten, Speck, crawled onto my plate and started to engulf my Morningstar burger crumble – his first meal!  Time passed so quickly and since they started eating solid foods, they needed to return for adoption.  Then my boyfriend at the time called me “Cold Heart – the care bear with a black heart of stone” for thinking about giving up the little cuties.  So my foster kittens found their forever home.

Now What?

The sudden thought of having to support the meat industry by buying cat food presented an ethical dilemma.  I was hoping there was another option, and went searching for it.  Luckily, I found a line called VegeKit.  It was a food and supplement with recipes for home cooking.  The same company had a book, Vegetarian Cats and Dogs, by James Peden.  The book was great and included his nutritional research and anecdotes about individual cats.  Unfortunately, there was no concrete scientific data on the safety of feeding vegetarian diets to cats and especially kittens.  James Peden graciously spoke with me by phone and convinced me that I could safely raise these kittens on a vegan diet . I explained that I wanted to do a study to gather evidence on the health of cats eating this way.  There was concern that would be similar to lab animal research, but did not think the use of laboratory animals was at all necessary.  I knew there would be another way.

The Concern of Our Vet

Back in my day to day, I told Dr. Patil at Compassion Veterinary Clinic about the diet that my kittens were about to follow.  Dr. Patil earned his veterinary degree in India, where most of the dogs ate the same vegetarian food as their caregivers.  So he was more open to the idea than most American veterinarians would have been at the time.  Dr. Patil was kindly nonjudgmental, but did express concern.  Could kittens derive all the nutrients they needed from sources other than meat?  Would I consider at least feeding them eggs?  (Vegans reading this, of course, understand why the eggs are ethically as  inedible as meat due to the terrible conditions of the chickens).  Dr. Patil asked me to bring the food to show him and saw that it contained all the essential ingredients, but was still concerned about the health of little ones.  Neither he nor most vets had ever seen a vegan cat.

Healthy Vegan Kittens

I felt that it was possible. The food preparation (particularly of kibble ) required time and effort, but the kittens ate and especially enjoyed the soft food recipes.  Under strict veterinary supervision, they grew and had soft, shiny coats. They had no health problems to speak of. The cats remain healthy to this day!

My Study of Vegetarian Cats

The University of Pennsylvania accepted me into vet school that year. Later, in 2004, I obtained a research grant.  That summer I happily embarked on a study to finally collect evidence of the sustainability of vegan diets for cats.  The results were very promising in terms of safety and the study was published in 2006 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA).  JAVMA has the widest readership of any veterinary journal.  Vets in the U.S. read about healthy vegan cats – something veterinary school teaches us is impossible.

Doubt

And yet… I was too busy as a veterinary student to spend hours each week at home cooking cat food.  There were no prepared vegan foods for kittens yet, to my knowledge.  So, I gave up and bought conventional cat food.  When I later found ready-made vegan cat food, I tried it.  Unfortunately, there were too many problems with the distributor of running out of stock and I’d be caught buying conventional food for cats.  Honestly, too, I began to have doubts due to health issues my single study was not able to evaluate.  There is still not enough scientific data on vegan cats, however, there are many years of anecdotal evidence where cats have been eating this food.  I am not aware of more illnesses suffered by vegan cats than for cats on conventional diets, but my logical brain thinks this is not enough.

My Cat’s Diet

However, I am optimistic and I know there is a way to safely feed our kittens meatless meals. Meanwhile, I feed my cat Noel a part vegan and part conventional diet.  I want to be as open and honest as possible about this.

Why I’m Writing This Blog

I wholeheartedly support those who choose to feed their cats vegan food.  It has successfully been done over and over again, so clearly it is possible.  This website is here to help you choose the right diet for your cat.  This website is here to help you make it as healthy as possible.  And this site is here to collect hard evidence to convince people like me that is 100% fine.  I hope you choose to be a part of this.

2 thoughts on “How It All Began – A Tale of Two Baby Kittens

  1. Deborah Stewart

    Hi
    Your story is good to hear, and I understand that need to answer some people’s concerns for scientific evidence
    Can you help with my issue switching my ten year old over. He is a rescue cat and had some emotional issues as he was terrorized by other cats and lived through earthquakes. Perhaps he comfort eats as I do lol
    Anyhow, I digress, since I switched to veganpet dried and wet food his coat is very dry and brittle. This product is manufactured in Australia.
    I have to import any additives or other foods as there is nothing else available here. Can you suggest is it a reaction to the switch. Or could the diet be not complete? Or could I supplement his brought food with home made
    Many thanks

    Deborah

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Hi Deborah,
      I’ve never used VeganPet, but it seems to be well formulated. I’d recommend bringing your cat to the vet for an exam and nutritional blood tests to find out what is going on.

      Reply

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