Vets advise against vegan diet for dogs and cats

Cat begging for food

A vegan diet is unlikely to provide all the vitamins and nutrients your dog or cat needs, according to the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

The statement was issued in response to media reports of unpublished research which suggested that cats and dogs had as good, or better, health outcomes on plant-based diets as they did when fed on meat pet foods, provided these were carefully formulated with additional synthetic nutrients.

Dog with a meat diet

Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor at the University of Winchester, who conducted the study, said: “Dogs, cats and other species have requirements for nutrients, they don’t need meat or any other particular ingredient. They need the set of nutrients, and provided those are supplied to them in a diet that’s sufficiently tasty that they’re motivated to eat it, and digestible, we’d expect to see them thrive. And that’s what the evidence seems to indicate.”

It is “theoretically possible” to feed a dog a vegetarian diet but the BVA would not recommend it, the veterinary body’s president Dr Justine Shotton said.

“Owners would need to take expert advice to avoid dietary deficiencies and associated disease, as it is much easier to get the balance of nutrients wrong than to get it right,” she explained. “A dog on a vegan diet may also need synthetic supplementation.”

For cats, the advice is more clear cut.

“Cats are obligate carnivores and should not be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet as they require animal-sourced ingredients to provide essential nutrients, such as taurine and preformed vitamin A, which are minimal or even absent in plant ingredients,” Dr Shotton said.

“While on paper a vegan diet for cats may include supplements or alternatives to animal-based protein, for example, there is no guarantee that these would be bioavailable to the cat or that they wouldn’t interfere with the action of other nutrients.”

Owners who are interested in exploring alternative diet options for their pets should talk to their vet first, as any changes to a pet’s diet should only be undertaken under advice of a vet with in-depth nutritional knowledge, Dr Shotton concluded.

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