Vegetarian diets have become increasingly popular for humans, leading many to wonder if this lifestyle could also benefit our pets. The answer is yes – but there are some things you should consider before beginning this new eating plan.
Vegetarian cats may be particularly prone to urinary tract issues due to the acidity of vegetarian foods, which may lead to struvite crystals or stones in their urine.
Animal guardians are increasingly interested in the health benefits of vegetarian diets for their pets. The reasons for this interest vary, but often stem from ethical or moral concerns.
Vegetarian diets can be purchased as either complete foods or supplements to add to a homemade menu. In many cases, the latter option may prove more cost-effective than purchasing an all-inclusive vegetarian food package.
Some pet parents have reported that their cats’ skin and coat condition, as well as odour control, have improved after transitioning to a vegetarian diet. This is especially true for older or overweight cats.
Recent large-scale studies have suggested that cats on vegan diets had higher ideal body condition scores and were less likely to experience gastrointestinal or hepatic disorders than their meat-eating counterparts. However, a well-designed randomized controlled trial is necessary in order to provide definitive proof of these results.
When transitioning your cat’s diet from meat-based commercial food to a vegetarian one, it is essential that you do so gradually. This is especially pertinent if they have been fed this type of commercial food for an extended period of time.
It is best to transition gradually over several weeks, rather than suddenly changing diets. This way, digestive enzymes and intestinal flora (bacteria) can be properly transferred to the new diet without any gastrointestinal reactions taking place.
Gradual transitions are more behaviorally acceptable and enable a gradual shift in urinary tract pH, which may be an issue for cats on vegetarian diets due to protein catabolism-induced acidification of urine.
As a result, some cats on vegan diets may develop struvite bladder crystals and calcium oxalate stones. These may cause irritation and infection of the bladder and necessitate veterinary treatment for removal.
Urinary tract problems
Urinary tract problems are among the most prevalent illnesses in cats. They tend to occur more frequently when cats are fed dry-fed diets.
Vegetarian diets tend to contain less sodium than meat-based meals, making them less likely to develop urinary tract issues. Nonetheless, your cat could still develop Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).
This condition can lead to the formation of struvite crystals in your cat’s urethra, which could block its passageway and make urinating difficult for them.
A veterinarian examination of your cat can quickly identify if they’re experiencing these symptoms. Fortunately, most cases are preventable with proper hydration.
It is recommended that your vet test the urine pH of your cat every 3-6 months to ensure it stays between 6.0-6.5. This is essential since an excessively acidic pH could lead to calcium oxalate crystals instead of struvite, leading to urethra obstruction and infection.
Obesity can be a serious issue for cats, and vegetarian diets can help with weight control. Furthermore, they have been known to protect against kidney disease and heart disease as well.
Vegetarian diets offer more dietary fiber, helping keep a cat’s stomach smaller and improving digestion. Furthermore, vegetarian diets may reduce urea, creatinine, phenols, sulfates and phosphates which tend to be found more commonly in meat-based diets.
However, some studies have revealed that some commercially available vegetarian cat foods may be lacking in certain amino acids, vitamins and minerals. They may not contain enough preformed Vitamin A or arachidonic acid either.
Fortunately, even small cats can thrive on a vegan diet. As long as she consumes high quality, protein-rich and balanced vegetarian food, her health should be excellent. But just like any other pet, regular veterinary visits and blood testing for key nutrients are necessary to make sure she gets all of the necessary nutrition.