For decades now, several environmental and animal welfare groups have championed going vegan. The term “vegan” was first coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, a co-founder of the British Vegan Society. The society started out by making a stand against the consumption and use of all animal produce and products. Here in Singapore, it’s a fast-growing movement, with some pet owners putting their furkids on a meat-free diet.
Though the ingredients of meat-free kibble varies between brands, they usually include corn, soybeans, barley, carrots, wheat, oats, brown rice, tomatoes, flaxseed and a variety of plant-based oils just to name a few. There are no official numbers locally, but there’s an estimated 1.2 million pet owners in the United States who have made their furry friends go vegan.
A LONGER LIFESPAN?
A strong advocate of the vegan diet is international animal rights organisation, PETA. The group believes that our furry friends will be healthier by going meat-free as it believes that many pet foods contain ingredients that are deemed unfit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In response to criticism to how a meat-free diet is unnatural, PETA says that animals in the wild ingest a considerable amount of plant matter and going vegan is partially about being environmentally fair. PETA believes that besides being more environmentally conscious, pets can have a healthier and longer life by going meat-free.
However, there have been incidences where going vegan proved to be detrimental to the health of the animal. It was reported that Roger, a kitten in Australia, became critically ill after his vegan owners put him on a diet of potatoes, rice milk and pasta. The little one remained in hospital for three days and only started to recover after being put on a fluid drip and fed meat.
There are also some pet owners who report that the positive effects of going meat-free are negligible. Many animals on a vegan diet run the risk of nutritional deficiency as there is a potential for vegan or home-cooked diets to be deficient in vitamins, essential amino acids, mineral and trace elements if they are not formulated or added into their meals. Also, these might not be found in plant or nonanimal substrates and have to be included in other synthetic forms.
However, there are some exceptional cases where a pet can benefit from a vegan diet, such as when it is recommended by a vet after evaluating the lifestyle of the furkid in conjunction with its age and organ function. The duration and frequency of going vegan should also be determined by the veterinarian.
CAN KITTY LIVE ON VEGETABLES ALONE?
Most biologists are against the idea of cats being put on a vegan diet. As obligate carnivores, felines need nutrients such as taurine, arachidonic acid and essential vitamins which a meat-free diet cannot sufficiently provide.
Even some pet nutritionists who support a vegan diet for Kitty caution against going on it fully, especially for males who are prone to urinary traction infection, liver and heart problems. A website, Vegancats.com, released an official statement last year that slightly changed their pro-vegan stance after customers failed to feed their cats properly, resulting in health problems that also include crystal formations in the bladder. “Our mission is to reduce suffering as much as possible through reducing dependency on meat products for your companion animals, but at the same time, we also have a great concern for the overall health and well-being of cats that are prone to urinary tract problems."
Vegancats.com do not believe in making companion animals suffer recurring health complications simply because of an exclusively vegan diet; rather, they believe that people should do the best they can to find a balance that keeps their companions healthy while reducing dependency on meat products to the greatest extent.”
In spite of such negativity, PETA has responded by saying that a balanced vegan diet can be achieved by carefully adding certain supplements. Pet owners need to know they should not change the nutritional balance of recipes as too little of any necessary ingredients could put their furkid’s health in jeopardy. Likewise, owners are advised to include veterinarian-approved supplements that make up for missing vitamins and minerals in their pets’ diets.