the green wave

While it may be beneficial for humans to opt for a vegetarian diet, experts share that the same cannot be said for Fido and Puss.
By Eugenia Liew
Published on Thursday, 10 November 2016

It seems that the growing popularity of vegetarianism has filtered down to our pets.

Both Dr Bruce Syme (veterinarian and founder of Vets All Natural) and Dr Kenneth Tong (veterinarian at Animal & Avian Veterinary Clinic) share that they often have pet owners (vegetarian or vegan themselves) asking if their cats and dogs can also eliminate meat from their diets entirely. Their expert advice? Don’t do it.

Meow, no! 
Here's why going meat-free is a big no-no for Puss. It isn't simply unhealthy; it is detrimental, and can potentially be fatal for your feline. While dogs can survive without meat, they can only do so for short periods of time. A good example is during winter in the wild when prey animals are not easily available. According to Dr Syme, cats are unlike dogs in that they are obligate carnivores that are unable to produce key nutrients like taurine and arachidonic acid, which can only be found in meat. 

In felines, taurine is essential to maintaining a healthy immune and reproductive system, and for eye and heart health. Without it, your cat’s retinal cells will degenerate and cause impaired vision (or blindness), and its heart muscles will weaken and result in poor cardiac function. Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid which plays an important role in brain development, keeping skin and coat healthy, and aiding muscle growth and repair. Although symptoms of these deficiencies may not appear immediately, there is no doubt that a long-term vegetarian diet will inflict irreparable damage on Puss.

Fido should thrive, not just survive
Since dogs can produce taurine and are able to convert linoleic acid from plant sources into arachidonic acid, can they do away with meat? Unfortunately, the answer is still no.

Even in the wild, canines can't last more than a season without (or with limited) meat. As seen from their anatomy—most notably their teeth and digestive system—they are born carnivores. Granted, they possess physical traits that allow them to digest and utilise nutrients from plants so they can tide past natural resource draughts, but Fido’s veggie digestion abilities are limited as it is purely a survival mechanism. Dr Tong explains that dogs are able to adapt and absorb nutrients from non-ideal protein sources, but not all proteins can be broken down into specific subtypes and in the quantities needed. 

Dr Syme adds that when only plant proteins are consumed, a condition called phytate binding occurs. “Phytates (an antioxidant compound found in many plants) will bind to mineral nutrients and render them unavailable for absorption,” he explains. This results in compromised immunity, skin and coat quality, and reproductive capability. Dogs also lack the enzyme cellulose, which is needed to digest plant cell walls and access their nutrients. As natural meat eaters, canines typically get their vegetable matter from the guts of their herbivorous prey. By then, the greens would already be partially digested, and can then be absorbed by the dog.

This is an excerpt from an article in our Pet Bowl column. For the full article, flip to pg 64 of our Oct-Nov 2016 issue!