PetHero > Cats > Pet Health

Mandatory Meat: Why a Vegetarian Diet is Deadly to Your Cat

If you are a vegetarian and a cat parent, don’t even think about omitting meat from your kitty’s menu. A vegetarian diet may seem like a healthy human lifestyle choice, but cats and vegetarian diets are a recipe for death. Cats are carnivores, and meat is a mandatory part of a cat’s healthy diet. Nutrients that are found only in animal-based proteins are crucial to your cat’s physiological function and survival. Understanding cat nutrition will help you make healthy food choices for your feline friend.

Cats Need Their Meat

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must eat meat to survive. This cat-nutrition need dates back to the cat’s wild ancestral roots. Cats relied on hunting for their nourishment, and their prey provided animal-based protein. The only vegetables and carbohydrates that these wild cats ate came from the stomach contents of their herbivorous or omnivorous prey. Basically, your kitty needs that high protein and low carb diet that the human fitness guru in your family embraces.

Protein provides the building blocks that support the growth and maintenance of cells, muscle, and tissue. Protein also plays a role in the metabolism of hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Examples of animal-based protein sources commonly used in the modern house cat’s diet include:

  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Fish and seafood
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Egg
  • Organ meat, such as liver

These proteins contain the essential amino acids and fatty acids that are important nutrients in a cat’s healthy diet. Plant-based proteins, like soy and some vegetables, don’t contain the full complement of these nutrients.

The Nutrients and Their Benefits

Your cat’s body can’t synthesize healthy amounts of certain crucial nutrients on its own. These necessary nutrients can only be found in animal-based protein sources. This is why a balanced diet for cats must include meat.

  • Taurine is an amino acid that is critical for maintaining your cat’s heart function. Taurine also plays a role in your cat’s eye health, and it is essential in reproductive function and fetal development.
  • Arginine is also an amino acid. Arginine gets converted into yet another amino acid, which is called ornithine. Ornithine is responsible for binding the ammonia waste that is produced in your cat’s body when it breaks down proteins.
  • Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that is important for skin, kidney, gastrointestinal and reproductive health.
  • Vitamin A prevents stunted growth, skin conditions, night blindness and poor coat quality.

Deficiencies in these nutrients have life-threatening consequences, according to Jennifer Coates, DVM.

Look at the Labels

Take the extra minute to read the ingredient labels on cans or bags of cat food when you shop. The first ingredient listed is the highest ingredient proportion in the food. The last ingredient listed is the lowest. The first ingredient on the list should be a specific protein, such as chicken. According to Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, you should feed muscle meats to your cat for the most complete feline nutrition. Avoid foods that list the protein as a by-product or by-product meal. By-products can include any part of the animal. This makes it impossible for you to know if the food really contains the right balance of nutrients.

Pick the Protein Wisely

Most commercial cat foods that you find in retail stores typically contain chicken, fish, turkey, and beef as protein sources. You may be tempted to treat your kitty to variety, but avoid feeding her venison or any other exotic meat. If she should develop a food allergy in the future, your vet may recommend a novel protein diet. This is a diet that contains a protein source that your cat hasn’t been previously exposed to. If your cat has never eaten venison before, this protein source becomes a feeding option to quell her allergy symptoms. Other novel proteins used in these diets include duck, rabbit and kangaroo meat.

Every living thing needs a diet that is appropriate to the nutritional needs of his or her species. Choosing a premium quality, protein-based and nutritionally balanced diet for cats will promote good health for your kitty.