Vegan diet healthier for cats than meat according to new survey

13 Sep 2023
grey cat eating from food bowl

Cats may be carnivores but a new study led by an academic from the University of Winchester suggests that our feline friends might be better off eating a vegan diet.

The findings could prove important in reducing the environmental impact of the protein-consuming pets who number around 400 million worldwide and have a massive ‘carbon pawprint’.

The vegan versus meat-based cat food study, was authored by Professor Andrew Knight, a visiting Lecturer at the University’s Faculty of Health and Wellbeing.

The study concluded: “The pooled evidence to date from our study, and from others in this field, indicate that cats fed nutritionally sound vegan diets are healthier overall, than those fed meat-based diets.”

With the help of their owners, the scientists surveyed more than 1,300 cats over the course of a year and compared the health of those on a traditional meat diet to those eating a vegan alternative, who made up nine per cent.

The researchers looked at seven general indicators of ill-health in cats - including unusually high numbers of visits to the vet and whether medication was needed. Owners were asked to report their own opinion of their cat's health and also what they believed their vet's assessment to be.

After making allowances for the cats’ age, sex and neutering status, the study found that average vegan cats were:

The teams also examined the prevalence of 22 common cat health disorders, using reported veterinary assessments, and found that 42 per cent cats fed meat suffered from at least one disorder compared to 37 per cent of those on vegan diets.

These finding come a year after Professor Knight published a similar study with dogs.

The dog study found that canines were likely to be healthier on a vegan diet with 49 per cent of dogs on conventional meat diets suffering one of 22 specific disorders compared with 36 per cent for vegan diets.

The cat owners who took part in the latest survey said their pets’ health and nutrition was the top priority when choosing a diet. Fifty-one per cent of them said they would reconsider the make-up of their cat’s diet.

Professor Knight says a switch to vegan diets for pets could have enormous benefits for the planet.

“There could be major savings in greenhouse gasses, land and freshwater use, and food energy,” says Professor Knight.

Some might say a vegan cat is unnatural and in 2020 the British Veterinary Association claimed: “Cats are obligate carnivores and should not be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet.”

However, Professor Knight believes this assertion is outdated and is refuted by the evidence of his research and other recent studies.

“There is no evidence to suggest that cats suffer in any way from a nutritionally-sound vegan diet.”

He added that regardless of ingredients, pet diets should always be formulated to be nutritionally complete and balanced.

The full study ‘Vegan versus meat-based cat food: guardian-reported health outcomes in 1,369 cats, after controlling for feline demographic factors’ which is co-authored with the University of Winchester’s Dr Hazel Brown and Dr Alexander Bauer from LMU Munich, is published by PLOS ONE and can be read here

A short summary video can be seen here

Learn more about Andrew Knight's other work here

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