The pet food industry is lucrative, and growing rapidly. According to statistics provided by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), an estimated $58.51 billion will be spent on our pets in the U.S. in 2014, with $22.62 billion spent on pet food alone. That’s up from $55.72 billion and $21.57 billion, respectively, spent in 2013.

With these types of numbers at stake, it’s not surprising that new pet foods are being constantly developed and marketed. It’s also not surprising that many of the trends that we see in the pet food industry follow the trends we see in our own diets.

Behind the trend

The availability of vegan diets for pets is one such example. Whether purchased commercially or fed as a home cooked diet, many pet owners are looking toward vegan diets as an alternative for themselves as well as their pets. This trend becomes problematic when the pet in question is a carnivore.

Cats, as a species, are obligate carnivores, meaning that meat is required in their diet. This isn’t an option; it’s a dietary necessity. Obviously, cats differ from people, and even from dogs in many different ways. Dietary requirements are among the most important of these differences.

"Cats, as a species, are obligate carnivores, meaning that meat is required in their diet. This isn’t an option; it’s a dietary necessity."

Does this mean that cats cannot survive on a vegan diet? Yes, it absolutely does. And there are good reasons why this is so. Cats, like all species, require specific nutrients in their diet in order to stay healthy. However, for cats, some of those nutrients are found only in animal meat and are not accessible through plant based sources.

Protein deficiency 

As obligate carnivores, cats require higher levels of protein in their diet than many other species. Proteins are responsible for a number of different functions in the body, all of which are important to maintaining your cat’s health. However, a high protein level alone is not enough. The proteins need to be the correct proteins.

Taurine is an example of a required dietary element that is not available through a vegan diet. Taurine is an amino acid that is required in the diet of all cats. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Without taurine in the diet, your cat is unable to synthesize the proper proteins. This deficiency will result in a heart condition known as a dilated cardiomyopathy. In fact, this disease used to be quite common in cats until the need for adequate amounts of taurine was discovered and food formulations were updated to reflect that requirement. Now, the disease is rarely seen, except in cats fed a diet not balanced for feline health, such as a vegan diet.

Building blocks of a healthy diet

Taurine is only one essential element of the diet that cannot be supplied to your cat through a vegan diet. Others include niacin, arachidonic acid, and various vitamins. Health issues encountered in cats eating a vegan diet may include heart problems, vision deficits, defects in the immune system, neurologic disease, blood clotting disorders, skin problems and more.

Though there are vegan diets available for cats, this availability does not alter the basic anatomy and physiology of the cat. Cats are not designed to eat vegan diets. In very simple terms, vegan diets cannot provide the basic nutritional needs of the feline species. As a result, choosing a vegan diet for your cat is not a good decision. At best, your cat cannot thrive on such a diet. At worst, the diet may provide to be deadly.