Vegan diets are just as healthy for cats and dogs as meat-based pet foods, according to research that will further fuel the debate over whether owners should feed their pets meals herbal.
Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor at the University of Winchester, said his research has shown cats and dogs perform as well, if not better, on plant-based diets than when fed them. pet meat foods, provided they are carefully formulated with additional synthetic nutrients.
Knight’s findings came after warnings that pet owners could violate the Animal Welfare Act 2006 if they fail to feed an “appropriate diet” that meets their dog’s nutritional needs – a a fine of £ 20,000 or a prison sentence of 51 weeks could ensue.
Although the law does not say vegan or vegetarian meals are not suitable, Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: getting it right, which puts you at risk of dietary deficiencies and associated illnesses.
She added that any change in the diet of pets “should only be undertaken under the advice of a veterinarian with in-depth nutritional knowledge”, and that people have a “duty of care to their pets.” , in particular by ensuring an appropriate diet.
The head of veterinary services at the Blue Cross charity has also advised against feeding pets vegan foods. “Pets need a balanced diet, cats in particular have very specific nutritional needs that would likely not be met by a vegan diet,” she said.
Knight’s unpublished research findings are part of a larger study that found plant-based pet foods to be both nutritionally equivalent to meat-containing products, and enjoyable to eat. eat for pets.
“Dogs, cats and other species have nutritional needs, they don’t need meat or any other special ingredient. They need all the nutrients, and provided these are provided to them in a diet tasty enough to motivate them to eat and digest them, we would expect them to thrive. And that’s what the evidence seems to indicate, ”Knight said. “The claim that animals on a vegan diet will necessarily become sick and it is somehow cruel to maintain them, is contrary to scientific evidence in this area and is ignorant.”
Cats are carnivorous and need several proteins in their diet, such as taurine. However, Knight said these are usually broken down in highly processed feed and need to be synthetically added back to the feed.
He added that it was easier to convert dogs to plant-based diets because they were omnivorous – the result of evolving alongside humans and consuming leftover cooked meals at the time. prehistoric.
Guy Sandelowsky, a veterinarian and founder of the vegan dog food company Omni, said his products, which typically included sweet potatoes, brown rice and pumpkin, contained 30% more protein than most diets. meat based and were carefully formulated to meet all needs. nutritional needs of the dog. “It’s completely ridiculous to make a drastic statement on plant-based diets,” he said. “It’s when people prepare food themselves that they run into problems.
34% of dog owners want to feed their dogs plant-based foods on a regular basis, according to market research firm Mintel. Sandelowsky said this reflected a growing interest in a sustainable lifestyle, because according to a UCLA study, pet foods generated about 25% of the environmental damage associated with the meat industry, or l equivalent to 64 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, or having the same climate impact. as a year of driving from 13.6 million cars.
He added that the option was based on a growing trend to treat pets like children, including encouraging them to eat better quality foods, and reflected concerns about the link between processed meat, cancer and obesity in humans.
Elisa Allen, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said consumers were also increasingly discouraged by meat-based pet foods because they contained “a lot of the same hormones, pesticides and antibiotics than those found in commercial meat products for humans – as well as animal parts. deemed unfit for human consumption ”.