We Can’t Change the Facts: Cats Need Meat

I totally support pursuing a sustainable lifestyle. For the meaning of “sustainable,” I’ll let a dictionary do the talking: Of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged; of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods. A worthy cause, right?

Accordingly, I support my local farmers’ market because I want to eat food grown locally. I make my best effort to eat meat and dairy from livestock that was raised humanely and drug-free. I walk everywhere rather than using motor vehicles, which I can do because I live in a safe and walkable city and I’m able-bodied enough to do so.

But sustainability means different things to different people.

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And when some people start using the word “sustainability” as a Newspeak term that really means “putting cheap, crappy ingredients in pet food,” that just makes me mad.

According to a recent article in Science Daily, University of Iowa animal sciences researcher Kelly Swanson, in cooperation with scientists at The Nutro Co., are “raising a number of important questions on the sustainability of pet ownership.” 

What does that mean, “the sustainability of pet ownership?” Apparently, it means “applying the ethics of living as a human omnivore to animal carnivores.”

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The pet food industry is very tightly linked with livestock production and the human food system, as the article’s authors say. But most pet foods are made from the castoffs of the human meat production industry — organs and other parts that humans refuse to eat, for example, and fat and carcasses rendered into sludge for use in pet foods and other products.

Or, as the article euphemistically puts it, “Pet food manufacturers also make heavy use of the secondary products from the human food chain.”

This, if you ask me, is a second-rate and pretty unhealthy solution to meeting the nutritional requirements of obligate carnivores.

So, what’s the solution to this pesky “animals need to eat meat to stay healthy” thing? Well, says the article, if owners didn’t foolishly think their pets needed extremely high levels of protein, maybe we could make pet food that’s more “sustainable.”

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After all, Swanson says that dogs and cats require specific nutrients — not specific ingredients — and that it’s possible to replace animal protein with plant protein in food to give our cats the protein they need. After all, his research showed that kittens fed vastly different protein-to-carbohydrate ratios all remained healthy, so it has to be totally fine to feed our cats corn and potato starch and soybeans forever and ever amen, am I right?

Never mind that cats can stay healthy in the short term on just about anything that fills their stomachs and sort of meets their nutritional needs.

Never mind that everyone who passed eighth-grade biology knows that cats are obligate carnivores.

Let’s go to the dictionary to help Swanson and his colleagues brush up on their vocabulary:

  • Obligate (adjective) 1: restricted to one particularly characteristic mode of life; 2: biologically essential for survival.
  • Carnivore (noun) 1: any of an order (Carnivora) of typically flesh-eating mammals that includes dogs, foxes, bears, raccoons, and cats; broadly: a carnivorous animal.

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Soy-based proteins are a common pet food ingredient, the article says, and their production is a lot more efficient in terms of fossil fuel requirements.

Yeah, about that: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 93 percent of soy produced in the United States is genetically modified. I don’t knowingly eat GMO crops, and I don’t want to feed them to my cats, either. There’s nothing sustainable about crops whose DNA has been manipulated for short-term gain and that are being banned in Europe and South America because of the known and/or potential health risks of consuming them.

“Nutritional sustainability is not just about minimizing environmental impact,” the article states, “it also involves promoting pet health through appropriate nutrition and food quality and safety.” 


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The authors spend 500 words bloviating about how nutritionally inappropriate foods are the key to nutritional sustainability for pets. Then they say that nutritional sustainability is about promoting pet health?

There’s nothing healthy for cats about eating a diet composed totally of plant proteins.

If we really want a sustainable lifestyle, we should make the commitment to eat more consciously and lower our fossil-fuel consumption. But we can’t stop feeding our cats the diet they have evolved to eat — the diet they need to eat — because a pet food company and its scientists are telling us that it’s the PC thing to do.

Photo: A cat eating raw fish by Shutterstock

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This post was written by JaneA Kelley, regular contributor to Catster Magazine.


W. C
W. C2 months ago


William C
William C2 months ago

Thank you for the article.

Erin Nelson
Erin Nelsonabout a year ago

I have several friends who feed their cats a vegan diet (supplemented with non-animal based taurine) and their cats are thriving.

Erin Nelson
Erin Nelsonabout a year ago

I have several friends who feed their cats a vegan diet (supplemented with non-animal based taurine) and their cats are thriving.

4 years ago

I have no intention if financing farm torture, so should I have left them all to die on the street rather than give them healthy, happy, vegan lives?

The answer to that (probably rhetorical) question is NO.

When you adopt an animal you have to commit to treating it the way nature intended. Perhaps you should have rescued the cats and re-homed them to someone who would honor their true nature, and not force them to eat an unnatural diet.

aj E.
aj E4 years ago


Dan N.
Dan N4 years ago

Elise S, almost all commercial cat foods have added taurine because the meat is so processed there is none left. Many also contain cat and dog meat (from shelter animals). Everything we do with regard to companion animals is unnatural, including bringing them to the vet when they are sick. All my cats came from the street and are a min 3 years old i.e. one year older than the average for a street cat. In fact, due to disease 2 would have died within days if I hadn't rescued them. I have no intention if financing farm torture, so should I have left them all to die on the street rather than give them healthy, happy, vegan lives?

Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

my one outdoor cat loves to hunt along with my dogs, they enjoy eating meat. can't change their nature

Pat B.
Pat Brown4 years ago

It always disgusts me when people try to make their pets live by their moral ethics. Animals have no morals, that's a human concept.

If you want a vegetarian or vegan pet then get a rabbit or guinea pig, but stay away from carnivores, obligate or otherwise.

Elise Swansborough

I'm sorry but I cannot accept putting a cat on a vegetarian diet. Yes I know SOME people do it properly and I do respect the impulse and the compassion it springs from but NATURE has made them obligate carnivores and who are we to tell Nature we know better; as I have said before this seems bordering on arrogant to me.
And why give an animal synthetically produced taurine when it can get that from a natural source! If you cannot handle your cat's natural needs then maybe other veggie pets might be more suitable for you?
I hate giving my brother's snakes (rescues) their dead mice but if they came up with a vegan alternative however technically correct I wouldn't dream of doing it!
I don't mean to be rude to vegan owners but what would you do with a tiger say or a lion?
that is if for some reason you had to care for it perhaps one taken out of private ownership and unable to return to wild...such situations do occur.
Would you expect it to eat vegan food with appropriate supplements? Really?
I know I'm preaching but do we have the right to impose our belief systems, however compassionate, onto our animal friends?
Nature is not compassionate or ethical; it's often bloody and violent and painful but it is what it is and Humans messing with Nature is one of the biggest chaos causers on the planet! Again sorry, don't mean to be horrible but this seems wrong on the animal care level and unethical on the philosophical level.