Can Cats Be Healthy Vegans?
This has launched a thousand pet food brands advertising correct nutrition for cats and dogs with no animal by-products, effectively making them vegans. Dogs evolved with a longer intestinal tract and different enzymes to digest plant matter, as detailed in a study of two vegan diets for cats in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association1. With a shorter intestinal tract, cats have all the right ingredients for digesting raw meat very well. This makes cats uniquely incapable of staying healthy unless their diet includes those delicious chunks of meat. Essentially, without a steady diet of meat cats can experience severe malnutrition.
Despite the availability of alternative food brands advertising a vegan lifestyle for cats, a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association revealed many owners share the belief that this lifestyle is not healthy for their feline friends3. These assumptions are generally correct, as cats who are fed a strict vegan diet lacking sufficient taurine, niacin, and arginine begin to break down their own muscle and organ tissue2. Cats suffering from malnutrition from an inadequate diet will be small in size, short-lived, and experience growing muscle weakness and blindness unless their diet is adjusted. An often-used solution for pet owners determined to feed cats a vegan diet is nutrition through supplementation. Even pro-vegan websites, such as Vegan Cats, do recommend including some meat in cat’s diets due to their susceptibility to urinary and kidney problems4.
Cutting out meat altogether, however much a cat’s owner likes it, is a personal choice a cat cannot make. While cats are capable of living off a supplemented vegan diet, it is not the healthiest choice for them.
Some veterinarians cite the pet food industry’s push to include better labeling on foods, including calories per serving, as an advance in helping with weight control. Others describe the print as too small and the calorie information unhelpful because calorie needs vary widely by breed, genetics and current weight. Many dogs and cats that are overweight will need their calories reduced by at least a third, according to the University of Florida’s Dr. Schmalberg. An average-size indoor cat needs between 150 to 200 calories per day to maintain weight, while dogs’ ideal weights are trickier to assess.
Experts also disagree on which type of food promotes better weight loss, wet or dry. Some data suggests wet food’s higher water and protein content carries more benefit because it reduces appetite, says Dr. Jonathan Stockman, who runs the clinical nutrition service at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, in Ft. Collins, Colo. But dry food has a higher fiber content, he says, so a similar argument can be made for that.
Other options, such as fat-blocking drugs or stomach-shrinking surgeries available to people, seldom play a part in veterinary medicine. Most veterinarians feel that weight loss can best be managed through diet. The goal is to get to a healthy weight before health issues take hold, veterinarians agree. Even though diabetes in cats, for example, can be reversed by aggressive dietary measures, says Dr. Lori Teller, a veterinarian at the Meyerland Animal Clinic in Houston, they work only with early diagnosis.
Diabetes in dogs, rarely related to obesity, is considered irreversible, she and others say, because insulin production shuts down completely.
Should You Sleep With Your Pet? Health Risks and Benefits
Perhaps fittingly, cats get to enjoy the lion’s share of the bedroom: Less than half of dogs get to share the bed, while 62% of cats sleep with their adult pet owners, and 13% of cats sleep with children, according to the National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association. Americans reported pet co-sleeping arrangements more than any other country, with 53% of American pet owners sleeping with their cats, and 41% of American dog owners sharing the bed. In the mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for quality sleep, so you may want to set the thermostat a few degrees cooler if you allow your pet to sleep by you in the bed.4. Pets aren’t exactly clean, but if you keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and flea medication and they’re otherwise healthy, you should be fine to sleep with your pet. Dogs have dreams just like we do, and kick, grunt and move in their sleep during REM sleep.
Letting your pet sleep in the bed can prove problematic for couples. Larger dogs sleep more than smaller breeds, and puppies may sleep up to 20 hours per day to support their development. Dogs also experience a sleep cycle just like humans, beginning with slow wave light sleep and ending with REM sleep. They enter REM sleep much sooner, and they spend only 10 percent of their total sleep time in REM, since their sleep is often interrupted by activity or noise. Humans, on the other hand, spend about 25 percent of their sleep in REM and require about 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep on average per night.
Cats sleep 15 hours on average per day, but may sleep up to 20 hours depending on their age. Birds experience much shorter sleep cycles than mammals, as short as just a few minutes in NREM and several seconds in REM sleep.