Can our cats and dogs eat a meat-free diet?

Can our cats and dogs eat a meat-free diet?

Is it possible to feed your pet without meat? While vegetarian diets are often promoted for their benefits to human health, the question arises of their relevance for cats and dogs.

March 20 is International Meat-Free Day, an opportunity to reflect on vegetarian diets that are often associated with benefits for human health. But what about our pets, such as cats and dogs? Scientific research provides the first elements of an answer to this question, exploring the possibility of meat-free diets for our four-legged friends.

Not recommended for cats

The cat is a strictly carnivorous animal whose digestive system is only adapted to animal proteins. As Dr Charlotte Devaux explained in 2018 to Sciences et futur, “the cat is a strict carnivore which absolutely needs to receive animal tissues in its diet to obtain the elements which are essential to it”.

However, according to a 2023 British study, cats who ate a vegan diet enjoyed better health than carnivorous cats. By not eating meat, they would be less exposed to health problems, and therefore less subject to visits to the veterinarian. Even among older or neutered cats, a meat-free diet is associated with better health, preventing the risks of being overweight and urinary stones.

However, although these benefits have been proven, the survey data should be taken with a pinch of salt. Firstly because the study requires more research, but also because they can, like humans, suffer from significant nutritional deficiencies. Justine Shotton, doctor and president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) spoke on the subject and warns of the potential risks: “While, on paper, a vegan diet for cats may include supplements or alternatives to animal-based proteins, for example, there is no guarantee that these will be bioavailable to the cat or that they will not interfere with the action of other nutrients“. It is therefore more prudent to wait for more in-depth studies, and especially to consult a veterinarian before subjecting your cat to this dietary transition.

More suitable for dogs

Unlike cats, dogs are omnivores. The dog has become accustomed to eating leftovers from human food. Their diet is more varied: there is meat, starchy foods and vegetables. A study from the University of Winchester published in 2022 demonstrated that dogs on a meat-free diet appeared healthier than those fed a diet including meat.

The study shows that dogs on a meat-free diet are four times less likely to have a trip to the veterinarian compared to those on a more conventional diet. Additionally, these dogs generally had better overall health and were less prone to digestive disorders. Dogs with allergies or difficulty tolerating traditional kibble can also benefit from a vegan diet.

But we must remain vigilant about the nutrient intake of dogs, in order to avoid deficiencies. “Dogs are omnivorous animals, so they can adapt to a vegan diet by ensuring they have a sufficient intake of plant proteins.”, indicates veterinarian Francis Périn, contacted by Futura. “It still needs more protein than humans (30 to 35%). It will also be necessary to provide him with additional vitamins and minerals.“, says the expert.