Cat expert's urgent warning to Sheffield owners who feed pets a vegan diet

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Sheffield cat owners are being warned against feeding their pets a vegan diet by a leading feline expert.

Katie Gwilt, who founded The Kat Lady holistic pet care business, argues that while plant based diets can help humans to thrive and save the planet, cats need essential nutrients that are only found in meat.

In a new guide by Katie on cat nutrition Katie reveals just what cats need to live a healthy life, and what we can all do to support our pet throughout their life.

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She said: "Cats are not just carnivores but obligate carnivores. This means that they have to have meat to survive so cannot be vegetarian or vegan despite what some brands claim. Switching your cat to a diet like this is harmful.

Feeding a vegan diet could make your cat sick - Animal News AgencyFeeding a vegan diet could make your cat sick - Animal News Agency
Feeding a vegan diet could make your cat sick - Animal News Agency

"Your cat cannot properly digest plant material and require animal tissues including meat, organs and bone to get their full complement of nutritions. They can manage a small amount of plant matter, but are unable to process it due to lacking the internal physiology to do so.

"They literally are not designed to live off plants and non animal tissue. When feeding your cat it is really important to remember this and make sure that whatever you choose to provide your feline friend with has a decent amount of meat in it."

She added: "What we feed our cats is really important for their health and well-being and it can be tricky with a lot of conflicting and contradictory information out there.

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"I see cats on a wide variety of diets when working and am always happy to discuss nutrition with my clients. I’m always discovering new brands and supplements this way which I can then go on to research."

Here is Katie's guide to feeding your cat:

Taurine and Other Essential Nutrients

Taurine is an essential amino acid that cats are not able to make themselves.

It is needed for growth and cats lacking it can become blind. The only way that they can get it is from their food. This is one of the reasons why you don’t have food for both cats and dogs available in the shops as their nutritional requirements are completely different.

Never forget that a cat is a separate species entirely and not a small dog! As well as taurine, cats are all unable to make arginine (another essential amino acid) which they ingest in the meat they eat which removes ammonia form their body which can cause a variety of issues if it builds up such as weight loss, vomiting, neurological problems and finally death.

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Cats also need higher amounts of the vitamin niacin, vitamin A and D (unlike dogs, cats cannot use vitamin D from plants, perhaps this helps explain why they particularly love the sunshine so).

Cats and Carbohydrates

As a general rule cats don’t generally eat carbohydrates in the wild. The prey they eat would have small amounts in their digestive system as that is their main diet, but a cat is unlikely to seek out grains and starches otherwise.

Cats can digest dietary carbohydrates but don’t really have a need for them. For humans and many other animals we take in carbohydrates and break them down for quick energy.

Cats are different though and don’t use carbohydrates in this way with their body and digestive system set up to use protein instead. They also don’t have the specific enzymes in their liver that break down carbohydrates so we need to really look at what we are feeding our cats. A lot of people believe that many current cat foods on the market that are high in carbohydrates are one of the main factors of the growing obesity and diabetes we are seeing in domestic cats.

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So What Does This Mean?Putting some of the information together means that ideally we want to feed cats a diet which is as close as possible to what they would eat naturally. This means high protein and low carbohydrates.

They need a little carbs (prey animals would contain around 1-8% carbs in their digestive system when eaten by wild cats) so some things like berries can actually help digestion. Primarily though cats need meat and animal tissue to be at their most healthy.

Cats and Fish

Funnily enough, as much as we have pictures and cartoons of cats with fish, it isn’t a natural part of a cat's diet. Cats originate from desert landscapes and so wouldn’t have access to fish, with a couple of exceptions like the Turkish Van Cat who lived by a lake in Turkey and swam for their supper. Fish are a great source of protein and other nutrients though so can be included in your cat's diet. Like any diet though it needs to be balanced and remember some cats actually have an allergy to fish. Fish wouldn’t make an ideal diet by itself, but can be a good addition alongside a meat diet. Ideally look for a low mercury fish like sole, cod, haddock, pollock, shellfish and crustaceans over tuna and salmon. Herring and sardines also make fun treats for your cat.

Kibble and Cat Biscuits vs Wet Food

A lot of the kibble (dry biscuits) that is readily available for cats has a lot of fillers in it and a lot of carbohydrates which isn’t ideal for a cat to consume. Certainly by itself. It is also really dry and dehydrated so your cat is likely to require more water.

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Kidney disease is a high risk for cats on pure dry food too. It’s very high in cats in general so always make sure all cats have fresh water available.

By adding in a little wet food and decreasing the amount of dry food you can make a big difference to your cat's health. Even a low quality wet food from your local supermarket is better than just dry food for your cat. They will be able to digest it better, gain more nutrients and not get full of carbohydrates they don’t need.

Higher End Brands and Raw Feeding

There is something to meet everyone's budget and hopefully everyone's favourite fussy feline! It seems to be great for cats who have digestive or health issues but is at the top end of the price scale. Some of my clients feed their cats a fully raw diet. They make it themselves or like me buy ready made.

Personally I feed my cats a brand which is a mix of meat, organ and bone ground up like mince. Mine love it but I know that feeding raw isn’t for every cat or every human. If you do decide to try raw food with your cats then do some research, especially if you are intending to make it up yourself. There are some great resources online. Cooked meat is also good for your cat, just steam or poach it without any oil, herbs, spices or salt etc. A little lightly cooked chicken can be really good for your cat if they have a tummy upset.

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What Cat Food is Best For You and Your Cat?The annoying answer is it depends on your circumstances. Ideally you want to try and get the best food that you can afford and that your cat likes. Do some research and have a look at the ingredients list on your current food. Does the list match your cat's needs as an obligate carnivore with little need for carbs? I’ve fed my cats a variety of different cat foods over the years from supermarket own brand to fully raw and if you plan on changing your cat's food it is important to do a slow transition to avoid an upset tummy.

Transitioning Your Cat's Food

With mine (I am currently owned by four cats) I slowly added in a high protein food alongside their regular cat food and slowly reduced the supermarket brand. From there I then did the same with raw meat adding in a little turkey, chicken and beef mince before slowly decreasing the high protein food once I knew they liked the raw food and it agreed with them.

Not all cats will take to all diets, some cats also have food allergies so do some experimenting and see what suits your cat the best. I went through a period of making up my own food for the cats, but I just don’t have the time or energy so moved to a pre-made raw mix. Whatever you choose it needs to fit your lifestyle and budget as well as your cat's preferences so everyone wins.

Whatever you choose to feed your cat, know you can always make changes if you need to. Your cat's needs and requirements are likely to change over the years and it is good to know what is out there so you can make informed choices for your cat. Don’t always believe the marketing hype and do a little reading if possible.

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