Should our cats be vegans, too?

My partner and I just got a new housemate: Mr.Swaggles, who’s a kitten. Since he’s so young, it’s cool to see him transforming from the little thing he was when we brought him home a couple of months ago to the bigger, but still really small, energetic, cuddly and curious being he is today. As I’m writing this column, he’s curled up next to me in a tight ball, his tail resting under one of his paws, and all I can think is that I want him to live an awesome life full of all the cool cat stuff he dreams about. Yet, I know that sometimes what we as humans desire for our pets actually might not be the best thing for them, and that’s why I’m not sure about feeding him vegan cat food.

I vaguely knew of the existence of vegan cat food when we got our cat, but since it’s not readily available in stores the issue wasn’t relevant. So, we just bought whatever normal cat food was available, and that of course contained meat, at least in some form. I didn’t have a problem with this because cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they can only get the nutrients they need from meat. It would feel weird placing a specific human dietary standard on an animal that wasn’t made for it.

Recently, during Veg Fest in Utrecht, my partner came home with a surprise: vegan cat food. I was intrigued but sceptical, so to ensure he received what he needed, we mixed the vegan food with the normal food. Every time I fed him, something funny happened: on the one hand, it was cool he was eating ethical, vegan cat food, but on the other, the choice to even include vegan food at all didn’t sit well because cats aren’t built for veganism. Feeding a cat more expensive vegan food could be worse than useless from a nutritional point of view; it could be downright harmful.

However, besides the question as to whether a fully vegan diet is healthy for a cat, which I don’t think it is, there’s still the issues of whether the food we’re feeding him off the shelves is the best thing for him. Additionally, since we don’t even feed him canned meat cat food, should we? Or should we just go to an “ethical” butcher and buy him fresh meat?

Much like we choose vegan diets for ourselves as the best option among others, being faced with responsibility for another life, even, maybe especially, if it’s another species brings concerns about how that being can live its best life. All options, though, aren’t equal. But at least with humans, if veganism doesn’t work for one of us, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad for everyone. Cats very well may not have this luxury, which questions the existence of vegan cat food in the first place outside our habit of always centering ourselves and our ways of being. This tendency often is detrimental to animals, and us vegans are no exception. So sometimes doing the best thing for the animals in our lives may mean putting aside veganism as a practice and looking to how we can best provide what our pets require in an ethical manner. And this very much maintains the spirit of veganism.