Millennials are the largest U.S. age demographic right now. You may hear a variety of things like “Millennials are killing breakfast!” and “Millennials are killing diamonds!”. I can tell you only one of those is true (Oatmeal will always be there for me, blood diamonds never are). This shift in demographics puts a great influence on the trends and values in our society. One of those trends is more of a shift in thought.
Plant-based eating and “Flexitarianism” have been increasing trends for those born between late 1980 and 2004. Millennials want the truth from food manufacturers, they are putting their health first (hello healthcare costs), and they value the planet (Climate Change ain’t no joke). This is awesome! Caring for yourself and the planet shouldn’t (and won’t) break the bank or society as a whole. As a concerned pet parent and a member of those who eat more kale than the average rabbit, I whole-heartedly embrace this new wave.
But when it comes to our animals, one plant thing needs to be addressed.
Dogs and cats need 22 amino acids to survive. This makes their cells, their enzymes, their skin, hair, literally every process in the body utilizes or consists of these amino acids. Cats can synthesize 11 of these on their own, but the other 11 need to come from food. Omnivores, like humans, can synthesize these from plant proteins, but a cat is completely void of this physiological ability.
Cats are special. We know this. And not just because of the sass.
Cats evolved hunting a completely different set of prey species than dogs. As obligate carnivores, cats’ nutritional requirements are dependent on high protein animal sources. The minor source of carbohydrates and starches attained in the diet are from the stomachs of their prey, which are already pre-digested. Cats need 2-3x more protein in their diet than dogs. The reason for this is very interesting. While other mammals use proteins as a source of growth and maintenance, cats also use protein for energy. Cats can maintain normal blood glucose levels and health even fed a carbohydrate-free diet.
That’s right, cats essentially use protein the way we use carbohydrates.
When other species experience a protein deficit, their bodies can conserve amino acids and make adjustments as needed. Compared to the dog, the cat is far less capable of up and down regulation of amino acid breakdown. Through the cats’ evolution as a proficient and lethal hunter, cats are always ready to utilize a high protein meal. Comparatively, since cats use protein for energy in conjunction with maintenance, low-protein diets are detrimental, quick, and dangerous.
Cats are obligate carnivores.
They must eat animal meat, bone, and organ in order to receive a full nutrient profile.
”An obligate carnivore (or true carnivore) is an animal that must eat meat in order to thrive. True carnivores lack the physiology required for the efficient digestion of vegetable matter.”
(One more time for the people in the back)
Plant proteins do not contain all the amino acids critical for the health of an obligate carnivore
This is very important. As a mostly plant-based eater (Flexitarian, if you will), there is a lot of growing interest in the plant-based community to adopt the same principles to pets.
This is dangerous, life-threatening, and frankly, abusive.
Taurine is an animo acid that is required from diet with cats. Abundantly present in the brain, heart, and skeletal muscles of prey, taurine deficiency leads to vision problems, acute cardiomyopathy, reproductive issues, immune system dysfunction, and blood clotting disorders. Taurine is also very sensitive to oxygen and most importantly, heat processing. Many commercial cat foods must be supplemented with artificially manufactured taurine in order to meet nutritional needs. Because why get it from the natural source, right? Pet foods that advertise the presence of taurine in their foods should be an immediate red flag. If their food was biologically appropriate, they shouldn’t have to supplement.
Food brands that promote plant-based diets for cats and dogs should be avoided at all costs. We have a responsibility as pet owners to respect the biological needs of our animals and support their longevity and vitality; putting our own interests aside.
As an omnivore, I have the choice to live plant-based and thrive, but my cat, the obligate carnivore, does not and that should be respected.