by Sandy Anderson
Knowledge and understanding of nutrient requirements
of dogs and cats and their application has grown dramatically over the
last ten years. The National Research Council Committee on Animal Nutrition
(NRA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
have published guidelines of the minimum dietary requirement for dogs
and cats for essential nutrients. These are expressed as amounts per
kilo of body weight per day per animal. There are mathematical equations
given to establish a dog or cats needs taking into account its size,
age, activity, requirements for growth and pregnancy. The AAFCO standard
is considered the latest and best reference and is used by all pet food
manufacturers. These standards are intended to serve as a guide only
as we seem to be learning constantly about different nutrients needed
to keep our pets in the best of health.
Although the dog and cat have about equal status as companion animals,
they are two totally different species. Things you can feed to a dog
can be poison to a cat. A dog can live on commercial cat food but a
cat will die if fed only dog food. There is a huge difference in dogs’
and cats’ physiological, behavioural and dietary habits. Dogs evolved
from an omnivorous species while cats evolved from a strictly carnivorous
diet. The shorter gastrointestinal tract of the cat results in a rapid
rate of passage, and therefore lower digestibility, of foods than the
dog. Because of this there are many very special needs in a cat’s diet.
These differences are the cat’s unique energy and glucose metabolism,
higher protein requirement, need for the amino acid, taurine, sensitivity
to a deficiency of the amino acid, arginine, inability to convert beta-carotene
to active vitamin A, the inability to convert the amino acid, tryptophan,
to niacin and the inability to convert linoleic acid effectively into
essential long-chain fatty acids. This is why many vets and nutritionists
say cats cannot be vegan but dogs can if given a nutritionally balanced
For the last two years I have been working on making a vegan dry extruded
dog and cat food using vegan alternatives to supply all of the cat’s
and dog’s nutritional needs. This food meets the NRC and AAFCO standards
and, in some instances, exceeds them. The body’s basic building, energising
and replacing materials can come from a meat or chicken source or from
a soybean and seaweed source. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that
the basic cellular structure is the same from either source. I have
now found all the vegan alternatives and am able to produce nutritionally-balanced
food for both cats and dogs.
Proteins are complex molecules. Amino acids form the basic units of
protein. There are 22 alpha amino acids. Dogs and cats are able to synthesise
12 amino acids at a sufficient rate to meet their body’s needs for growth,
performance and maintenance. These are called non-essential amino acids.
They can either be supplied in the diet or synthesised by the body.
The remaining 10 amino acids cannot be synthesised at a sufficient rate
to meet the body’s needs. These are called essential amino acids and
must be supplied in the pet’s diet. Cats have an added requirement for
taurine, a beta amino acid. Animals are unable to store excess amino
Taurine and Little Tyke
Little Tyke was a 352lb (160kg) African lioness that was rejected from
birth by her imprisoned mother. The kind people who rescued poor little
Tyke took her back to their ranch in Seattle to raise. From the beginning,
Tyke disliked any kind of meat or blood, preferring milk and rice. Tyke
grew up a total vegetarian, becoming famous by appearing on television
shows with her friends which were kittens, chickens and a pet lamb.
Tyke would chew on an old gumboot as a bone but never showed her huge
teeth to any other living thing. Tyke died at four years of age, probably
from viral pneumonia, but some say from taurine deficiency. Although
taurine is found in small amounts in milk and eggs, it was insufficient
Taurine is vital for cats’ well-being. While other species can manufacture
it in their bodies, cats cannot. Taurine is vital for a healthy retina
(that part of the eye where images are formed). Deficiency will ultimately
cause blindness. Cardiomyopathy (a disease where the heart muscle turns
flabby, losing its ability to pump), reproductive problems, immune system
dysfunction and many more problems arise from taurine deficiency. If
acted upon quickly, some of these conditions can be reversed.
Unwittingly, many caring cat owners who feed vegetarian diets to their
pet cats actually run the risk of causing them chronic malnutrition.
Taurine is mainly available from animal sources with only trace amounts
found in plants. All pet food manufacturers use synthetic taurine, being
both easier to use and more economical. I use synthetic taurine in my
vegan cat food.
Arginine is an essential amino acid. A cat fed on an arginine-free diet
will not only fail to grow, but also lose body mass at a very fast rate.
Other signs are vocalisation (moaning), tetanic spasms, extended limbs
with exposed claws, apnea (absence of breath) and, finally, death.
Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A (retinol) in the intestine of
dogs but the cat, because of its short intestine, is unable to do this.
Cats must be provided with a pre- formed source of Vitamin A. Natural
pre-formed vitamin A is found only in animal products in which the animal
has metabolised the carotene into vitamin A - storing concentrates in
certain tissues, mainly the liver. Cats obtained their vitamin A in
the wild by killing and eating the whole catch, including the liver.
Synthetic vitamin A is freely available and is used in all cat foods,
wet or dry. I use this form in my vegan cat food. Vitamin A toxicity
in cats is possible (though rare) as absorption of pre-formed Vitamin
A is not regulated in the intestine. Therefore organ meats such as liver
and kidney, and some fish oils, should be given sparingly.
Niacin is a B vitamin. The inability of cats, and the very poor ability
of dogs, to convert tryptophan (an essential amino acid) to niacin is
not a major concern as it can be found in grains, yeast, and oil meals.
A vegetarian source of niacin can easily be supplied.
Unlike humans, both cats and dogs make their own vitamin C. According
to animal naturopaths, if a dog or cat is unwell or old, added vitamin
C is recommended. I have put some in my vegan food as I believe it can
only be beneficial. You cannot overdose on vitamin C as the body simply
Most animal and human species have the ability to convert linolenic
acid into a balance of Omega 3, Omega 6 and other essential long-chain
fatty acids (EFAs) such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) AA (arachidonic
acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Cats cannot do this. This is
very recent knowledge and it has been extremely difficult for me to
find a vegan source. Linolenic acid is very easy to find, being abundant
in seafood, flaxseed (linseed), canola and sunflower oil. However this
is of no use to cats because they cannot synthesise it. AA is essential
for healthy skin and coat as well as for lipid transport in the blood.
DHA is essential for healthy eyes and brain function. EPA is important
in balancing the prostaglandins that affect chronic degenerative diseases.
Cats get AA, DHA and EPA from animal flesh, liver, brain or from fish.
The fish get it from micro algae, so this is where I looked. I found
the different micro algae that provide vegan sources for all the long
chain fatty acids but they are extremely unstable and great care has
to be taken in preserving them.
What I have learnt from making my food is that all nutrients need to
be in balance in order to be utilised properly. Where possible I use
whole food as a source of nutrients (e.g., spirulina, barley grass,
flaxseed meal, etc.), only using synthetic replacements when absolutely
essential. I believe this is the safest way to make a quality balanced
After much reading, and two years of research and experimentation, I
believe I am ready to manufacture a commercial vegan food for dogs and
cats. I hope it will be readily available very soon.
Volunteers from animal welfare groups have volunteered their dogs and
cats to do palatability and digestibility feeding trials. Following
a strict set of guidelines, these animals are involved in the final
testing of my food. They are undertaking these tests in their own homes
while being closely monitored by their owners. If an animal shows any
sign of distress it is immediately removed from the trial. So far not
one animal has dropped out. By conducting the tests in this way I believe
that I have tested my food in a loving, caring way and have avoided
supporting any animal testing company.
With my dry pet food there will be a guide on how much food your pet
should eat to receive all requisite nutrients in one day. If you give
this food as a base and then add whatever else your pet would like to
eat with it, you can be safe in the knowledge that they are getting
all the nutrients they need.
By now those feeding vegetarian food to their cat or dog are probably
feeling very worried. Please do not fear. If you want to feed your pet
on a vegan diet, or you have any worries or concerns about how to go
about this, please feel free to contact me at the address below.
If you wish to continue to feed your pet on meat, fish and chicken,
without getting into details comparing commercial pet foods with home
made pet foods, it is important to understand a few things about commercial
foods. The best standard by which to judge the quality of currently
available pet foods is the cost. Generally speaking, the more expensive
the food, the better quality are the ingredients. So if you wish to
continue feeding your pet on commercial pet food always choose above
average priced food and the best known brands (these are the companies
that are serious about image and quality and have the funds to spend
on analysis, quality ingredients, etc.). Read labels very carefully,
telephone the enquiry line and ask questions if you don’t understand.
Most dry pet foods are a complete and balanced diet but very few tinned
foods are, so you should not feed your pet only tinned food. A mix of
both is best, always supplementing with an uncooked bone.
Have you ever wondered why pet food is kept separate from human food
at points of purchase? Because it is not fit for human consumption!
Why is this? The major source of animal protein for pet food is “the
four Ds “... Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled animals.
So what exactly would an animal found dead, suffering or dying in a
paddock have wrong with it? A disease, cancer, kidney, lung, blood or
liver infection? Perhaps an overdose of pesticide? No one knows for
certain, but such animals are put down and used for pet food. Also of
concern is the possibility of veterinary drugs still present in the
These animals are then cut up and used as ‘choice cuts’ of beef or lamb,
or ‘plump whole chicken’, as the pet food labels claim. Being thrifty
institutions, slaughterhouses take all that is left over, including
the head, legs, intestines, liver and lungs (not to mention whatever
it was that the animal died of) and render it down in a big vat. The
hair is skimmed from the top and whatever remains dried and powdered,
leaving beef or chicken meal, meat and poultry by-products or digests.
These products are found in every dog and cat food available to day.
I think this is a questionable source of nourishment for our animals.
Read the label. What is feather meal? Yes, it is ground up feathers!
Very high in protein, but totally indigestible. The same goes for blood
Have you ever wondered why our pets become ill or allergic, develop
chronic digestive problems or sometimes die very young? Could it be
a result of the food they are eating? With the above in mind, are we
being so cruel by feeding nutritionally-balanced vegan food to our pets?
I think not. We now have the possibility to make a more humane choice
by not feeding our pets the products of other animals.
I would like to add a few points on feeding your dog and cat. The old
way of thinking was to feed your dog once a day. This has now been proved
incorrect. My dogs showed me this years ago (they love their breakfast!).
Dogs should be fed at least twice a day. This stops them from gorging
their food and bloating while also reducing digestive problems. Feeding
one meal a day can also irritate the esophagus with stomach acid. Cats
will eat and drink randomly throughout the day and night. Their meals
are always small (about 25g) and they eat between 8 and16 meals in a
24 hour period. Adult cats can adapt to being fed twice a day while
kittens and pregnant cats need feeding at more frequent intervals. This
is because of their short gastrointestinal tract.
Always make sure your pet has clean, pure water available. If you change
from tank water to town water take into account the chlorine and fluoride
content of the water as this can taste dreadful to the delicate taste
buds of a cat. To make the transition, give bottled water at first,
slowly introducing tap water.
Cats can be poisoned by onions. Do not feed onions to your cat, either
cooked or raw. Cocoa-based products are also risky, especially in dogs.
The toxic material is the methylxanthine derivative, theobromine, and
the signs of poisoning are vomiting diarrhea, collapse and death. Chocolate
has a much lower theobromine content of around 0.2% but is still best
Sandy Anderson can be contacted at 70 Trevor Road, Nar Nar Goon North,
VIC 3812 Australia. Tel: 03 5942 7461. Fax: 03 5942 7509. E-mail: email@example.com
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