The study was supported by ProVeg International and involved more than 1,000 cats
A study published today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE reveals that cats fed on a plant based diet were found to be generally more healthy than those on a meat diet.
The study, carried out by a research team from the UK and Germany and supported by food awareness NGO, ProVeg International, was based on a survey of 1,369 cat owners or “guardians” who fed plant-based or meat-based diets to their cats for at least one year.
The research complements guidelines issued in February 2023 by industry association, UK Pet Food. This stated that cats can live on plant-based diets because the nutrients they need can be synthetically made or sourced from novel ingredients.
The latest study comes a year after a similar study on dogs, also published in PLOS ONE, that found that the healthiest and least hazardous food for dogs is provided by a nutritionally sound plant-based diet.
“It is very encouraging to see a growing amount of research appear from the field of veterinary science that confirms how pets can thrive on plant-based diets,” Jens Tuider, Chief Strategy Officer at ProVeg, said.
“We hope this new data on cats will embolden the pet food industry to launch more food and snacks from alternative proteins that are healthy and more climate-friendly than the conventional meat products. Pet food plays a significant part in the larger food system transformation that is needed to fight climate change” Tuider added.
In the study, a total of 1,242 owners (91%) fed their cats on a meat-based diet whilst 127 cat owners (9%) fed their cats on a plant-based diet over the course of at least a year.
The study authors then examined seven general indicators of illness in the cats, after taking into account factors such as age, sex, neutering status and location.
The following risk reductions were experienced by average cats fed a plant-based diet:
- A 7% reduction in increased veterinary visits (consistent with illness);
- A 15% reduction in medication use;
- A 55% reduction in progression on to a therapeutic diet;
- A 4% reduction in cats reportedly being assessed as unwell by veterinarians;
- An 8% reduction in veterinary assessments of more severe illness;
- A 23% reduction in guardian opinions of more severe illness;
- And, the number of health disorders per unwell cat decreased by 16%.
The researchers examined the prevalence of 22 specific health disorders using reported veterinary assessments. They found that a total of 42% of cats fed on meat, and 37% of those fed on plant-based diets suffered from at least one disorder. Of these 22 disorders, 15 were most common in cats fed on meat, and seven most common in cats fed on plant-based diets. Only one difference was statistically significant.
“Considering these results overall, cats fed plant-based diets tended to be healthier than cats fed meat-based diets. This trend was clear and consistent. These results largely concur with previous, similar studies,” the study’s abstract notes.
Lead author, veterinary Professor Andrew Knight from the University of Winchester in the UK, said: “Modern vegan diets produced by pet food companies use plant, mineral and synthetic sources to supply all needed nutrients. They also lack hazards such as animal-sourced allergens that occur within meat-based pet food. We therefore expect to see health outcomes as good or better, when cats are fed nutritionally-sound vegan diets, and that’s exactly what this very large-scale study shows. Our results are consistent with other studies in this field.”
Other studies on cats
In 2021, veterinarians Dr Sarah Dodd and colleagues published a large scale study, including dietary information for 1,026 cats, of whom 187 were fed plant-based diets with the latter being more frequently reported by guardians to be in very good health. In her conclusions Dr Dodd said: “Contrary to expectations, owners perceived no body system or disorder to be at particular risk when feeding a plant-based diet to cats”. In fact, the cats fed on plant-based diets were more frequently reported to be in very good health. They had more ideal body condition scores, and were less likely to suffer from gastrointestinal and hepatic (liver) disorders, than cats fed meat. No health disorders were more likely for cats fed plant-based diets.
An earlier study carried out in 2006 was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association comparing the health status of 34 cats maintained on vegetarian diets, and 52 maintained on conventional diets, for at least one year. No significant differences existed in age, sex, body condition, housing, or perceived health status between the two groups. Most of the caregivers in both groups described their cats as healthy or generally healthy.
Notes to Editors
For media inquiries, email Peter Rixon at [email protected]
Professor Andrew Knight can be contacted via his website, www.andrewknight.info
About ProVeg International
ProVeg International is a global food awareness organisation. Our vision is a world where everyone chooses delicious and healthy food that is good for all humans, animals, and our planet. Our mission is to replace 50% of animal products globally with plant-based and cultivated foods by 2040.