Vegans Should Have Vegan Cats: A Moral Case
By Jed Gillen
“Cats do not require ingredients, they require
the nutrients those ingredients provide… Cats are carnivores.
[But] keep in mind, a protein molecule is made up of a combination of
amino acids… Whether protein is obtained from plants or animals
is not as critical as the balance of amino acids.” This quote
is not from some extremist animal rights group pushing a radical agenda.
It is taken, word for word, from the website of Purina, one of the largest
players in the commercial pet food industry.
Here’s the clincher: “Animal products are excellent sources
of protein, but plants also contain valuable amino acids. Plant proteins,
when combined with animal proteins or other plant proteins, can provide
the proper amino acid balance for every life stage of the cat and dog”
The Case for Cruelty-free
The arguments in favor of feeding our cats and dogs cruelty-free food
are essentially the same as those for following a vegan diet. “A
man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food,”
wrote Tolstoy. “Therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in
taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so
This same logic can just as easily be applied to cats and dogs: they—as
even Purina admits—can live and be healthy without eating meat,
so slaughtering animals on their behalf is unnecessary and therefore
morally indefensible. Given these facts, how can it be that so many
people who are otherwise ethical vegans refuse to stop feeding meat
to their cats and dogs? The answer to this can best be discovered, I
believe, by exploring the answer to a very similar question: How can
so many people who are otherwise decent and compassionate continue to
eat meat themselves?
“I can’t be vegan; where would I get my protein from?”
friends, families, and random strangers at tabling events persistently—and
annoyingly—ask when confronted with the problems of meat-eating.
Or: “People have canine teeth; that means that we are supposed
to eat meat.” Or the ever-popular: “I could never give up
meat; I like it too much.”
Chances are, most vegans have well-rehearsed—and good, solid—answers
for all of these common objections. Perhaps you’ll say, “our
protein requirements are so low that it is difficult, no matter what
you eat, to get enough calories to stay alive and not get enough protein.”
Or: “At an earlier time in our species’ history, it may
have been necessary to eat meat, but it no longer is. Our contention
is not that eating meat is unnatural, but that it is unnecessary.”
Or finally: “Is your enjoyment of a certain flavor really worth
the lifetime of suffering and premature death of another sentient being
that it causes? Come on, now; how selfish are you?”
The problem with arguments of this nature is that they are not based
on reason; they are rationalizations. No one really worries about getting
enough protein or cares about what is “natural;” they have
a subconscious desire to continue eating meat and are willing to stand
behind any argument that will allow them to do so. Refute one excuse,
and they’ll think up another and another.
The Taurine Myth
Taurine—the famous animo acid that cats cannot synthesize and
does not naturally occur in plants—has been synthetically produced
for over 80 years. It is widely distributed as an ingredient in Red
Bull and other energy drinks; and, lest there be any concern about its
quality versus natural taurine, to replace what is destroyed by the
high temperatures of the rendering process, most commercial companies
supplement their pet food with the same synthetic taurine the vegan
companies use. To settle a debate with a skeptical veterinarian, I had
a blood test done on one of my cats who had been vegan for a few years
and his taurine level was measured at ten times the average and three
times that which is considered necessary to avoid a deficiency.
Misconceptions about taurine, like the protein concerns cited by many
meat-eaters, are easy to correct. Unfortunately, the conversations I
have with vegans who feed meat to their cats and dogs are more often
virtually indistinguishable from those I have with meat-eaters. Elucidating
the flaws in the argument for giving cats meat results in the lightning-quick
creation of another rationalization, such as the issue of what is “natural”
for cats and dogs to eat (an argument that is directly analogous to
the “people have canine teeth for tearing meat” argument).
Besides the fact that nothing we feed our cats and dogs is in the least
bit natural anyway, when you really think about it, what is natural
has never been the basis for what is moral. Our whole animal rights
movement is not based on what is natural… but on what is ethical;
what should be rather than what has historically been.
In reality, our choice is not between “natural” and “unnatural”
but between “unnatural and vegan” and “unnatural,
causing death to animals, and giving money to the slaughter industry.”
There are probably any number of things that I am overlooking now that
will seem really obvious in the years to come, but of this much I am
sure: it is just a matter of time before buying meat for cats and dogs
will be seen as every bit as cruel as eating meat ourselves is now.
My company, vegancats.com, has experienced continuous growth since it
was founded in 1999 and now supplies cruelty-free food to thousands
of cats and dogs throughout North America. My book Obligate Carnivore:
Cats, Dogs, and What it Really Means to be Vegan represents my best
effort to create a sort of Diet for a New America for cats and dogs,
a comprehensive ‘big picture’ discussion of why vegans should
not be feeding cats and dogs other animals.
All I can ask is for you to take the time to explore the issue fully
before making a decision that affects the lives and well-being of so
many animals. Too many animals are dying unnecessarily for the vegan
community to continue to rationalize this away forever.
Jed Gillen is co-founder of vegancats.com
and author of Obligate Carnivore: Cats, Dogs, and What it Really
Means to be Vegan (Steinhoist Books). Jed shares his life with three
cats and two dogs—all healthy vegans. He is also co-founder of
Vegan Mercantile, www.veganmercantile.com,
online shopping for cruelty-free living.