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January/February 2004
Why 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” [emphasis added].

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 is immoral.”

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,, 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 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,, online shopping for cruelty-free living.


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