EUROPE- A recently published study published 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 the 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 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, 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 risk reductions were experienced by average cats fed a plant-based diet included 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 and a 4% reduction in cats reportedly being assessed as unwell by veterinarians.
Others included 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%.
Additionally, the researchers examined the prevalence of 22 specific health disorders using reported veterinary assessments and 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, commentted that 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,” Knight remarked.