Leave it to the Brits. The RSPCA, the “Royal” version of the ASPCA, has reportedly stated that feeding cats only veggies could land you in the gaol. As a cat has nine lives, so every cat story has two tales. We will try and separate fact from fiction in this article.
The British version of the story begins with the RSPCA who claims that a meat free diet for kitty is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. Apparently in England, like the United States, there is a law for most everything. The reason for the violation is that a vegan diet could put the cat’s life in danger as, in the words of the RSPCA, cats are “obligate carnivores.”
How has a vegan diet for cats become such a national issue? Apparently, the Birmingham National Pet Show showcased some recent fad diet products for cats and the demand for such products increased. The issue is the Animal Welfare Act’s definition of “a healthy diet” – for which there is no clear definition. So it is possible that you could go to jail for breaking a law that may not actually exist.
Enter the U.K.’s Vegetarian Society who has taken the default position by saying cat owners should consult a veterinarian before changing their cat’s diet. However, given the RSPCA’s claim that cats are “obligate carnivores” it is fair to assume a cat owner may not know the number of birds, chipmunks, squirrels, or other small rodents cats will eat, unless they are always kept indoors. That creates the possibility of feeding a cat a completely vegan diet because they will get their share of protein from unknown natural sources.
Not to be outdone by anecdotal evidence, Dr. Andrew Knight, Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Winchester and a veterinarian, says that some of the additives in the meat-based cat foods are actually worse for cats (and dogs) than feeding them a vegan diet. He further states that the amount of professional literature on vegan diets and cats is sparse to non-existent.
Before we listen to the other side of the story, the original article was amended to change the assertion the RSPCA would put people in jail for feeding kitty a vegan diet. The RSPCA said it made no such threat, and it would not pursue any legal action against cat owners who admitted taking part in the non-vegan trend.
Speaking for the other side is a veterinarian who is a vegan himself. Dr. Knight maintains that a vegan diet for cats can actually improve their health and be used to solve some of the more common cat problems such as heavy or slow digestion, finicky appetite, and general fatigue. So a listless kitty may actually need to be put on a vegan diet for its own good.
Two companies have been in business making all-vegan cat food for more than a decade, and without a meow from the RSPCA for all these years. This leads to the question of, why now? The Animal Welfare Act has been in place for some time, and apparently has been effective in effectively preventing animal abuse of all kinds.
The motivations of certain people or organizations in such matters are generally unknown, but perhaps what underlies the unexpected attention is that the RSPCA may have believed the dog show was sending a general message to all cats’ owners that the all-vegan diet was preferred to the traditional meat diet. Consider this an overreaction because while there has been a trend in buying the advertised cat foods, there is zero evidence any cat has been harmed by owners who switched to the veggie choice. It’s good that the RSPCA is watching out for the welfare of animals, bad for the overreaction that led to someone of unknown origin threatening jail time over a cat’s diet.
On a final note, perhaps the RSPCA can spend some of its money on conducting research into the area where apparently no research has yet been done – the effect of an all-vegan diet on cats. Not only would they be adding to the current scientific literature but also will have a solid argument to make their case should advertising trump the best interests of the British pet population. As is often the case, for every problem there is a solution, and sometimes the solution is right in front of us.