According feed their pet’s the same or similar

            According to
the Vegan Society, veganism is defined as “A philosophy and way of living which
seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of
exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other
purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives
for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it
denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly
from animals.” People choose to practice veganism for any number of reasons
including; religious, ethical, and health, and in many instances, wish to feed
their pet’s the same or similar diets as their own. Although Veganism has been
around for years, it has become increasingly more popular in the United States
over the past few years, causing the vegan owned cat diet to become a hot topic
in the veterinary health community. It poses an ethical problem for
veterinarians when presented with these clients as it is well known that cats
are obligate carnivores. To handle this delicate situation an understanding,
both from an ethical and scientific point of view, must be found and a
relationship must be formed between client and doctor to establish a common
ground where both the health of the cat and the happiness of the owner are
reached.

            Cats require
several essential ingredients in their diets that are only found in animal
sources (taurine and vitamin A), in fermented foods (cobalamin), or in trace
amounts in some algae (arachidonic acid). With cats being obligate carnivores,
their protein requirement is also extremely high, with most vegetable sources
of protein being limited in several of the essential amino acids. This makes
formulating a healthy, complete, vegan approved cat diet extremely challenging
(Michel 1276). There are various resources available via the internet for
commercially prepared diets, homemade recipes, supplements, and other related
information for vegan owners wishing to feed their cat vegan (and various
other) diets, but are these diets nutritionally adequate? According to
Wakefield “several studies have called into question the nutritional adequacy
of a vegetarian diet for cats. A 2004 study found that 2 commercially available
vegetarian cat foods failed to meet AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles on the
basis of nutritional analysis. Both diets were deficient in taurine and
arachidonic acid, and 1 was also deficient in vitamin A” (1).  Without the proper essential nutrients cats
can develop serious health problems. According to Hill’s Pet, not having proper
nutrition can worsen preexisting heart disease, urinary tract disease and
diarrhea and has been linked to the development of heart and eye disease
without any preexistence.  As a
veterinarian, having a conversation with vegan clients about the challenges of
balancing their cat’s health with their moral beliefs can be difficult and can
pose an ethical problem. Unfortunately, there is no easy, “one-size fits all”
answer, but with a good client- doctor- patient relationship, a willingness to
compromise, and an open mind, a good outcome for both owner and pet can
hopefully be found. This paper will explore different scenarios whereby a vegan
owner, who refuses any animal product in the house, other than his British
shorthaired cat, presents the cat for losing weight. In each scenario the owner
is feeding a different diet and a discussion on how to manage them from both an
ethical and scientific standpoint will be addressed.

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Each scenario should begin the same.
While doing a thorough exam and getting a complete history, starting a dialogue
about the cat’s diet is an important way to open the communication lines. Allow
the owner to explain the cats diet while trying to uncover why the owner is
vegan himself (is it ethical, religious, health? This can help the doctor to
find options that better suit the owner’s lifestyle). After listening to the
owner, the next step should be to explain that cats are natures carnivores and
require certain dietary components. The consequences of not feeding meat or
feeding certain alternative diets should also be discussed and the owner and
doctor should discuss the risks verses benefits to the cat’s health. Offering
the client reliable, evidence based resources (websites, journals, etc.) can
also be crucial in helping the owner to understand how risky it is to feed the
cat certain diets. Next offer to run bloodwork to rule out any underlying
causes for the weight loss, if from the bloodwork and exam the cat appears to
be otherwise healthy, explain that the diet may in fact be the cause.  Allow a couple of days for both parties to do
some research, this will allow the owner to process and retrieve more
information and will allow the doctor to consider compromises. At the next
meeting, the doctor should come prepared to answer any of the owner’s questions
and/or be willing to find the answers if they do not know off hand and should
have multiple options prepared for the owner to choose from. Let the owner know
that they are not alone in this struggle and that research has been done in the
interest of what is best for both client and pet. Speak with other vegan cat
owners and explain how those owners have justified their choice to feed meat
based diet.  Dr. Madeline Haddock, a
small animal veterinarian, cat owner, and vegetarian, who chooses to feed her
cat a carnivorous diet, justified her reasoning by saying “Because cats can’t
advocate for themselves. They are totally dependent creatures and we have the
studies to show definitively that vegetarian diets do not meet the nutritional
needs of cats which are obligate carnivores. If you have an ethical problem
purchasing non- vegetarian food, you need to rehome the cat because it’s an
unhealthy lifestyle for them.” and according to K.C. Vick, a vegan cat owner,
who struggled ethically with feeding her cat a meat based diet, ultimately said
“It’s clear cats are carnivores. Humans can go without meat, so I choose to.
Life is complicated and I accept that”.  After offering suggestions make sure to
explain to the owner that because of the risks associated with alternative
diets more frequent and thorough exams will be needed. Making sure they
understand that feeding these diets can mean more money and a bigger time
commitment to the cat’s health.

Scenario 1&2:
The cat is being fed a vegetarian or vegan diet.

One option that could be considered
is feeding the cat a non-vegetarian/vegan cat food, but feeding the cat
outside. This would allow the owner to keep the rule of no animal products in
the house while also still maintaining a healthy diet for the cat. If the owner
is insistent on feeding the cat a vegetarian diet, offer the client recipes
that have the essential ingredients or offer them a list of requirements the
cats diet must meet in order to be healthy. Make sure to go over each
ingredient and explain why it is so important. Offering ideas for protein rich
foods (to help with weight gain), supplements that can be added to meet
essential requirements, and foods that can help with urinary pH. Owner’s should
also be instructed to make sure the cat is getting adequate amounts of water,
which may even require a wet food diet, as diets without meat can alkalize urine
pH causing cats that are fed a non-meat diet to develop Feline Lower Urinary
Tract Disease and with an increased risk of formation of bladder crystals
and/or stones. According to veganhealth.org “Cat guardians who put their cat on
a vegan diet should have their veterinarian check the cat’s urine pH 1-2 weeks
after switching them to a vegan diet and then once a month for the first
several months to ensure the pH remains stable. If the pH is too high, urinary
acidifiers may help the urine pH to become more acidic. Urinary acidifiers that
may be used include methionine, vitamin C, and sodium bisulfate. There are natural urinary acidifiers, including asparagus, peas, brown
rice, oats, lentils, garbanzos, corn, Brussels sprouts, lamb’s quarters (the
herb Chenopodium album, also known as pigweed), most nuts (except almonds and
coconut), grains (not millet), and wheat gluten (used in kibble recipes). Once
the pH is regulated, the urine pH should be checked at least twice a year. If a
cat shows signs of pain or straining while using the litter box, immediate
veterinary attention should be sought.”

Scenario 3: The
cat is fed a raw diet

Because many owners start this diet
because of the purported benefits (such as; improved immune function, increased
energy, better skin, coat, teeth, improved allergies, weight management,
digestive health, etc.)  start by letting
the client know that there have been no studies proving this to be true, but
there are many studies showing the potential risks associated. According to the
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association “research to evaluate
the nutritional adequacy of homemade diets has identified a number of
nutritional deficiencies. In addition, there are published case reports on the
development of pansteatitis, fatal salmonellosis, and other clinical problems
in pets fed homemade or raw diets.” Let the owner know that not only does the
raw diet affect their cat, but it also has potential risk for the owner or
anyone preparing the cat’s food, handling the cat’s feces, handling the cat’s
food bowl or any other animals that come in contact with the cat itself. The owner
should also be made aware that even the commercially prepared raw diets have
shown to carry pathogens. “Infection with Toxoplasma
gondii has been reported in cats fed raw diets, and on investigation found
evidence of Cryptosporidium spp in two
commercially available raw food diets. Furthermore, It is documented that pets
being fed raw food diets can become asymptomatic shedders of pathogens,
including salmonella spp and T gondii” (Michel 1278).  After discussing the risks of this diet and its
potential public health implications a fecal should be obtained and examined
for bacterial pathogens as this could be a reason for the weight loss. Make the
owner aware that regular fecal testing should be done on the cat if they wish
to continue feeding a raw diet. If the owner is feeding bones as well radiographs
should also be obtained as obstruction could also be a cause for the weight
loss.  If both fecal and radiographs come
back normal discuss with the owner what the diet they are feeding actually
consists of and whether or not it is home-made or commercially prepared. Like
the vegetarian/vegan diet a raw meat diet has a high potential to be lacking
many of the essential ingredients. Suggest adding supplements to the food in
order to meet all of the essential requirements and try to persuade the owner
to at the very least cook the meat.

Scenario 4: The
cat is fed a low-calorie diet

            Since
in this scenario the cat is losing weight, but is on a low-calorie diet, the
first step is understanding why the cat is on the low-calorie diet in the first
place. Was the cat placed on it to lose weight and perhaps is now losing too
much weight, is the owner unaware that the diet is low calorie, is the owner
not aware that feeding a low-calorie diet will result in weight loss? This can
be a bit of a delicate interaction, trying to find out these answers without
insulting the owner’s intelligence, but understanding the owner’s reasoning
will help guide the veterinarian to the appropriate conversation to have with
the owner. Obviously since the cat is being presented to the veterinarian for
weight loss, the owner is aware this is an issue and is seeking guidance on how
to make it better. Discuss with the owner how a change in diet is probably
needed. Simply switching to a well-balanced adult diet may be enough to stop
the weight loss and offering a list of brands or recommended diets can be
useful. Help the owner calculate the resting energy requirement for the cat so
they can find how many calories the cat needs. This way they can find a food
that meets these needs and will be able to adjust them if needed. Encourage the
owner to do a gradual change in diet so not to cause GI upset. Set a goal for a
healthy weight range (whether it be not to go below the current weight now or
to gain a few pounds before trying to maintain). Let the owner know they are
more than welcome to run the cat by for a quick weight check if they do not
have a way to weigh it at home.