obligate carnivore

i recently read obligate carnivore by jed gillen, and i thought it was excellent. it’s short, witty, and full of smart-talkin’. for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a book about whether or not you can feed vegan food to dogs and cats.

since i’m relatively new to veganism, i wasn’t very well-versed in this area, but (coincidentally) i have been recently bombarded with all kinds of disgusting reports about what goes into pet food. the short version: (a) animals that are deemed unfit for human consumption (i.e., those who arrive at the slaughterhouse diseased, dying, dead, you get the picture), (b) waste products from slaughterhouses and granaries, (c) cancerous growths and the like from the aforementioned dying or dead animals, and (d) euthanized cats and dogs from animal shelters. here’s a link if you’d like to read a more thorough and scholarly report on the subject.

anyhow, because i kept randomly running across these articles about the nastiness in "regular" (that is, meat-based) pet food, i was thinking about how to get better-quality food for our kitties. i thought about researching some of the organic companies (e.g., newman’s own) to see if those would be "okay." in my initial poking around i kept reading that dogs are true omnivores (like humans) and can eat practically anything and be healthy (as long as you’re paying attention–again, like humans), but i also saw many different places note that cats are "obligate carnivores." thus, i dragged my feet a bit on learning the vegan ropes with regard to cats.

this book does an excellent job of laying out the reasons why it is perfectly acceptable to feed vegan food to kitties. i don’t want to spoil the ending (so to speak), because this is a great book and jed gillen deserves to sell many many copies, but i will tell you that i felt MUCH better after reading it, and i think i’m brave enough to try it.

a few nuggets that were important to me:

1. taurine, the oft-touted reason for feeding cats meat-based food (but they need taurine! without it they will go blind! taurine is only found in meat!), is added to vegan food in synthetic form. and guess what? it is the exact same synthetic taurine that is added to meat-based food. evidently meat loses almost all of its natural taurine in the icky processes involved, so meat-based pet food companies add it back in, synthetic-style.

2. if my kitties don’t have to eat meat-based food, and if they can in fact be perfectly healthy on vegan food, then why not at least give it a shot? there’s no harm in trying.

3. gillen does a fantastic job of covering the one possible drawback of feeding cats a vegan diet: the potential occurrence of urinary tract problems. he really knows his stuff and doesn’t gloss over this topic at all. this was one of my big fears, but i felt a lot better after reading his chapter on cat urine. heh. the bottom line is, yes, some kitties have trouble with this… but so do some kitties on a meat-based diet. fortunately, the vast majority of vegan kitties never have urinary tract problems, so it seems a pretty safe bet to at least try it out. if it doesn’t work, hey, at least we gave it a shot.

anyway, i’m only scratching the surface of what gillen covers in the book, and i can’t recommend it highly enough. if you have companion animals and you’re on the fence about this issue, it’s well worth the $10 (only $8.50 on amazon!). i’m still in the decision-making process here, because i haven’t been able to discuss it much with my husband yet, and i would also like to talk about it with my vet (trying to be proactive here). if and when we get to that point, i will definitely give an update on how the boys like it.



  1. I would love to hear about your experience if you give it a try! We have two cats, and I hate giving them regular cat food but have been nervous about trying anything different.
    I had no idea that regular pet food had the same synthetic taurine! That really changes my perspective on this issue.

  2. yay for vegan pets! We are hesitant to try it with our cat because he definitely has urinary tract problems – we once had to take him to the kitty emergency room to get him unblocked. It happened when we fed him new things – so I’m scared. Right now, he hasn’t had any problems for years on his current diet. I don’t know if he’d be okay on new food period.
    But the dog? No problem whatsoever.

  3. i’ve been talking to people and hearing some not-so-successful stories and now i’m all nervous again. i’m not sure what we’ll do. i feel like in the meantime the least i could do is find a “better quality” meat-based food, but, argh.
    pleather, i hear you on the blocking thing. it’s a very scary scenario.

  4. My wife and I weren’t sure about this at first, but I’ve been strongly interested ever since going vegan myself. I bought a sample bag of Evolution at AR2005, which was only $1. A great way to make sure the cats would even like the stuff, instead of spending a ton of money to have a full bag shipped. Now I know the cats go bonkers for it, I’m down with buying some and transitioning them. We’ve been feeding them the highest-grade cat food we can find, which is great for the cats, but not so good in that they’re being fed from the same animals we stopped eating instead of the byproducts of the industry, meaning we were really adding to the animal agriculture problem even more! Good news is that a huge bag of Evolution kibble, shipped to Los Angeles, is still less expensive per-pound than buying Pet Promise from the nearby Whole Foods Market! Only additional costs will be fairly cheap pH testing kit ($6.95) from vegecats.com, I think it was. That will cover us for quarterly testing to make sure they stay between 6.0 and 6.5.

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