Vegan versus meat-based pet foods:
owner-reported palatability behaviours and implications for canine and feline welfare
Consumer suspicion of conventional pet foods, along with perceived health benefits of alternative diets, are fuelling development of the latter. These include raw meat diets, in vitro meat products, and diets based on novel protein sources such as terrestrial and marine plants, insects, yeast and fungi. However, some claim vegan diets may be less palatable, or may compromise animal welfare. We surveyed 4,060 dog or cat guardians to determine the importance to them of pet food palatability, and the degree to which their animals displayed specific behavioural indicators of palatability at meal times. Guardians were asked to choose one dog or cat that had been within their household for at least one year, and not on a prescription or therapeutic diet. Of 3,976 respondents who played some role in pet diet decision-making, palatability was the third most important among 12 factors cited as important when choosing pet diets. For 1,585 respondents feeding conventional or raw meat diets, who stated they would realistically consider alternative diets, palatability was the fourth most important among 14 desired attributes. For the 2,308 dogs included, reported observations of 10 behavioural indicators of palatability at meal times reliably indicated significant effects of increased reports of appetitive behaviour by dogs on a raw meat diet, as opposed to a conventional diet. There was no consistent evidence of a difference between vegan diets and either the conventional or raw meat diets. For the 1,135 cats included, reported observations of 15 behavioural indicators indicated that diet made little difference to food-oriented behaviour. Based on these owner-reported behaviours, our results indicate that vegan pet foods are generally at least as palatable to dogs and cats as conventional meat or raw meat diets, and do not compromise their welfare, when other welfare determinants, such as nutritional requirements, are adequately provided.
Knight A and Satchell L, (2021). Vegan versus meat-based pet foods: owner-reported palatability behaviours and implications for canine and feline welfare. PLoS ONE 16(6): e0253292. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253292.
The nutritional soundness of meat-based and plant-based pet foods
Global trends such as population growth, increasing competition for protein sources, environmental degradation, and farmed animal welfare concerns, are all driving plant-based pet food development. However, lack of evidence of nutritional sufficiency is inhibiting their uptake. This interferes with the ability of some consumers to adopt pet foods more aligned with their values, and the ability of the pet food sector to fully realise the potential of this emerging market, whilst concurrently reducing its environmental footprint. Yet, no systematic study has been published examining the prevalence of steps taken to ensure the nutritional soundness and quality of pet foods, and whether plant-based diets have lower standards in these respects. Accordingly, we designed a study to explore this.
Materials and methods
We surveyed pet food manufacturers producing 19 meat-based and 10 vegan, almost vegan or vegetarian pet foods.
Although there were there were limited areas in which practices could be improved, most manufacturers had acceptable or superior standards at nearly all stages examined, throughout the design, manufacturing, transportation and storage phases, with plant-based diets slightly superior to meat-based diets overall.
A range of best practice steps should be implemented by companies and regulators, and a comprehensive range of communication modalities implemented, to reassure consumers about the nutritional soundness of products.
Knight A and Light N. (2021). The nutritional soundness of meat-based and plant-based pet foods. Revista Electronica De Veterinaria 22(1), 1 – 21.
Vegetarian Versus Meat-based
Diets for Companion Animals
Many owners of companion animals are interested in vegetarian diets for their animals, as concerns increase about the consequences of animal farming, for health, animal welfare, and the environment. However, are vegetarian diets for cats and dogs nutritionally balanced and healthy? This article comprehensively reviews the evidence published to date from four studies that have examined the nutritional adequacy of vegetarian diets for cats and dogs. To obtain additional information, we surveyed 12 pet food companies detailed in the most recent study. We also examined the nutritional soundness of meat-based companion-animal diets, and reviewed the evidence concerning the health status of vegetarian, carnivorous and omnivorous companion animals. Both cats and dogs may thrive on vegetarian diets, but these must be nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced. Owners should also regularly monitor urinary acidity, and should correct urinary alkalinisation through appropriate dietary additives, if necessary.
Knight, A. and Leitsberger, M. (2016). Vegetarian versus meat-based diets for companion animals. Animals 6, 57.
Vegan Diets for Companion Animals
Circulation 1.2 million people.
Knight A (2018). Vegan diets for companion animals. The Healthy Pet Guide. Distributed with The Mail on Sunday, 14 Oct. 50 – 51.
How to Safely Veganise Your Cat or Dog
One page summary by the Vegan Society (New Zealand).
Knight A (2018). How to safely veganise your cat or dog. Green for Life, winter. 16.
A humorous, thought-provoking examination of the controversial issue of vegan diets for cats and dogs. Includes a discussion of the health hazards and benefits of meat-based and vegan diets, a discussion of natural feeding behaviour, and advice for guardians of vegan animals on safeguarding their health.
Knight A (2008). Fishy business? Lifescape, May, 74-76.
Vegan Animal Diets: Facts and Myths
A summary published on The Vegan Society (UK) website.
Knight A (2015). Vegan animal diets: facts and myths. The Vegan Society [UK].
Debate About Vegan Cat Food
a series of letters in J Amer Vet Med Assoc, 2005.