Quebec's order of veterinarians is warning pet owners about the dangers of putting their carnivorous pets on an exclusively plant-based diet.
Just because you're ditching meat doesn't mean your pet should, said the order's president, Dr. Caroline Kilsdonk, on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
"People who want to have pets that are completely vegetarian, maybe the best thing to do to make sure the pet will be healthy is to adopt an animal that is naturally a vegetarian," she said, recommending most rodents or birds.
But for dogs and cats, an exclusively plant-based diet is risky.
"Their digestive system is not as adapted as much to plants as much as ours is," she said.
Regardless, she said veterinarians across the province are seeing people pass their own vegetarian and vegan lifestyles onto their pets "more and more."
The pet food industry, sensing the growing trend, has even begun marketing plant-based foods. The studies conducted so far have concluded the products tested are not well-balanced for cats or dogs, Kilsdonk said.
Many products on the market have not been studied at all, and others have only been studied on a short-term basis, she said.
"These products have not been tested on the long term, compared to the quality diets that we have on the market that have been tested for years and years and years on a large number of cats and dogs."
Dogs and cats have different diets
Dogs are more naturally omnivores, she said, and an adapted, balanced diet that excludes meat is a bit easier on them than such a diet would be on cats.
"It's really hard to balance a cat's diet without animal-based protein," Kilsdonk said, but products containing milk, eggs or fish can help.
It's hard to say exactly what would happen to a cat over the years if fed nothing but plant-based foods, the veterinarian explained, because the end result would depend entirely on the nutritional content of the diet. It all comes down to which types of amino acids the animal is getting.
"Proteins are used for almost everything in our body," she said, affecting muscle and cell growth, as well as the immune system.
Dogs are a bit more adapted to human diets and that's, in theory, because they have lived with humans for tens of thousands of years, Kilsdonk said.
'Surprising' number of pet owners want vegan pets
University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) surveyed more than 3,600 dog and cat owners from around the world, asking them about what kinds of foods they eat and what foods they feed their pets.
Researchers found a "surprising" number of pet owners, particularly those who are already vegan, interested in switching their pets to a plant-based diet.
Montreal pet owners are among them. Montreal pet-store employee Emily Pavlik said she gets plenty of requests for plant-based foods, and she tries to discourage people from the harmful practice.
"A lot of people will ask for vegetarian food because they want their animals to mimic their lifestyle," she said.
"It's not necessarily the healthiest option for your animal — especially if we look at cats that are 100-per-cent obligate carnivores."