The global inclination to abandon meat consumption or at least reduce it is such that The Economist has declared this 2019 as “The Year of the Vegan.”
But the trend raises doubts, especially when it comes to our hairiest friends: can cats or dogs become vegan? We already clarified at the time why the plant-based diet is not suitable for the dog. But for the felines the diet without meat constitutes an even more dangerous option: the reason, as so often happens, is evolutionary.
Since we like to humanize our cats and treat them with the same care and attention that we dedicate to the people we love, it is natural to wish that they feed in a healthy way and even, if we are environmentalists, in a more sustainable way. But this decision should in no case imply that our furry friends stop eating meat. And the motive is in their genes.
The vegan diet is not for cats
Cats and dogs belong to a group of mammals called carnivores (order Carnivorous), and the wild ancestors of both depended to survive, above all, on meat. But the course of evolution went on its way. And during this long trip, dogs have acquired a larger number of copies of the so-called amylase gene, which produces the enzyme that breaks starch molecules so they can digest them. In fact, this gene allows them to have a broader and more omnivorous diet, based on meat, but also with more cereals or vegetables.
But our cats (Felis catus), belong to the Felidae family. They soon lost on this journey through evolution of the genes capable of producing (encoding) some essential amino acids, including those that are part of enzymes that synthesize retinol, taurine, and prostaglandins. It makes sense: if history prepares you to hunt and feed almost exclusively on meat, the enzymes that transform plants into nutrients are useless. With the number of mice that are available in the wild, purrrrr!