Snufkin’s Diet:
Confessions of a Vegan Cat-Lover


A bowl I painted for Snuffy in 2001

As a vegan, I try not to buy products made by exploiting animals: both products tested on animals, and those that contain animal-derived ingredients.

I’m also a cat-lover. That makes me a vegan cat-lover. I’d like to be a [vegan cat]-lover, but unfortunately I’m only a vegan [cat-lover]. Snufkin has refused to eat either of the two main vegan cat foods on the market. Apparently some cats take well to a vegan diet, but it’s extremely difficult to switch unless you start while they are kittens. In addition to Snufkin’s utter disdain for vegan cat food (although not, interestingly, for vegan human food), a factor in my decision not to persist with the switch was a recent study casting doubt on the nutritional completeness of the two main brands. (This study was reported in CatWatch, but I haven’t been able to find a refence online.) Both Snufkin and her vet have thanked me for the decision, the former rather ungraciously.

If your cat won’t go vegan, the best you can do is to buy food that (1) isn’t tested on animals and (2) contains meat only from humanely-raised and -slaughtered animals. This is not the same as organic meat.

(1) Animal testing

I became aware about a year ago that I had to take Snufkin off Eukanuba, on which I (mistakenly) thought she had done well for several years. Eukanuba is manufactured by Iams, about whose terrible misdeeds you can read here. Iams is also a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, possibly the world’s most notorious conductor of animal tests.

As I searched for an alternative, I followed PETA’s useful list of brands that do not test on animals. The list currently (August 2005) contains 38 brands, but living as I do in Lincoln, Nebraska, I don’t have easy access to most of them. I was down to Natural Balance, Natural Life, Newman’s Own Organics, and PetGuard. Natural Life was eliminated on the basis of a significantly inferior nutritional profile.

(2) Humane treatment of meat (an oxymoron?)

For Snufkin’s dry food, I chose Newman’s Own Organics Adult/Kitten Dry Chicken & Rice Formula. The chickens are free-roaming, although not free-range, and are raised in a “stress-free environment”. I have not found any other company whose literature mentions the issue of humane treatment. As a bonus, most of the ingredients in Newman’s Own, including the chicken, are organic. (Ingredient list; FAQs, including the humane treatment issue.) To date, I have not found any mention of humane (or less inhumane) slaughter methods used by any pet food company.

(3) Health concerns

My one concern about the Newman’s Own dry food was that its protein and fat content were lower than Eukanuba’s — considerably lower for their Senior formula. Although the nominal age of feline seniority is seven, all her vets have proclaimed Snufkin to be in the pink of health, her current vet going so far as to say that she is “not a senior cat”. Some senior cats have impaired kidney function, for which lower protein intake would be appropriate, but Snufkin’s bloodwork is immaculate. So I feed her the Adult/Kitten formula. Because even that formula has less protein and fat than I would like, I decided to mix it with Natural Balance. Natural Balance has recently come out with an organic dry dog food, and I gather that an organic dry cat food is under consideration. However, at the moment their dry cat food is not organic, and their meat is “conventionally raised” (i.e., factory-farmed) — a sticking point for me, for both nutritional and moral reasons.

Dry cat food brand
(all info from manufacturer websites)
Blue: especially good features
Red: especially bad features
Eukanuba Mature Care YES 36% 17% 0.16% No
Newman’s Own Organics Adult/Kitten No 30% 11% 0.20% Yes
Senior No 26% 9% 0.20% Yes
Natural Balance: Ultra-Premium Dry Cat Food No 34% 18% 0.16% Not yet
Natural Life: Adult Formula No 30% 12% 0.10% No

I switched Snufkin to Newman’s gradually, then later gradually added Natural Balance. A few days after she stopped eating Eukanuba, I noticed that her coat was softer and fluffier, though still glossy. It had lost the slightly slick feeling and oily sheen that it gained when she was started on Eukanuba. It smells better too. So Eukanuba had not been the high-quality food that I thought it was. That’s actually not surprising, given that it contains much lower-grade meat than either Newman’s or Natural Balance. Snufkin herself preferred the Newman’s and cleverly picked out all the Newman’s kibble that I’d mixed in with the Eukanuba pellets. This defeated the purpose of the gradual change, and she had some mild diarrhoea a few times in the first couple of weeks. Now she is just fine. She seems to prefer the Newman’s to the Natural Balance but (unlike with the Newman’s/Eukanuba mix) will eat them both.

(4) Wet food

In December 2004 I was away from home for twelve days, and Snufkin pined terribly, much worse than during previous absences of comparable length. From the fifth day onwards she was inconsolable. Her devoted sitter was able to lift her spirits, at least temporarily, with some wet food. I didn’t have the heart to return her to dry-only upon my return, and I learned that the health benefits of wet food (urinary tract protection and better hydration) were more important than I’d thought and their supposed risks (dental decay) less important, possibly even spurious. So Snufkin is now permanently back on wet food. She gets a heaping teaspoon several times a day as a treat. The high frequency is because she is a princess — occasionally a very vocal, persistent and sharp-clawed princess. She used to get through a 3-oz. can of Fancy Feast in a little over 24 hours. Of course, now that I’m being more careful in my selection of food, Fancy Feast is out of the question.

Newman’s Own makes four flavours of wet food: Chicken & Brown Rice, Chicken & Salmon, Turkey, and Turkey & Vegetable. Unfortunately, these are currently available only in 5.5-oz cans (the size of a can of tuna). Even if I transfer the contents to an airtight glass jar, cover the exposed surface with cling film, and microwave each portion to room temperature before serving it, Snufkin loses interest about 24 hours after a can is opened, and she is an absolute pig for wet food. So 5.5-oz cans are not feasible.

Natural Balance has nine flavours of wet food and has just brought out 3-oz cans. The 3-oz cans have not reached my local Petco yet. Instead, I have been buying PetGuard’s 3-oz Savory Seafood Dinner. From my point of view the huge advantage of this flavour is that it contains fish but no meat. As fish is usually not treated as badly as cattle or fowl, fish-based foods are less worrisome than beef- or chicken-based foods. PetGuard does not test on animals. They also make a dry food (a respectable 30% protein, 15% fat), but I haven’t been able to find it in Lincoln. It is not organic, so there is no special reason for me to choose it over Natural Balance (34% protein, 18% fat, also non-organic, and easily available).

(5) Treats

This is the area I need to work on next. Snufkin loves Whisker Lickin’s Tartar Control treats, especially the Crab Cake flavour. These are made by Purina and are both nutritionally and morally suspect: they aren’t organic and contain meat by-product, and Purina does conduct animal experiments. As her diet has been overhauled quite a bit lately, I plan to use up the huge hoard of treats I’ve already bought before searching for an alternative. I used to give her the treats in recompense for depriving her of wet food. Now that she gets wet food, giving her treats is less of a priority.

Renal Diet

All of the above became moot in October 2006, when Snufkin was diagnosed with kidney insufficiency and ordered to go on a prescription diet.
Click here to read about Snufkin’s post-diagnosis food options.

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