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Book Review

Obligate Carnivore

There is probably no issue more divisive among the vegan community than whether cats should be fed a vegan diet. It stirs great passions from both sides. In Obligate Carnivore: Cats, Dogs, and What it Really Means to be Vegan, Jed Gillen presents arguments as to why we should make a strong effort to feed our cats vegan food.

Obligate Carnivore is a quick, fun read due to Gillen’s humor and unorthodox writing style. Gillen uses the topics of dog and cat food to discuss many issues surrounding veganism and I found the book quite interesting for this reason and would recommend it even if you do not have companion carnivores.

Given Gillen’s position, one might jump to the conclusion that he is merely a vegan puritan who has irrationally forced his purity onto his unfortunate animals. To the contrary, Gillen argues that reducing suffering is much more important than being pure.

A few excerpts cannot do the book justice. However, the following quotations can provide a feel for the book:

“The [relationship between predator and prey] cannot be said to exist between the cats and dogs that live in our homes and the barely recognizable animals that have been turned into pellets or packed in cans that magically appear in the their bowls twice a day…. The animals we feed to our cats and dogs have been genetically manipulated, pumped full of hormones, confined, beaten, and murdered without ever having had a chance at a normal life. When they eat meat, it is not because they are following some immutable instinct that has developed over millions of years; it is simply because we have chosen to put some in their dish and they have learned to recognize it as food.”

“But to make a choice as complex as which food to buy, an issue which carries ethical concerns that they couldn’t possibly begin to understand, is one of our jobs. Not only is this kind of thing not contradictory to good parenting, it is an inherent part of it!”

“[C]ats are perfectly capable of thoroughly enjoying meals that aren’t [meat].”

“It is similarly unwise to assume that cow or chicken meat is automatically going to be a better substitute for mouse or insect meat than a well-formulated vegetable based meal.”

Gillen spends some time discussing all the terrible things that go into many commercial dog and cat foods, such as dead dogs and cats from animal shelters. When it’s suggested that “premium” pet food is better than the nastier kind, he says: “Quite the contrary, when you really think about it: whereas the low-priced supermarket brands are atrocious, they contribute to the profitability of animal slaughter less so than the more expensive brands.”

The one problem Gillen has found with a small percentage of male vegan cats is that a vegan diet can exacerbate struvite crystals in male cats who are prone to them. He covers this issue in great depth and presents solutions which should work in most cases. It is a good idea to bring your male cat to the vet and have their urine pH checked within a couple weeks of putting them on a vegan diet.

If a cat can live and be happy on vegan food, then it seems that there is little reason to keep them on a diet of animals. But for cats who have trouble with such a diet, it would be interesting to find out how much the inexpensive brands actually do contribute to farmed animal suffering. If all vegans put their companion cats on a vegan diet tomorrow, would fewer farmed animals really be bred and raised?

Gillen makes the point that at the very least vegans should try vegan cat food and see if their cats like it. He ends the book asking people to at least meet him halfway - feed your cat meals that have at least some vegan food mixed with the other food.

I recommend Obligate Carnivore for people interested in animal liberation.