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Note for Pet Owners

This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Vegetarianism is gaining popularity in human society and vegetarian pet owners often wish to feed their pets an exclusively vegetarian diet - but is it safe ? 

From a nutritional point of view our pets can be classified into one of these groups

  • Carnivores - eat food material derived from other animals
  • Herbivores - eat food material derived from plants, ie they are vegetarians
  • Omnivores - eat food material derived from either other animals or from plants. Some omnivores can obtain all their nutritional requirements from a vegetarian ration.
  • Grain or seed eaters (birds - hardbilled))
  • Insectivore - eat insects (birds - softbilled)
  • Fish / plankton eaters (waterbirds)

Unfortunately this definition is confusing because the scientific definition of a "carnivore"  is based upon anatomical characteristics and evolutionary evidence and it  sometimes does not agree with the actual feeding capabilities of the species concerned.

Perhaps the best example of this is the difference between two members of the Order "Carnivore" :

  • Cats (Felidae) are obligatory carnivores, whereas
  • Dogs (Canidae) are actually omnivores 

The reason for this is that cats (domestic and wild) do not have the chemical systems in their body to efficiently utilise or synthesise some nutrients, so they must be present in the food that they eat. Domestic cats have the following special nutritional needs compared to dogs :

  • A high protein content in the ration
  • The amino acid arginine
  • The amino acid taurine
  • The essential fatty acid arachidonic acid
  • The vitamin niacin
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • Vitamin A

These nutritional needs are typical of those expected for obligate carnivores. Vitamin A is only present in food of animal origin, and the inability to convert linolenic acid into arachidonic acid is a metabolic characteristic shared with other carnivores including the lion, turbot (a carnivorous fish) and the mosquito !

Cats therefore are obligate carnivores and MUST NOT BE FED AN EXCLUSIVELY  VEGETARIAN RATION. Dogs on the other hand are omnivores and a vegetarian ration can meet all their nutritional requirements. Other pets have very specific nutritional needs which you must meet if you want to keep them fit and healthy, and happy. The general nutritional requirements of some of our common and exotic pets are listed in the following table - but it must be remembered that some species have highly specific nutritional needs which must be provided.

Species Nutrition Species Nutrition
Dog Omnivores Cage Birds - hardbills Herbivores - Grain or seed eaters
Cat Obligate carnivores Cage Birds - softbills Carnivores - insectivores
Chinchilla Herbivores Pigeons Herbivore - grain or seed eater
Rabbit Herbivores Water-birds Carnivores - fish or plankton
Gerbil Herbivores Chelonia (turtles and tortoise) Omnivores
Guinea pig  Herbivores Crocodilia (crocodiles and alligators) Carnivores
Hamster Omnivores Lizards - geckos, chameleons, skinks, anoles,lacertids Insectivores
Hedgehogs Omnivores Lizards - common iguana Omnivores
Rats Omnivores Lizards - monitors, tegus Carnivores
Mice Omnivores Snakes Carnivores
Ferrets Omnivores Amphibians - frogs , toads Carnivores
Primates Omnivores Fish Carnivores
Invertebrates - spiders Obligate carnivores Invertebrates - stick insects Herbivores
Invertebrates - cockroach Omnivores Invertebrates - moths, butterflies Herbivores



Updated October 2013