More than one in three pet owners would consider putting their dogs and cats on a diet, an academic study has found.
Eating only plant-based foods while spurning dairy produce and meat is an increasingly popular lifestyle choice that has been fuelled by celebrities.
Beyonce, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ellie Goulding are among a host of stars who have become devotees of a vegan diet.
Now a study has found an astonishing 35% of pet owners are preparing to turn their furry friends into vegans, too.
The move will send shockwaves through Britain’s £2.7 billion-a-year pet food industry which is largely meat-based.
One-in-six suppliers are already branching out into vegan and vegetarian food stuffs for animals.
Vegans claim they feel healthier, energised and more youthful.
Many say they are making a political protest about modern farming methods and now they want their pets to do the same.
The idea is especially popular among those who already eat only plant-based products themselves.
It’s estimated over 3.5 million Britons now identify as vegans – with many keen to share their animal-friendly values with their feline and canine companions.
This is despite concerns it could cause health problems – as they’ve evolved to be dependent on meat.
The online survey of 3,673 dog and cat owners around the world – including the UK – is the first analysis of its kind.
It found 35 per cent of those whose pets ate a conventional diet were interested in switching it to vegan.
What’s more over a quarter (27%) of the just under six per cent who were vegan – meaning they ate no meat, dairy or fish – said they already fed their pets plant-based diets.
Among the rest most (78%) were interested in helping their pets to switch to a plant-based diet if one were available that met their needs.
Lead author Dr Sarah Dodd, a vet at Guelph University in Ontario, said it’s the first study of its kind – and even she was shocked by the results.
She was surprised by how many vegans had already chosen to eliminate meat from their pets’ diets.
She said: “That percentage, 27 per cent, might sound like a small number. But when you think of the actual numbers of pets involved, that’s huge, and much higher than we expected.”
But the study published in PLoS One showed more than half (55%) of those thinking about it had certain stipulations.
These included needing further evidence a vegan diet would meet pets’ nutritional needs, wanting approval from veterinarians and the foods to be easily available.
In total, 1.6 per cent of the 2,940 dogs in the survey and 0.7 per cent of the 1,545 cats were being fed a strict vegan diet.
Only vegans – and one vegetarian – chose to exclusively provide them with plant-based foods.
Another 10.4 per cent of the dogs and 3.3 per cent of cats were intermittently fed vegetarian or plant-based diets.
Of owners polled six per cent were vegetarian, meaning they ate no meat but did consume dairy, eggs or honey, four per cent were pescatarian which also includes fish and nearly six per cent were vegan – ruling out all animal products.
Dr Dodd said the research was not designed to assess whether vegan pet diets are a growing trend. But she expects interest in the diets to increase.
She said: “People have been hearing about how vegan diets are linked to lowered risks of cancer and other health benefits in humans.
“There is also growing concern about the environmental impact of animal agriculture.”
Previous studies have also shown pet owners tend to offer the same kind of diets to their dogs and cats that they adopt for themselves.
Dr Dodd said: “So, while only a small proportion of pet owners are currently feeding plant-based diets to their pets, it’s safe to say that interest in the diets is likely to grow.”
However, there has not been much research on the nutritional suitability of vegan diets for dogs and cats – nor on the health benefits and risks of plant-based diets in these animals.
Dr Dodd said: “This study shows there is a clear need for further research in this area.”
Cats are technically carnivores. The RSPCA has said a plant-based diet is not sufficient for them as they need taurine, vitamin A and arachidonic acid – which are found in meat.
It’s been suggested dogs are more likely to survive on a vegan diet as they are omnivores and can eat a wide variety of food types as long as they are balanced.
The main concern for dogs on plant-based diets is the lack of protein and amino acids.