I dont eat meat, for a variety of ethical and environmental reasons, and Id
rather not feed it to my cat, either. Do cats have to be carnivores? -- John
McManus, Needham, MA
Unlike dogs and other omnivores, cats are true (so-called obligate)
carnivores: They meet their nutritional needs by consuming other animals and
have a higher protein requirement than many other mammals. Cats get certain key
nutrients from meatincluding taurine, arachidonic acid, vitamin A and vitamin
B12that cant be sufficiently obtained from plant-based foods. Without a steady
supply of these nutrients, cats can suffer from liver and heart problems, not to
mention skin irritation and hearing loss.
As such, a cats ideal diet is made up mainly of protein and fats derived from
small prey such as rodents, birds and small reptiles and amphibians. Some cats
munch on grass or other plants, but most biologists agree that such roughage
serves only as a digestive aid and provides limited if any nutritional value.
Of course, providing your domestic cat with a steady stream of its preferred
prey is hardly convenient or humaneand cats can wreak havoc on local wildlife
populations if left to forage on their own. So we fill them up on dry kibble,
which combines animal products with vegetable-based starches, and meat-based
canned wet foods, many containing parts of animals cats would likely never
encounter, much less hunt and kill, in a purely natural situation. Most cats
adapt to such diets, but it is far from ideal nutritionally.
Veterinarian Marla McGeorge, a cat specialist at Portland, Oregons Best Friends
Veterinary Medical Center, argues that the problem with forcing your cat to be
vegetarian or vegan is that such diets fail to provide the amino acids needed
for proper feline health and are too high in carbohydrates that felines have not
evolved to be able to process. As to those powder-based supplements intended to
bridge the nutritional gap, McGeorge says that such formulations may not be as
easily absorbed by cats bodies as the real thing.
Some would vehemently disagree. Evolution Diet, makers of completely vegetarian
foods for cats, dogs and ferrets, says that its meatless offerings, on the
market for 15 years, are healthy and nutritious, and, if anything, have extended
the lives of many a feline and canine, even reversed chronic health problems.
Claiming that most mainstream pet foods contain artery-clogging animal fat,
diseased tissue, steroid growth hormones and antibiotics no less harmful to pets
than to humans, its website posts testimonials from loyal customers who claim
happy and long-lasting pets who look forward to their meals.
And Harbingers of a New Age, which makes Vegecat kibble and supplements that
provide cats with nutrients otherwise only found in meat, says that its products
allow owners to prepare food in your own kitchen, choosing recipes that fit
The vegetarian pet debate is a contentious one among vegetarian pet owners and
veterinarians and is one not likely to go away anytime soon. The best approach
may well be to give some of the non-meat supplements and/or foods a try. If your
cat wont eat them, or does not do well on themtake kitty to a veterinarian for
a check-up to seeyou can always go back to what you were feeding her before.
CONTACTS: Best Friends Veterinary Medical Center,
Diet, www.petfoodshop.com; Harbingers
of a New Age, www.vegepet.com.
EarthTalk: What is the green cities movement? -- John Moulton, Greenwich, CT
Best described as a loose association of cities focused on sustainability, the
emerging green cities movement encompasses thousands of urban areas around the
world all striving to lessen their environmental impacts by reducing waste,
expanding recycling, lowering emissions, increasing housing density while
expanding open space, and encouraging the development of sustainable local
Perhaps the archetypal green city is Curitiba, Brazil. When architect and urban
planner Jamie Lerner became mayor in 1972, he quickly closed six blocks of the
citys central business district to cars, delighting residents and business
owners alike. Today the pedestrian-free zone is three times larger and serves as
the heart of the bustling metropolis. Lerner also put in place a high-tech bus
system, greatly reducing traffic, energy usage and pollution; the move also
encouraged density around transit hubs and thus preserved open space in other
areas that would have likely turned into suburbia. Today the bus system still
goes strong, and three-quarters of the citys 2.2 million residents rely on it
Another green cities leader is Rekyjavik, Iceland, where hydrogen-powered buses
ply the streets and renewable energy sourcesgeothermal and hydropowerprovide
the citys heat and electricity. London, Copenhagen, Sydney, Barcelona, Bogota
and Bangkok, not to mention Swedens Malmo, Ecuadors Baha de Carquez and
Ugandas Kampala, also score high for their green attributes and attitudes.
Green cities abound in North America, too. In 2005, Portland, Oregon became the
first U.S. city to meet carbon dioxide reduction goals set forth in the landmark
(if ill-fated) Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement forged to mitigate the
threat of global warming. Seattle, Washington also committed to meeting Kyotos
goals and has persuaded 590 other U.S. cities to do the same under the U.S.
Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. And Vancouver, British Columbia draws 90
percent of its power from renewable sources while its metro area boasts some 200
parks and more than 18 miles of accessible waterfront.
San Francisco is a leader in green building, energy efficiency and alternative
energy, and has been on the forefront of the battle to reduce plastic usage.
Austin, Texas is fast becoming a world leader in solar equipment production and
has made great strides in preserving open space. Chicago has invested hundreds
of millions of dollars revitalizing its parks and neighborhoods, and has built
some of Americas most eco-friendly downtown buildings. It is also working to
provide affordable clean power to low-income families. Of course, many would
argue that New York Citywith its densely packed housing, reliance on mass
transit and walking, and recent green policy moves by Mayor Bloombergmay be the
greenest of all.
While there is no formal green cities organization, per se, many groups have
sprung up to help urban areas achieve their sustainability goals. GreenCities
Events, for one, hosts conferences around the U.S. at which local experts,
policymakers and business leaders share ideas for greening their region. And
International Sustainable Solutions takes urban planners, developers and elected
officials on tours so they can check out some of the worlds greenest cities to
glean first-hand what works and what can be applied back home.
CONTACTS: Mayors Climate Protection Center,
www.usmayors.org/climateprotection; GreenCities Events,
Sustainable Solutions, www.i-sustain.com.
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