Essential Guide: Understanding Your Cat’s Diet

The essential guide to cat diets: what you need to know

When one admires our sleeping cats serenely huddled at the bottom of the bed, it is hard to imagine that these elegant, beautiful creatures who have become loving companions and confidants over the years are in reality skinny killing machines, machines to kill when it comes to their eating habits.

For most cat owners, we’d rather turn a blind eye to the fact that we are harboring a skilled assassin. However, the impressive characteristics of a natural born predator are hard to deny; Strong agile bodies with lightning reflexes, a silent and stealthy gait, razor-sharp claws, long canines, excellent night vision, highly adapted hearing, and a superior sense of smell.

Recognizing the blatant truth about these unique creatures we share our lives with is fundamental to understanding all aspects of their health care. So why is this so often overlooked when it comes to the most essential topic – cat food nutrition!

What are you feeding your cat?

Vet’s Klinic Clinical and Veterinarian Director Jenny Philip BVMS MRCVS knows the importance of giving your cat a natural balanced, science-based diet that gives them the nutrients they need to thrive knows first-hand how some brands of commercially prepared cat food may be deficient. from a nutritional point of view.

Currently, 70% of UK cat owners feed their cats commercially prepared food, half of which is a mixture of wet and dry cat food; the remaining 30% of owners feed table scraps, raw meat diets, or allow their cats to eat live prey.

Raw and live cat food has the potential to be biologically very suitable. However, home-prepared diets are notoriously difficult to balance properly and can be time-consuming and impractical for most. Worryingly, a recent study in the United States found that 84% of these homemade diets are deficient in several nutrients.

Even so, some commercially prepared cat diet recipes are just as inappropriate; they can balance out much better on paper, but one need only take a look at the back of a packet of some of these commercial cat foods to highlight their shortcomings.

For example, take the top two leading brands of dry cat food in the market; analytical constituents (these are the ingredients of cat food) indicate 30-32% protein, 10% fat, and 7.5-8.5% ash. What the manufacturer does not need to declare is the carbohydrate content. Most of these dry diets are over 40% carbohydrates and rely on carbohydrates to create the structure of the kibble. So why is a high carbohydrate content in a cat’s diet of concern?

Are cats carnivorous or omnivorous?

Cats don’t need a high carbohydrate diet it goes against their biological makeup.

Cats are biologically different from us; they are classified as obligate carnivores. If you are a “carnivore,” you get your energy and nutrients from food exclusively or primarily from animal tissue. If you are an “obligatory carnivore,” you depend solely on animal tissue as opposed to a facultative carnivore who, in the absence of meat, may choose to use non-animal sources for their nutritional needs. In contrast, humans are classified as omnivorous, deriving their energy from a variety of food sources, and dogs are a matter of controversy and can be classified as omnivorous or facultative carnivorous.

The natural diet of the domestic cat consists of small rodents and mammals. On average, a prey contains 62% animal protein, 10% fat, and 14% ash, which are mostly minerals from bones (see table below).

Prey species – Crude protein% – Fat% – Ash%

  • Mouse – 62 – 11 – 13
  • Rat – 63 – 9 – 14
  • Little Bird – 62 – 9 – 15

This high protein diet evolved obligate carnivores with completely different biochemical pathways for food processing and nutrient metabolism compared to other species we know as dogs or ourselves.

Cats need protein for energy, not carbohydrates!

The universal source of energy for all cells of all creatures is glucose. For humans and dogs, glucose is readily available by breaking down carbohydrates in our diet. However, for carnivores, their diet of fat and protein requires them to obtain glucose differently. Therefore, cats have well-developed pathways to convert the building blocks of protein, amino acids, into a source of glucose. These pathways exist in humans and dogs, but they are part of a set of pathways to create energy that can be altered depending on the type of food ingested. For cats, even when a cat has not consumed any protein, its body cells still need a source of amino acids for energy, and in the absence of dietary protein, they must start to use existing body proteins, i.e. muscle mass, to maintain a normal diet. cellular function.

Cats in the wild would naturally consume a large amount of protein in their diet, 62% if they consumed a mouse. Comparing that with the commercial 30% diet, it doesn’t take an expert nutritionist to spot a huge difference in their diet!

Don’t all commercial cat foods contain protein?

Technically, commercially prepared cat food contains protein, but not all protein is created equal. The other important question that needs to be considered is where the protein comes from. Protein in a diet can come from animal tissue but is also found in many vegetables and grains. The only way to determine the source of protein is to analyze the composition list (ingredients) on the back of the package. The list is sorted by weight in descending order, so to meet a cat’s biological needs, a meat-based protein source should be listed first. For the two diets in our example, the first three ingredients are read: cereals, animal and meat derivatives (10%), vegetable protein extracts. Therefore, much of the protein claimed in these diets comes from non-animal sources. Other than the obvious fact that we’ve never seen a cat eager to stalk vegetables, why does this matter?

Cats need animal protein for health reasons.

This is important because cats need specific amino acids and vitamins in their diet, which are essential for normal cell function; some of them can only be obtained naturally from animal tissues. Arginine, taurine, cysteine, and methionine are amino acids used in many important processes in mammals, but cats must rely on a food source that makes them essential; this is not the case in dogs and humans because they can synthesize these molecules from others. For cats, this process is not efficient and their daily needs are much higher, therefore they use them faster than they can be created. Deficiencies can cause serious illness, for example, a deficiency of taurine can cause heart disease and blindness. Commercial diets must follow strict guidelines to ensure that these molecules are present in adequate amounts and in cases where the levels are insufficient, the cat will need to take an artificial supplement to ensure that it is receiving the correct level of vitamins and minerals. important. Surely the most logical and natural approach is to feed the cat what the cat naturally needs: meat-based proteins!

How many of us have seen a black cat whose coat has a reddish-brown tint?

It’s something many of us may have observed in passing without realizing it, but it’s a classic example of the effects a meat-deficient diet can have. Tyrosine is an amino acid that is only found in animal tissues that cats cannot synthesize on their own. However, it is not a necessity for the functioning of the body and therefore is not a regulated requirement to be completed in commercial diets. Tyrosine is a key part of the pathway that creates melanin, the black pigments responsible for their coat color; thus in a deficient state, a black cat turns brown.

Where does your cat’s protein come from?

Even when animal protein is included in a diet, the majority comes from rendering sources. Rendered meat or more commonly known as a “meal” comes from animal tissue that has been heated for an extended period at extreme temperatures and pressures to remove fat. Processed meat is only 75% digestible on average. This means that for every 10g of processed meat consumed, only 7.5g can be used by the body. When you compare that to some of the newer technologies using fresh meat as an ingredient, with a digestibility of 96%, this protein source certainly seems to be a more favorable ingredient. In addition, the carbohydrate content of commercially prepared cat foods affects digestibility; the higher the carbohydrate content, the less digestible the protein. Several factors contribute to this, but mainly carbohydrates speed up intestinal transit, thus reducing the time available to digest protein in the diet.

More importantly about this, as the figures above illustrate, a cat’s natural diet does not contain high amounts of carbohydrates. As a result, cats evolved with a reduced ability to process and utilize carbohydrates.

Too many carbohydrates in store-bought cat food can cause obesity in cats.

Specific molecules called enzymes to carry out the process of breaking down food. Different enzymes are responsible for breaking down different types of food. Amylase is an enzyme responsible for breaking down carbohydrates; this is present in saliva and is then also secreted by the pancreatic gland in dogs and humans. Cats lack salivary amylase and have very limited levels of pancreatic amylase, so they have a reduced ability to handle this type of food.

Cats can process carbohydrates to some extent and once broken down they can use simple sugars very efficiently, however, they have a limited ability to store them for future use. In a dog or a human, excess sugar is stored in the liver as a large chain of sugars in a molecule called glycogen; this can be easily broken down if the animal suddenly needs a source of energy. A cat’s biochemical pathways are not efficient at storing sugars in this way, but any excess sugar is stored by converting it directly to fat, which predisposes cats to weight gain. This process is slower and can lead to prolonged periods of high blood sugar after eating. Obesity and prolonged hyperglycemia are key factors that contribute to the development of diabetes in cats. Obesity itself is one of the most important and growing health problems we face with our domestic felines; it is now estimated to affect 30% of the feline population. We all have a responsibility to reduce this growing health problem and that starts with food awareness.

While a diet high in carbohydrates and vegetables will not cause any direct harm to cats in the short term, it does little to promote better health and may well predispose them to long-term problems. Nonetheless, commercially prepared dry cat food offers a convenient way to feed our cats and beneficially reduces tartar formation and the subsequent development of periodontal disease. Dental disease in cats is another key health problem in the feline population and one of the biggest risk factors for developing problems is eating commercial wet foods. Therefore, dry diets should continue to play a role in the diet of our feline companions.

Choose the best diet for your cat.

Armed with the knowledge of a cat’s unique biochemistry, we can select diets that are more suited to their physiological needs by being informed. Evaluating the food for its ingredients and a nutritional breakdown, rather than selecting one based on the most attractive cat in the pack, will contribute to your cat’s long-term health and well-being. So when you’re the next one in the aisle of a supermarket or pet store wondering what to buy, remove the package from the shelf and compare the backs of the packages. Look for diets where the first ingredient is listed as good animal protein, ideally from natural cat food that provides a source of fresh meat, and compare the amount of protein, fat, and ash.

We have focused here on dry diets as an example because they are easier to compare. Wet diets contain large amounts of moisture, which varies by brand and makes the comparison more difficult. The take-home messages, however, are always the same; consider the quality of ingredients and sources of protein.

There are some great wheat-free cat foods available in the market and online that are a great source of protein and also provide your cat with the essential nutrients they need for long-term health.

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