by Ramona D. Marek
Nature created the elegant feline design as a stealthy obligate carnivore. The cat’s unique biological need for an animal-based diet is the foundation of feline nutrition. Nature also designed the perfectly balanced diet for felines consisting of high protein, moisture, fats, and carbohydrates found in small prey. While it may sound unappetizing to us, we must remember we are feeding strict carnivores. We humans may follow a vegetarian or vegan diet for philosophical, religious or medical reasons but cats cannot.
A cats’ perfectly balanced dinner—mouse—has the nutritional values of 52 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 12 percent carbs. Water content of a cat’s natural diet is approximately 70-75 percent. Feeding a species-appropriate diet to an obligate carnivore should be a no-brainer by following nature’s guidelines.
Protein provides the building blocks of amino acids that help with many biological processes including healthy muscle tissue, bone health, and proper nervous system function. The 22 amino acids are classified as essential or nonessential. The feline body synthesizes (naturally produces) eleven nonessential amino acids but lacks the ability to synthesize the 11 essential amino acids which, therefore, must be consumed in the diet.
Proteins aren’t created equally, they vary in terms of quality, the level of amino acids and they body’s ability to best utilize the amino acids. Cats need a variety of amino acids and while plant-based proteins provide some amino acids they do not provide all the essential amino acids found in animal protein necessary for an obligate carnivore. Taurine, one of the most crucial essential amino acids necessary in feline nutrition, is present in meat and absent in plants. Taurine deficiency causes blindness, heart problems and other disorders.
Fats are another fundamental nutrient necessary to maintain optimum health. Fats are necessary to maintain cell structure, source of concentrated energy and help with absorption of fat soluble vitamins A (which cats can’t produce), D, E, and K. Just as cats cannot synthesize 11 essential amino acids, neither can they naturally produce sufficient amounts of essential fatty acids. Likewise, the essential fatty acids must be consumed in a meat-based diet. The two essential fatty acids vital to cats are linoleic
acid and arachidonic acid, both found in animal sources. Two more familiar essential fatty acids are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Cats eating a diet with essential fatty acids from plants alone may experience liver and kidney degeneration and deficiencies in reproduction, muscle development and growth.
In the wild, a cat’s natural diet consists of high protein, high moisture, modest amount of fat and minimal carbohydrates, roughly less than 5 percent. Cats physiologically lack the ability to convert and utilize carbohydrates the way other animals can. Simply put, cats cannot live on a plant-based diet of grains and vegetables alone. Some pet food manufacturers use plant-based protein to inflate protein amounts primarily because they are cheaper products. Often these foods are between 30 percent to 50 percent carbohydrates with some cheaper foods scoring even higher. Such diets are often chock-full of chemical additives mimicking necessary nutrients in the natural diet. Feeding carb-heavy diets leads to many diseases including obesity, diabetes, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The nutrient pyramid for feline nutrition (52 percent protein, 36 percent fat and 12 percent carbohydrates) has become inverted.
Feeding biologically inappropriate diets to obligate carnivores, such as cats, not only disrespects the species but causes many illnesses—some treatable, some irreversible and others fatal. As omnivores, we humans have a buffet of choices from which to feed our palettes. As pet parents, we have the responsibility to feed species-appropriate nutrition to our pets. Bon appétit and pass the meat!
Ramona Marek has written about companion pets for 12 years. She’s the award-winning author of “Cats for the GENIUS” and has won numerous awards for articles about pet care, health and behavior, and cats in the arts. Ramona serves in felinity to Tsarevich Ivan, a joie de vivre silver tabby Siberian, and Natasha Fatale, a full-time Diva dressed as an “anything but plain” brown tabby.
Facebook: Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed., freelance writer & author, CAO feline