Dr. Al Townshend
What we today call the domestic cat descended from the North African Wild Cat. Unlike the domestic dog, the cat we know today has changed very little physically, physiologically, or behaviorally from their ancient relatives. They remain skilled predators that depend on a diet that is prey-based or animal protein-focused.
Keeping in mind that no one recipe works for every cat, important basic facts should be considered when finding the best diet for your cat. The total daily diet, including food, treats and supplements, should be complete, balanced, and suitable for the cat’s life stage to avoid any deficiencies and to support optimum health.
Protein is the most crucial concern when it comes to the nutrients in a diet for an animal that has evolved as a “True Carnivore.” Proteins are composed of 23 different amino acids; 11 are considered essential for the cat. Where the protein comes from and how much are the important issues.
Fresh meats and concentrated meat meals are the best protein sources to provide all essential ingredients (amino acids) to build new tissue and replace the old. While plants contain protein, it is difficult to get all essential amino acids from a plant-based recipe for cats without supplementing.
Plants are also high in carbohydrates which are not necessary for a True Carnivore’s diet and higher levels have been implicated in causing certain disease issues such as diabetes, obesity, and others.
A True Carnivore requires a higher animal protein-focused diet than the canine for optimum health.
Fat is a concentrated energy source for cats. Fat provides twice the amount of energy of protein and carbohydrates, so less fat is required. Like the essential amino acids necessary for a feline diet to be complete, essential fatty acids are critical to a complete recipe. Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids must be present in optimum amounts and the proper ratio.
While cats have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates, they can be utilized. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are good sources of carbohydrates, and they can provide natural antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Cats have a limited ability to utilize carbohydrates, so the levels should be lower for optimum health.
The calories in a food or ingredient are a reflection of the energy provided. Every living being requires energy to exist, and that energy has to come from the foods we eat. For cats and dogs both that evolved as carnivores, the best calories come from protein and fat.
The level of daily calorie intake determines the body condition of an animal. Too few calories and a pet will have a thin body condition. Too many calories regularly consumed will result in a fat body mass. The goal should always be to feed a pet only enough calories to maintain a normal healthy body condition and allow for growth in the young.
Water is essential to maintain proper hydration. Cats evolved as a desert animal that obtains water from eating their prey and therefore have the potential for highly concentrated urine. There are normal elements (crystals) in a cat’s urine that can become a problem if they become too concentrated, so the house cat we know today must consume adequate levels of water to control the urine concentration.
Because cats evolved getting a good portion of their water supply from their prey, feeding moist food in their daily diet can help maintain proper hydration and reduce the risk of urinary issues common in cats that don’t drink enough.
Frequency of Feeding
In the wild, smaller cat species are exclusively solitary hunters and generally prey on animals of much smaller body mass than their own, which requires them to hunt and feed several times during the day.
The typical family feline can benefit from being fed more than once a day. Too much food at one time can encourage vomiting. Maintaining proper hydration during the day is difficult for a cat that eats just once a day.
Free-choice feeding allows for frequent feeding; however, free-feeding is usually done with dry foods, which do nothing to maintain hydration and can actually reduce the total water taken in by a kitty.
Exercise maintains muscle tone, improves respiration, helps to maintain proper body condition, and is essential for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
When it comes to what is the best nutrition for a feline, a high-protein diet containing low to moderate fat and almost no carbohydrates are important basic considerations. Multiple feedings of just enough food and calories to maintain a proper body condition.
Adequate water through diet and water intake to maintain proper hydration.
Taking the time to find the best food for each pet in your life can profoundly impact their quality of life and longevity. Good nutrition is the key to a long, happy, and healthy life for our beloved four-legged companions.