Updated: Jan 11
I agree we talk a lot about dogs at Paw Kitchen, but I must confess some of our favourite clients are feline (Dont tell Danny and Pablo that!).
We do know is that the domestic cat still closely resembles its wild ancestor (Felis silvestris).
Evidence of the co-existence of cats and humans is seen from fossil records from early human settlements, although these have been assumed to be wild cats. The development of true domestication was previously thought to have occurred in Egypt around 3600 years ago. Skulls of cats found in Egyptian cat burial grounds (called Mau by the Egyptians) have been identified as mainly being of the species Felis silvestris lybica; recent evidence shows that feline domestication probably occurred about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East.
Now that we understand how they've come about, let's understand their physiology and needs to thrive.
Cats are obligate (strict or true) carnivores; this means they NEED a diet high in protein, with a moderate amount of fats and minimal requirements of carbohydrates.
Dogs, bears, and raccoons are optional carnivores or omnivores, meaning they can and do eat both meat and plant matter. That being said, they will always choose meat when available due to higher and better digestibility.
Domestic cats have 38 strands in their chromosomes vs 78 in dogs; this demonstrated that cats have ceased to evolve after reaching their carnivorous status. Data from dietary habits of feral cats combined with compositional data of the consumed prey species revealed a typical diet containing a crude protein, crude fat and nitrogen-free extract (NFE) content of 52%, 46%, and 2% of metabolizable energy (%ME), respectively (1)
The fact that cats have evolved to consume low-carbohydrate prey has led to speculations that high-carbohydrate diets could be detrimental to a cat’s health.
This may suggest that excess carbohydrates could lead to feline obesity and diabetes mellitus. Why is that? Because cats have evolved to not need carbohydrates to burn for energy; due to metabolic differences from omnivores. Cats do not have amylase activity (needed to break down carbohydrates) and a high brain glucose demand. This demand cannot be met by carbohydrates present in a natural prey diet; so they have a higher rate of gluconeogenesis (3) Cats only possess hepatic (liver) enzymes to metabolize a high-protein diet.
If the diet is lacking in protein, this enzyme will start breaking down it's own muscles and organs to achieve it.
The cat's intestine is shorter in proportion to its body size (4). Eating a diet rich in carbohydrates does not mean it is absorbed/digested to give energy, but rather leads to increased microbial fermentation, leading to gastrointestinal problems. This short digestive tract suggests better digestion of meat protein and fat instead of fibrous plant material for prolonged digestive time.
Cats take the water that they need from their food. Dry food is missing this very important nutrient. Many cats may live a long life on dry food, however, we do not know which cat is genetically able to do so, until it is very late; typically when they get diagnosed with chronic renal (kidney) disease. Why is this? because naturally, cats have a low thirst drive due to desert adaptations. They concentrate their urine in their kidneys to maintain body water. Many feline diseases can be traced back to low moisture, low-meat-protein and a high carbohydrate diet as seen in today's dry food. Many cat owners have water fountains to combat this :)
Now that we have discussed what is not needed by our purr-y friends, lets discuss what is needed and why:
Arachidonic acid is one of the three essential fatty acids needed by cats, found only in meat. Cats cannot convert linoleic acid from plant sources to arachidonic acid like herbivores and some omnivores. A diet lacking in essential fatty acids could lead to skin conditions and impaired vision among other serious conditions.
Cats cannot synthesize vitamin D from sunlight due to insufficient 7-dehydrocholesterol in their skin and hence need to receive from their diet.
While omnivores and herbivores can convert beta-carotene from plant matter to vitamin A, cats cannot and need to consume through their diet.
While we could probably supplement the meal to balance it out, using whole foods increases their bioavailability and processing through the body.
We've barely touched the surface with this one, but know there is so much more coming. Feel free to DM or email if you have any queries or would like to discuss them in detail.
Plantinga, E.A.; Bosch, G.; Hendriks, W.H. Estimation of the dietary nutrient profile of free-roaming feral cats: Possible implications for nutrition of domestic cats. Br. J. Nutr. 2011, 106, S35–S48.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-
National Research Council (NRC). Carbohydrates and fibre. In Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats; National Academies Press: Washington, DC, USA, 2006; pp. 49–80.
Washizu, T.; Tanaka, A.; Sako, T.; Washizu, M.; Arai, T. Comparison of the activities of enzymes related to glycolysis and gluconeogenesis in the liver of dogs and cats. Res. Vet. Sci. 1999, 67, 205–206.
Hand, MS, CD Thatcher, RL Remillard, P Roudebush. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4TH Edition. Mark Morris Institute. Marceline, MO:Walsworth Publishing Company 2000. 297.
Curtis, Lynn; Feline Nutrition, 2011
Pion PD, Kittleson MD, Rogers QR, Morris JG. Taurine deficiency myocardial failure in the domestic cat. Prog Clin Biol Res. 1990;351:423-30. PMID: 2236148.