Cat nutrition is not complicated. In fact, it is really quite simple. However, many people – from pet parents to veterinarians and even pet retailers that deal in pet food – often tend to make the subject complicated because they just don’t have a full comprehension of the ideal diet for kitties.
Below is the 411 about what felines need to consume – and what they should avoid – to remain happy and healthy for a lifetime.
Cats Need Meat
Cats are obligate carnivores that are predatory by nature. This means that they require meat, period, because they need protein and animal fat, plus all of the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals that meat products contain in order to survive, and thrive.
- Amino acids such as taurine (more about this below)
- Essential fatty acids
- Minerals including calcium, phosphorus and magnesium
- Vitamins such as A, B complex, D, E and K
It is also very important to bear in mind that cats have different nutritional needs from dogs. Unlike cats, dogs are classified as omnivores or carnivorous – I am of the opinion that they are the latter – not obligate carnivores. They have different digestive systems, and their bodies synthesize and utilize foods differently from cats.
The Importance of Taurine for Cats
This is a very crucial essential amino acid that is especially critical to cat health, as a deficiency in this can result in blindness, heart ailments and death. Most mammals, including dogs and humans, synthesize this on their own. Cats, however, do not. So their diets must contain the proper amount of this for their survival.
In the 1970s, there were a number of reported cases of cat blindness and deaths from dilated cardiomyopathy. This was later attributed to a severe lack of taurine in the new wave of commercial pet foods and the growing popularity of dry foods/kibble, which contained more plant as opposed to meat protein.
This is another one of the many reasons why cats need meat, because this is a prime source of taurine, and this cannot be overemphasized.
What Cats Don’t Need
As cats are obligate carnivores, they do not need plant matter, fruits or vegetables for survival. With the exception of onions, garlic, grapes and raisins, which can be toxic to cats, fruits and veggies in moderation won’t hurt them. In fact, a number of holistic veterinarians recommend adding a bit of pureed pumpkin to foods for cats that suffer from diarrhea, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive issues.
Some cats actually like fruits and veggies. My late Omar adored watermelon and natural frozen fruit bars, and I have a friend whose cat goes gaga for steamed asparagus. So a little certainly won’t hurt them.
Otherwise, top cat nutrition experts insist that cats do not need grains, ever – even the high-quality ones – because felines cannot properly digest these and may be allergic to grains, which can cause feline eosinophilic granulom – also known as “rodent ulcer.” Furthermore, grains and diets that are too high in carbs contribute to any number of cat ailments, from diabetes to heart disease, obesity and many others.
That means that they should not be fed grains in any form, including foods that contain cereal grains such as wheat and glutens, rice, barley and oats, as well as corn or soy and starches such as potatoes and peas.
The Dry Food Controversy
Many cat nutrition purists are dead set against feeding felines dry foods/kibble in any form, ever, even the grain-free varieties. Two experts who are especially vocal about this are veterinarians Dr. Lisa Pierson and Dr. Jean Hofve.
Dr. Lisa, who also happens to be a leading proponent of raw diets for cats, points out that dry foods tend to be too low in moisture, too high in carbohydrates and contain far too high a level of plant as opposed to animal-based proteins.
Dr. Jean further points out that the manner in which dry pet foods are processed, at high rates of heat, can often destroy essential nutrients, and the lack of moisture can contribute to or even outright cause such ailments as kidney and bladder stones and urinary tract ailments, among other issues.
This is why the die-hard purists highly recommend that cats be fed the raw diet or high quality canned foods that contain meat products first and foremost.
However, a great many cat parents refuse to give up their kibble. So it’s a wise idea to opt for brands that are high in meat, are low in carbs and do not contain grains. And try to avoid feeding cats dry foods exclusively.
Do Not Forget the Water
Last but certainly not least, cats need water! As they are descended from desert animals, cats are not inclined to seek water and are subsequently prone to dehydration, which can be life threatening. This is another big reason why cat nutrition purists are against feeding cats dry foods, and believe they should exclusively be fed wet foods.
So make sure that your kitties have plenty of H2O available to them at all times.