Photo Courtesy of WALTHAM

Photo Courtesy of WALTHAM

What exactly is the best food to feed your cat? If you do a search on the internet you will see that there is a lot of debate among veterinarians about what kind of food is the best. Some say that a homemade raw diet is the only way to go while others maintain that commercial wet and dry foods are the best option. The raw diet advocates claim that humans are not smart enough to know what nutrients to replace after cooking or processing cat food ingredients. The advocates of commercial foods claim that people are not knowledgeable enough to make sure that cats are fed the right balance of raw cat food ingredients.

Studying Cat Food Ingredients

Who does know what cat food ingredients are right? The simple answer – the cats do. The WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition did a study in March of 2011 that let cats tell us how to balance their diet. The WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition is a research branch of the Mars Petcare Brands which include PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN®, WHISKAS®, BANFIELD® Pet Hospital, CESAR®, NUTRO®, SHEBA®, and DREAMIES™. The study consisted of nine experiments in which the the “macronutrients” (the nutrients that are needed in larger quantities) of the cat food ingredients were varied. The macronutrients in question were protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Cats were allowed to choose for themselves from food options within an experiment. For example in Experiment 2, cats were given several options of dry food that all had the same percentage of carbohydrates, but had differing compositions of fat and protein. The results surprised the veterinary world; the study proved beyond question that cats do in fact regulate their own nutrition to mimic that of their diet in the wild. No matter which of the macronutrients was being varied, cats would eat in such a way that they got similar macronutrient compositions each time. Another surprising result was that cats have a “ceiling”for carbohydrate intake. Cats do not want more than 25% of their food to be carbohydrates. If a cat is given a diet that is high in carbohydrates, the cat will limit its intake based on the amount of carbohydrates even if its other nutritional needs are not met. On the other hand, if cat is given a diet high in protein, it will eat this in excess of its need for protein. Similar to carbohydrates, cats limited their fat intake, but fat intake was far more flexible than carbohydrate intake.

What This Means for Cat Owners

Cat Food AisleCats are not omnivores like humans. Your cat is an obligate carnivore. This means that their diet must be based on eating animal tissue and not plant matter. In the wild cats hunt small prey and eat it whole – bones, fur, feathers, and all! Cats need a diet that is high in protein, high in fat, but low in carbohydrates. (As a side note, cats also need a diet that is high in water as they get most of their water from what they eat.) Cats do not have the necessary digestive elements to digest large amounts of carbohydrates. If you are feeding your cat a cat food that is high in carbohydrates, your cat may not be getting all of the protein and fat it needs to stay healthy. This is true even if the cat is allowed to eat all that it wants throughout the day. If you use commercial cat food, check the ingredients on the package for things like wheat, rice, corn, and beans. These cat food ingredients will give you an idea of how many carbohydrates you are feeding your cat. Dry cat foods will always have more carbohydrates than wet foods because they are necessary to create the solid nuggets. An excess of carbohydrates can upset the PH balance in your kitty’s digestive track. Kitties with upset tummies are not happy kitties. In a nutshell; choose foods with more protein rich ingredients and less carbohydrates.

Want to read the WALTHAM® study yourself?

Geometric analysis of macronutrient selection in the adult domestic cat, Felis catus Adrian K. Hewson-Hughes, WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition March 15,2011 http://jeb.biologists.org/content/214/6/1039.full#F1