understand the cat's complex and highly individual pattern
of feeding it is important to consider its ancestry. The domestic
catus ) is adapted to a hunting lifestyle existing on
an almost totally animal diet. Its jaws, digestive system
and behaviour have been developed to accommodate this behaviour.
Throughout the process of domestication the cat has not changed
significantly in its nutritional and behavioural needs and
it has remained dependent on animal tissues as the main source
of its food. The sensory system of cats is particularly adapted
to respond to the constituents and sensory qualities of meat.
it is an obligate carnivore and therefore has special dietary
requirements which distinguish it from other carnivores such
as the dog, the cat requires animal derived tissue in its
diet and has a higher protein requirement than many other
mammals. Cats are unable to adjust to a low protein diet and
will use body protein to satisfy their needs. The uniqueness
of this species has been demonstrated by their specific dietary
requirements. A deficiency of the amino acid, arginine, in
a single meal can lead to clinical signs of lethargy, hypersalivation
and vocalisation. Arginine is required by the cat to synthesise
urea, a waste product resulting from the breakdown of protein.
essential nutrient for the cat is the amino acid, taurine,
which the cat cannot synthesise sufficiently to meet its needs.
The cat's diet must therefore contain taurine in sufficient
quantities. If a deficiency develops there is a high risk
of serious and irreversible damage to major organs such as
the eye and the heart. Taurine is found almost entirely in
meat and supports the concept of the cat as an obligate carnivore.
it is difficult to establish a direct relationship between
nutrition and longevity, it is obvious that inadequate or
deficient diets do have a major impact on critical stages
of the life cycle of the cat, such as, reproduction, the rearing
of a healthy litter, growth and development. It is also obvious
from the above that certain illnesses have a dietary component
to their onset and can have serious consequences for the cat.
factors that can influence a cat's perception of 'flavours'
include a food's odour, taste, texture and temperature.
olfactory apparatus (organ of smell) of domestic cats is far
more sensitive than that of humans. The perceived odour from
food is particularly important for the initiation of feeding.
If the odour is highly palatable to the cat then that alone
will encourage consumption of an otherwise bland diet. However,
the response to odour will be less if the cat does not taste
the food too. The sense of taste combined with the sense of
odour are most important in the perception of flavour. Cats
have taste buds on their tongues that respond well to substances
classified by humans as salty, sour or bitter. Unlike many
mammals, cats do not appear to respond to the taste of 'sweet',
but their taste buds are particularly sensitive to the constituents
of meat - thus cats respond to various amino acids, the building
blocks of animal proteins.
texture of a food also affects palatability. Cats are unable
to chew effectively. They reduce the size of the food by tearing
or cutting it into pieces which can then be swallowed. The
moisture content of the food influences the meal size and
speed at which the food is eaten. Moist, palatable canned
food is eaten rapidly when it is first offered although this
gradually slows down over the mealtime. In contrast the more
calorie dense dry foods are consumed at a slower, more constant
rate. Semi-moist foods are consumed at a rate intermediate
to the canned and dry foods. However, when food is offered
ad lib, the pattern of feeding remains constant with small
discreet meals being taken at random. The overall energy intake
is rarely affected by the texture of the food.
also plays an important role in food selection. Most cats
prefer food at temperatures around 35 degrees centigrade.
This preference may be partly explained by the increase in
food odour that occurs as the food is warmed but it is perhaps
more than coincidence as this temperature is similar to that
of freshly killed prey. As temperatures rise to about 40 degrees
centigrade, the preference for the food decreases.
cat's preference for food types is influenced by genetic and
acquired feeding traits. Inherent patterns of behaviour play
a large part in discriminating useful foods, as is indicated
when orphaned kittens are being raised by hand without the
benefits of learning from their natural parents. However,
the individual cat's likes and dislikes for certain foods
are influenced through the types of food experienced through
do like variety in their diet and will often choose a new
diet in preference to a familiar one, as long as the difference
is not too great, or the palatability too low. As the cat
is a true carnivore, the different food items which are acceptable
to it all tend to be very similar. This may explain why total
aversion to a newly encountered food is not commonly found
in the cat unless it is very different to its normal food,
or of low palatability. If the cat is initially reluctant
to accept a new food, this can often be overcome by offering
several small meals of fresh food on subsequent occasions,
thereby maintaining high odour levels.
selection of food items may also be related to the motivational
level of the cat. When under stress adult cats tend to select
familiar food items rather than a new diet and may reject
foods which have recently been associated with a stressful
or painful event. Cats may also reject diets that are deficient
in certain minerals and vitamins, such as thiamine. Cats probably
recognise deficient foods via learned aversion. This appears
to occur due to a linking of the flood flavour with an unsatisfactory
digestive consequence, that is a rapid learning of flavour
associated with a physiological response.
are many other factors which can affect the feeding pattern
of cats. Many cats are sensitive to lighting and noise levels,
so the place of feeding may also be as important as the type
of food container used and its cleanliness. Physiological
factors, such as age, health and sexual activity of the cat
can also affect appetite. The ability to appreciate taste
and smell deteriorate with age and are reduced by certain
disease conditions such as cat 'flu.
associated with physiological factors such as new surroundings
when moving house or being boarded or hospitalised may reduce
food intake as may the introduction or loss of either a human
or animal in the cat's environment. Short term veterinary
treatment, such as castration or the lancing of an abscess,
does not usually interfere with feeding patterns, however
more prolonged medical interference can reduce appetite.
cats control their energy intake regardless of differences
in the energy density, moisture content and texture of the
diet. In general cats will normally eat the amount of food
required to satisfy their energy requirements. Cats that hunt
for food or are normally outdoors for long periods of time
tend to take larger meals, but less of them. However cats
readily adapt to different feeding schedules and if set feeding
times are used then they will normally adjust food intake
to accommodate this. The energy in food is measured in kilocalories
(kcal) and is derived from fats, carbohydrates and protein.
It is important that the percentage of energy provided by
the protein part of the diet is at least 25% of the whole,
otherwise the cat's appetite will be satisfied before it has
taken in enough protein for its health requirements. Similarly
it is also important that the food intake level is sufficient
to supply the other necessary nutrients such as fats, carbohydrates,
vitamins and minerals.
is necessary for life, which is true whether the species is
man, dog or cat. Proteins are large complex molecules which
consist of chains of much smaller building blocks called amino
acids. Cats, like other animals, require protein in their
diet to provide the specific amino acids which their bodies
cannot synthesise, these are referred to as the essential
amino acids. These are then reformed into new proteins which
are necessary for tissue growth, repair and the regulation
of metabolic processes.
cat has been shown to have a higher dietary protein requirement
than the dog in both the adult and growth stages of development.
This does not seem to be due to a high requirement for one
or more particular amino acids, but because its metabolism
appears to be set at a high rate of breakdown for amino acids
which increases the demand for protein. Unlike other species
which can adjust their rate of protein breakdown, cats seem
to be unable to 'switch off' these mechanisms when presented
with a low protein diet. This may be because the cat had little
'pressure' during the course of evolution to adapt to a low
protein diet because of its efficient predatory behaviour
which has ensured a high protein meat diet. Furthermore, animal
flesh is low in carbohydrate which is the usual source of
blood sugar in non-carnivorous species. Due to the cat's high
intake of animal tissue, the ability to break down large quantities
of protein to glucose is essential and may also help to explain
the high protein needs of the cat. It is therefore recommended
that the protein intake for the adult cat provides at least
25% of the daily calorie intake.
fats perform several functions They are the most concentrated
energy source of all nutrients, and increase palatability
and texture to cat foods. They are also important in carrying
the fat soluble vitamins, A, D and E. Fat is essential to
the cat's diet as it supplies the essential fatty acids (EFAs),
linoleic and arachidonic acids, which play key roles in maintaining
the general health of the cat and are vital in many body systems
including the skin, kidneys and reproductive organs. In most
mammals linoleic acid can be converted into the other EFAs
required by the animal. The cat has a limited capacity to
do this and whilst this may not seriously affect the health
of the adult cat it does affect specific life stages such
as reproduction. Linoleic acid is found in large amounts in
plant oils but the EFAs derived from it are found almost exclusively
in animal tissues. However, small amounts of linoleic acid
are also found in meats and arachidonic acid is found exclusively
in meat, making meat the best source of fat for cats. It is
recommended that at least 9% of calories should be provided
cat has no nutritional need for carbohydrate as it is able
to derive a lot of its energy from the breakdown of protein.
It does, however, have the necessary enzymes to digest and
metabolise carbohydrates so they can form a useful dietary
source of energy. Cats can therefore be fed wheatflakes, cooked
rice and even potatoes to a limited extent, although some
cats cannot tolerate high concentrations of certain sugars.
For example, if suddenly given a large bowl of milk, some
cats can develop diarrhoea from the sugars (sucrose and lactose)
due to the lack of digestive enzymes resulting in fermentation
of the sugars by bacteria in the gut. There are milk drinks
designed especially for cats that are lactose reduced.
in man and animals indicate that the so-called antioxidant
vitamins, C, E and beta carotene (the precursor of Vitamin
A, present in certain plants, vegetables and fruit) are important
in preventing certain substances called free radicals from
causing damage to cells and being involved in the ageing process.
Vitamins may also be protective against certain forms of cancer.
A is best known for its importance in vision. It is also involved
in other processes such as the regulation of cell membranes
and the growth of bones and teeth. Beta carotene found in
plant material, is used by many mammals as a precursor of
Vitamin A. The cat, however, is unable to convert beta carotene
to vitamin A and must therefore obtain its vitamin A from
animal sources. Good sources for the cat are organs such as
liver and kidneys, with muscle tissue being relatively low
in this vitamin. However, a word of caution is necessary here,
too much vitamin A can be as harmful as too little, and cats
fed diets consisting mainly of raw liver have developed a
condition known as hypervitaminosis A, presenting with signs
of lethargy, unthriftiness, stiff neck and other skeletal
problems. The daily requirement for an adult cat is in the
region of 650-850 International Units which is present in
only 5g of good quality beef liver.
D is involved in the metabolism of calcium. Animal tissue
is low in calcium so the cat's diet must be supplemented with
this mineral. A deficiency of vitamin D results in rickets.
However, cats need very little vitamin D and when the quantity
and ration of calcium to phosphorus in the diet is normal,
true rickets is very rarely seen.
very uncommon, vitamin E deficiency can occur in cats, particularly
when fed food containing large amounts of unsaturated fats
to which antioxidants have not been added. Unsaturated fats
oxidise and go rancid easily, as a result, the vitamin E present
is destroyed. Yellow fat disease or steatitis occurs due to
a deficiency of vitamin E and may occur when feeding red tuna
which does not have the necessary antioxidant or extra vitamin
E added. Normal diets and proprietary foods containing tuna
fish are adequately protected in this respect.
do not need to be fed vitamin C as they are able to produce
water soluble vitamins that are of relevance to cat nutrition
are all members of the B-group or complex, and nearly all
are involved with the utilisation of foods and the production
of interconversion of energy in the body. Vitamin B1, or thiamine,
is needed in relatively large amounts by the cat. Because
it is progressively destroyed by heating, pet food manufacturers
add calculated amounts in the pure form to the food being
processed. Exactly the same progressive destruction occurs
in any cooking operation so home cooked meats will need to
be supplemented. Raw fish diets may also result in a deficiency
of B1, due to the presence of thiaminase which destroy the
can be divided into two groups, the major or macro minerals
which are required in larger quantities and the micro or trace
minerals which are required in much smaller amounts. Almost
all (about 99%) of the cat's body calcium is contained in
the skeleton and teeth. Soft tissues such as meats and offal
are very low in calcium and if they are fed as the sole food
source, calcium deficiency will occur. Proprietary prepared
foods from reputable manufacturers are supplemented as necessary
during manufacture. Milk is a good source of calcium, unfortunately
some cats are unable to tolerate the sugar present in milk
(lactose) because of an inadequate amount of the enzyme lactase,
which is important in lactose digestion. Some cats, especially
of the Siamese breed, will not drink milk at all. Good proprietary
diets have adequate supplies of the major and trace minerals.
is the single most important nutrient necessary to sustain
life. In spite of popular belief, cats require fresh clean
water throughout a 24-hour period, even if they are drinking
milk as well.
the cat is being fed individual meals several times daily,
there is often a tendency to offer the daily supply of food
on several occasions rather than divide up the daily feed
into several meals. This can also occur with cats fed dry
food ad lib. Cats usually regulate their food intake, but
continual exposure to large quantities of food may lead to
over-eating and subsequent obesity if too many calories are
consumed. Monitor your cat's weight and ensure it does not
birth kittens on average weigh about 100g (about 3-4 ounces).
They then show a phenomenal growth rate, the birth weight
is doubled in the first week and they increase in weight by
about 100g/week up to about 6 months of age. Because of the
nutritional burden this places on the lactating queen, kittens
should be encouraged to begin eating solid foods from about
3 weeks of age with weaning completed by 8 weeks of age. The
solid food offered must be soft, palatable and offered in
a shallow dish. As the interest in and ability to take solid
food develops, they will reduce their demand on the queen
for milk and her production will fall. Ideally the kitten
should be weaned onto the food which will form its diet until
be suitable for kittens a food must meet a number of criteria.
It must be highly digestible and have a smell, taste and texture
which encourages the kitten to eat. Dry food such as kibbles
may also be fed as they are high in calories, however it may
be necessary to soak them in water or a little milk first.
Following weaning, kittens should continue to be fed all they
will eat of a good quality prepared cat food designed for
growing kittens. Excessive calorie intake, growth rates and
obesity do not generally occur in the growing kitten. Since
they have relatively tiny stomachs, kittens should be fed
small meals at regular intervals. Four or five meals are recommended
at eight weeks of age, decreasing to two at six months of
for feeding healthy and sick cats
study of the feeding behaviour of cats has many applications
for the cat owner. Odour, texture and temperature of food
are important factors in the cat's feeding behaviour and can
be manipulated to tempt the problem feeder or sick cat. When
feeding the sick cat there are several ways in which the feeding
regime can be manipulated in order to tempt food consumption.
Offering palatable food with a strong odour will help to initiate
feeding, and warming the food to about 35 degrees centigrade
should also increase the odour produced by the food. Consequently
food that is stored in a refrigerator should be warmed first
or at least allowed to reach room temperature before being
food is left to stand in a dish the odour released decreases
during the day making the food less appealing. Therefore with
problem feeders offering regular small quantities of a warm
palatable food may improve consumption. Increasing the amount
of flavours (by feeding different varieties) and textures
(dry and canned) in the diet may also increase food intake.
a special diet is required in the management of a disease
condition, it is preferable to introduce it gradually while
the cat still has access to its original diet (unless contraindicated
on medical grounds). This process allows the cat to become
familiar with the new diet and learn that it is safe to eat.
However, failure to eat a new diet may be associated with
low palatability rather than by unfamiliarity to the food.
Finally, as a familiar diet is preferred at times of stress,
owners should ensure that an acceptable diet is available
for their cat when it is placed in a different environment,
such as in a cattery.