Cats are carnivores, and their bodies are adapted to take in and process relatively high amounts of protein, mainly in the form of meat. However, they have other requirements as well, and if they are to remain healthy they need to have a balanced diet that supplies them with all their cat nutritional needs. In addition to proteins, cats also require minerals, vitamins and fats. Carbohydrates are not essential, but can be given in small amounts to vary the diet.
A balanced diet is the key to keeping a cat healthy. Ideally, this diet should consist of a mix of protein, fats, minerals and vitamins, with some carbohydrates. Water is vital for optimum health to prevent dehydration.
Cats do not need to obtain all the vitamins that are essential to their well-being from their food. They are usually able to manufacture vitamins C and K in their bodies.
Cats do not suffer the negative effects that humans can from taking in large amounts of cholesterol in fat, as they do not suffer from hardening of the arteries.
Like other carnivores, cats have short guts in relation to their body size, and therefore digest their food quickly. Carbohydrates, which must be digested slowly in order to supply energy, pass through the digestive tract as rapidly as fats and proteins, and therefore are a poor source of energy for cats.The daily protein requirement of a healthy cat is between 25 and 30 per cent of its total food intake. This can take the form of fresh meat, fish, eggs and, if the cat will tolerate it, small amounts of milk. Canned foods contain the required amount of protein and therefore can be given as an alternative to fresh food, although it is preferable to vary these meals with fresh foods.
Cats require a much higher amount of fat in their diet than both dogs and humans. The daily requirement is between 15 and 40 per cent of animal fat, with kittens, young cats, and pregnant and lactating queens needing the higher amount. Again, fresh fats, which are found naturally in meat and fish, are best. A cat’s dietary requirements are based on its lifestyle as a hunter, rather than as a scavenger. Never feed your cat on dog food, as this does not contain the necessary ingredients to keep your cat in good health. In particular, dog food will not contain sufficient taurine for a cat.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Among the vitamins that are important in the cat’s diet are vitamin A, the B vitamins B2, B6 and folic acid and biotin, and vitamins D and E. Only small amounts are needed, and will usually be supplied by a balanced diet containing meat, fish, green vegetables and cereals. Cats also require a wide range of minerals, including magnesium, calcium, zinc, iodine and iron. Along with vitamins, minerals are part of a well-balanced diet.
Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of tissues. For cats, they are also a source of energy, although fats are an excellent source too. A by-product of protein digestion is a substance called taurine, which is required for healthy eyes, heart, nervous system and bones. Taurine is so essential to a cat’s health that it is added to many commercially-prepared foods, both dry and wet.
Unlike fats, proteins cannot be stored in the body for future use, and therefore must be given daily. Deficiencies in protein can lead to increased susceptibility to infection, slow growth, lethargy, poor vision and loss of hair.