Cat Nutritional Needs

Cat Nutritional Needs
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has developed separate minimum requirements for cat foods. Special feline nutritional needs include:

High protein

Protein is a source of nitrogen, and cats require a higher protein level than dogs. This may be due to the cat's inability to regulate the rate at which liver enzymes break down protein. If dietary protein is in low quantities or not available, the cat's body will soon start breaking down the protein in its own muscle.


Taurine is an amino acid, which is necessary for proper bile formation, health of the eye, and functioning of the heart muscle. Cats require a high amount of taurine for their body functions, yet have limited enzymes which can produce taurine from other amino acids such as methionine and cysteine. Therefore, they need a diet high in taurine. If taurine is deficient, signs such as a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, retinal degeneration, reproductive failure, and abnormal kitten development can occur.


Arginine is also an amino acid. Most animals manufacture the amino acid ornithine through various processes, some of which require arginine. In cats, the only method to produce ornithine is to convert it from arginine. Ornithine is necessary because it binds ammonia produced from the breakdown of protein. If cats are deficient in arginine, there will not be enough ornithine to bind the ammonia, and severe signs such as salivation, vocalization, ataxia, and even death can result from the high ammonia levels. These signs often occur several hours after a meal, when most of the ammonia is produced.

Arachidonic acid

Arachidonic acid is one of the essential fatty acids. Dogs can manufacture arachidonic acid from linoleic acid or gamma-linolenic acid. Cats can not. Arachidonic acid is necessary to produce an inflammatory response. In many cases, such as in allergies, the goal is to suppress the inflammatory response. But in other cases, the response is a necessary means by which the body can protect itself. Arachidonic acid also helps to regulate skin growth, and is necessary for proper blood clotting, and the functioning of the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems. Arachidonic acid is found in animal fats which must therefore be included as part of the diet. Cats also require linoleic acid, another fatty acid.

Q. Why is it a no-no to give dog food to cats?
A. In the case of diet, it is important to realize a cat's nutritional requirements are much different than those of a dog. For example, cats require higher levels of protein than dogs. Cats must have the amino acid called 'taurine' in their diet; dogs can actually make their own taurine. A cat eating food deficient in taurine can develop severe heart disease and other health problems. Almost all cat foods now contain added taurine.

Cats require a different form of Vitamin A than dogs do. Dogs can use beta-carotene as a source of Vitamin A; cats cannot. Cats can not manufacture the fatty acid called 'arachidonic acid' and must have it supplemented in their diet; it is not essential for dogs to have this fatty acid in their food.

So, you see, if a cat is allowed to eat a significant amount of dog food, the cat would be eating a diet deficient in many of the cat's required nutrients. For your cat's health, be sure she is eating quality cat food.

Active form of Vitamin A

Cats lack the enzyme which can convert beta-carotene to retinol, the active form of Vitamin A. Therefore, they require a preformed Vitamin A, which is present only in foods of animal origin, and is usually included in cat foods as retinyl palmitate. Deficiencies of Vitamin A are rare, but signs include night blindness, retarded growth, and poor quality skin and hair coat.


Many animals can synthesize niacin, a B vitamin, from the amino acid tryptophan. Cats can not manufacture it in sufficient quantities, thus require higher amounts in their diet. Deficiencies in niacin can lead to loss of appetite and weight, inflamed gums, and hemorrhagic diarrhea.


Cats have less need for starch, and a decreased ability to digest it.

                                                             A Few Words About Milk
 Dogs and cats do not have the proper enzymes to properly break down the sugar in milk which is called 'lactose.' You may have heard of people who are lactose-intolerant. They are also missing these digestive enzymes. If the proper enzymes are not present, the lactose remains undigested and tends to ferment in the intestine and cause diarrhea. Some pets can tolerate a little milk, others, none at all. If your pet enjoys and appears to tolerate milk, you can give your pet small amounts. Better yet, give your pet one of the special cat milks on the market that have had the lactose removed.