Cat's Nutritional Needs
In all, your cat needs 40 individual nutrients every day for optimum health. These nutrients include: water, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
Cats, however, do have special requirements for certain nutrients. These include:
* Taurine - for healthy eyes and prevention of heart disease;
* Linoleic acid - to maintain good skin and coat conditions and optimum kidney function;
* Vitamin A - for healthy vision and good growth of bones and teeth;
* Vitamin D - important for bone formation; and
* Niacin - for a healthy mouth.
These special nutrients must be supplied already made in the diet because the cat is unable to synthesise (make) these nutrients from others in the diet. Therefore a complete and balanced diet containing these special nutrients is vital.
A cat's diet must provide three basic elements to satisfy hunger: water, salt and calories. The calories that provide the energy in cat food are derived from:
Protein Protein is required for growth and maintenance of muscle and is also used as a source of energy by the cat. The protein consists of a total of 20 amino acids of which 10 must be consumed daily for optimal health.
Fat Fat is an important component of a balanced diet because as well as being a concentrated source of energy it provides essential fatty acids for a healthy skin and coat, normal kidney functions and reproduction. It is also required as a carrier for the fat-soluble vitamins.
The cat's dependence upon eating meat has been at the core of their evolution.
Of all the carnivores, the felids are the most specialized meat-eaters. The cat thrives with very little, if any, direct ingestion of plant material. Of course, just as an herbivore such as the cow needs specialized digestive and metabolic processes to deal with converting grass to flesh or milk, the cat too has enhanced or eliminated certain biochemical mechanisms to deal with a diet rich in protein and fat, but with little or no carbohydrate.
The cat also needs proportionally more protein in its diet compared to other mammals - one reason is that certain liver enzymes that break down proteins are always functional (they are turned "on" and "off" in other animals) and so cats use some energy from protein just to fuel this process. Other mammals use most of their protein for growth and body maintenance. While an adult dog's protein requirement will drop to about one third of its requirements as a growing puppy, the kitten only needs about one-and-a-half times the protein of an adult cat because the adult level is still relatively high.
Unlike an omnivore, whose digestive system consists of a fairly large small intestine and relatively large stomach, the carnivore's system consists of a fairly short, small intestine and relatively small stomach. Thus, a carnivore's optimum diet must be concentrated, highly digestible, and low in residue.
The cat also needs certain nutrients made by the metabolic processes of other animals and not available in plant material. Dogs have a range of biochemical processes that convert nutrients from plant and animal sources into what they require - for example dogs can convert the carotenes found in fruit and vegetables into vitamin A. The cat cannot do this and must obtain vitamin A already preformed in animal sources. Cats ingest not only the flesh and organs of their prey but also the partially and wholly digested vegetable foods the prey had eaten. With the assistance of the prey's own digestive processes, the cat then is able to derive nutrition from various vegetable sources. Thus the cat is more than a carnivore -- the cat is an obligate carnivore. To survive the cat must eat meat.
Hence, when some people want to feed their cats a diet consisting largely of vegetable matter for either economy or convenience or to fit in with their own preferences or ethical beliefs, they need to consider that the cat they love for its looks and behavior is as it is because it is a carnivore - a vegetarian cat would probably have developed to look like a rabbit!