Do Cats Need to Eat Meat?

Do Cats Need to Eat Meat

To ensure your cat’s optimal health, you need to feed him properly with the right type of foods. Unlike dogs that are omnivores who can eat a combination of different types of foods, cats are obligate carnivores.

Why cats need to eat meat

Your cat cannot go on a vegan diet because his body requires him to consume meat. Although there are some fruits and veggies that can be fed to felines, these should only be given sparingly if at all because your pet does not need these.

Meat should be the primary component of your cat’s diet. Otherwise, if you attempt to put him on an omnivore’s diet, you are compromising his health over the short and long term.

Cats have adapted to eating meat and need nutrients that they can get only from meat. Although you do not have to feed your cat fresh meat, his food should be derived from other animals, be it in the form of wet or dry cat food.

Perhaps you do not eat meat out of personal or religious beliefs and you are wondering if your cat can follow a diet similar to yours. Or maybe you are wondering if you can supplement your pet’s diets with vegetables and fruits.

Unfortunately, your cat needs meat as his primary food. And there are a few reasons why.

For starters, vegan diets do not meet your cat’s dietary needs. One reason why cats need to eat meat is that they need a high amount of proteins. Some veggies and fruits may contain protein but not enough to sustain cats. Furthermore, the proteins found in a plant-based diet are for the most part, unsuitable for felines.

Plant-based meals also contain too many carbohydrates that cats do not need to survive. Unlike other creatures like people, cats do not derive energy from carbs.

Finally, cats need taurine, an essential amino acid. Unlike some amino acids that can be found in plants, taurine can only be derived from animal sources, including meats. 

Unlike dogs and people, cats cannot produce taurine in their bodies. Instead, they need to get it from their food. And without sufficient taurine, cats can succumb to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a condition where a cat’s heart muscles become too weak and too thin to pump blood and oxygen efficiently to the whole body.

What does obligate carnivore mean?

But what does the term obligate carnivore actually mean?

In a nutshell, obligate carnivore means that cats need to eat meat, not just to satisfy their hunger, but more importantly, to thrive. Apart from felines (including the big cats), dolphins, seals, salmon, eagles, crocodiles, and amphibians are also obligate carnivores.

One reason why your cat, as well as the other animals mentioned above, is classified as an obligate carnivore is because of the diet of his ancestors. When a creature eats meat exclusively, his descendants lose the ability to produce some vitamins and amino acids in their bodies. 

Among the nutrients that cats cannot produce in their bodies are niacin, vitamin A, and arginine. Instead of producing these in their bodies, cats rely on animal sources for these nutrients.

Another reason why cats are classified as obligate carnivores is that their digestive systems have evolved to digest meat efficiently. If you compare the digestive tract of cats with dogs, you will notice that the digestive tract of felines is comparatively shorter than those of canines. In fact, cats have one of the shortest digestive tracts in the animal kingdom.

Herbivores and omnivores have longer digestive tracts because the bacteria in their stomach need sufficient time to break down plant matter. Cats, on the other hand, have short digestive tracts because meats can be digested for a shorter period. If you feed your cat veggies or fruits, your cat cannot break those down in his stomach.

How to feed your cat

Now that you know that your pet is an obligate carnivore and cannot subsist on a plant-based diet, how can you make sure that you feed him well?

Although it may be tempting to prepare your cat’s meals by yourself using fresh ingredients, for most people, that can be too time-consuming or even downright impractical. And although you can feed your cat with raw meat, be aware that sometimes, raw meats carry harmful microorganisms. Protein sources like canned fish can cause neurological issues in cats.

As such, your best option is to feed your pet with commercial cat food. Commercial cat food can be broadly classified into three types: dry, wet, and semi-moist. 

Dry cat food contains anywhere between six and 10 percent moisture and is composed of meat, poultry, or fish meal as well as grains, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Usually, kibble is coated with animal fat and flavor enhancers.

Wet or canned food contains about 75 percent moisture. This moisture is critical because most cats do not drink enough water because their ancestors got water from their prey. Aside from that, one advantage of wet food is that most cats love the taste and aroma of canned food. Although canned food should be consumed immediately after opening, unopened, wet food has a longer shelf life.

Semi-moist cat food contains around 35 percent water and consists mostly of meat and meat by-products. Other ingredients usually used in manufacturing semi-moist cat food are cereals and other grains. 

When you are comparing different cat food brands, check if it follows the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials or AAFCO. Cat foods that carry the AAFCO statement and meet your pet’s nutritional needs.

Aside from the AAFCO statement, you will also need to factor in your cat’s age. Take note that your cat’s nutritional needs change as he ages and you need to feed him with food that matches his life stage. If you own multiple cats, you can consider cat food formulated for all life stages.

If your cat has food allergies, it is vital to look at the product label to determine which protein source has been used as the primary ingredient for the cat food.

Image: istockphoto.com / VeraOsco

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