Cats are strict carnivores and rely on all their nutritional needs from animal meat. In the wild they would consume prey animals rich in protein and fat with small amounts of carbohydrates. Unlike dogs and other omnivores, they are therefore adapted to get most of their energy from protein instead of carbohydrates. A cat’s diet should be “balanced’ which means proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water, in the correct proportion. The amount of food and the balance of these components depend on the cat’s age, breed, gender, activity, environment, metabolism and any disease conditions that may be present.


Of the 23 different amino acids making up protein, a cat can only manufacture 12 of them and the other 11 have to come from their diet. These are called essential amino acids. Two of the most important are taurine and arginine, without which cats will develop serious health issues. These and other essential amino acids are added to a balanced diet.


Fats supply energy, essential fatty acids, promote absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E and K and make a diet more palatable to a cat. Cats require dietary sources of the essential fatty acids, linoleic and arachidonic acids as they cannot synthesise these themselves. Antioxidants are added to cat food to preserve the fatty acids and stop the fat from becoming rancid.


Carbohydrates are added to provide further energy and are made up of plant grains and vegetable fibre. Despite a cat’s adaption to low carbohydrate diets, they are surprisingly efficient in starch utilization and carbohydrate levels of up to 35% in the diet are well tolerated.


Vitamins are essential for many of the body’s chemical reactions. Cats cannot convert beta-carotene to vitamin A and therefore require it to be added to the diet. They also need more of the B vitamins thiamine and niacin than other species but not vitamin C, which they can make for themselves. It is not necessary to add vitamins to a balanced commercial diet, as it will already be complete.


Minerals must be added to the diet in the right proportions, and damage can be done if they are over supplemented, especially calcium and phosphorus.


Canned cat foods have a water content of about 75% and cats on this form of diet will not need as much water as those fed on a dry diet. Water is the most important nutrient for all animals and should always be available.

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