Why Are Cats Called “Obligate Carnivores?”

October 3, 2017

cats as obligate carnivores
People love their cats, and many show their affection by offering food. Just as with humans, these “overly loved” pets often suffer from eating too much food or the wrong foods for proper nutrition. For proof, all we have to do is look at the adorable (but suffering) “fat cats” circulating on social media. Although the images are endearing, the pictured cats can suffer from diabetes, joint disease, and other debilitating conditions.

Scientists have studied the feline digestive system to determine what foods are best for cats. They start by examining the foods that wild cats prefer, and never have they seen a cat eating a banana! Wild cats, like panthers, lions, and tigers, are predators and feast on the products of their hunts. Domestic cats consume small animals, fish, and other available proteins as the basis of their diets. All cats eat protein by necessity; they will not survive without meat. These animals are classified as “obligate carnivores” because meat is biologically essential for their survival.

In addition to all members of the cat family, other mammals fall into the obligate carnivore category. These include several land mammals as well as seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Non-mammal obligate carnivores include some fish (trout and salmon), birds (hawks and eagles), and most amphibians. However, not all carnivores are exclusively meat eaters. Our world supports a wide spectrum of living organisms with diverse anatomies and physiologies. Cellular functions differ, which influence nutritional needs.

Dietary Differences

Although many of us have cats and dogs in our families, our pets should not share the same diet. Cats and dogs differ greatly in behavior, socialization and more—and their metabolisms are also very different. While both animals are meat eaters, dogs get some of their nutrition from plants. Cats only consume trace amounts of plants, usually the undigested grasses consumed by their prey.

Cats are obligate carnivores because of their inherited needs. Over generations, cats have lost the ability to manufacture amino acids and vitamins like herbivores and omnivores can; they get these from the meat they eat. Cats also need specific nutrients to function properly, like taurine, arginine, and niacin, which are found in animal flesh. In fact, cats need these nutrients in every meal for survival. Luckily, they are plentiful in all meat sources. The bottom line: Cats need meat to live.

Digestive Distinctions

Another factor that points to cats as obligate carnivores involves the length of their digestive tracts, which are substantially shorter than other mammals that eat plants. Plants are more difficult to digest and they require fermenting bacteria to break down. Raw meat, in contrast, digests easily. Obligate carnivores also meet their blood glucose requirements using protein components. Meat and fish are so necessary to the feline diet that a cat’s body will begin to break down without these proteins. They will lose energy, and damage to muscles and organs can quickly occur.

Don’t gamble with your cat’s diet. Choose a product made from high-quality meat and fish, such as those offered in CANIDAE® cat food recipes, and you’ll never need worry about feeding nourishing, delicious meals to your favorite feline friend.

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