When it comes to feeding your cat or your dog, the temptation is to give them both the same. Cats and dogs are closely related and have similar dietary needs, right? Wrong. There are actually quite a lot of important difference in the dietary needs of the two types of animals and this stems from what they would have eaten in the wild.
Both cats and dogs are members of the Carnivora order of animals but of the two species, only cats are counted as ‘obligate carnivores’. This means that cats need to eat animal-derived protein to remain healthy or receive some sort of dietary element that makes this up for them. The ideal proportion of protein in the diet should be one-third but this doesn’t all have to come from meat.
This is because protein is made from something called amino acids. There are two types of these amino acids – non-essential ones that the body makes and essential ones that animals need to get through their diet. Cats have 12 essential amino acids while dogs only have 11.
The one that is essential for cats but not for dogs is called Taurine. If cats don’t get enough taurine in their diet, it can lead to blindness, deafness and even heart failure. This condition, called taurine deficiency, is found almost exclusively in cats that don’t get a well-rounded diet.
Another example of dogs producing something that cats needs to get from meat is a substance called arachidonic acid. This is a necessary fatty acid that comes in through meat but that dogs can also create in their bodies from substances such as sunflower and safflower oils. Cats can only get this substance from meat.
Cats and vitamins
We know ourselves that getting the right vitamins in our diet is crucial for our health and the same applies to our cats. Vitamin A is one that is particularly important for cats as it keeps their eyes, skin and body tissues healthy. Dogs can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A in their bodies but cats can’t do this so they need to get vitamin A from their cat food.
Cats also need a substance called thiamine in their diets and require five times more than dogs need. Thiamine deficiency can lead to loss of coat, loss of appetite, neurological problems and even seizures and death. This deficiency is again common in cats with a poor diet.
Cats and their food
Another big difference between cat and dog food is the texture. If you have ever compared the two species while eating, you will get an idea why this is important. Dogs get stuck into their food with all the delicacy of a tornado while cats daintily lap at the moist parts of their food before picking up and eating small pieces. Therefore, dog food tends to be coarser in texture because the dogs don’t really care.
The meat of it
So what this all boils down to is that your cat should eat cat food to get the most balanced diet and therefore be in the best health. But more than that, they need to eat the right cat food and the right portions of it as too much of the very best cat food can still lead to obesity and health problems.
Firstly, look at the label of the cat food and find the list of ingredients. The most important tip is that the first item on the list should be a named source of protein – this should be a named meat, poultry or fish.
What cats don’t need is a lot of carbohydrates, as their bodies don’t process these substances well. In the wild, cats don’t eat anything that contains carbohydrates so their systems aren’t set up for it and whereas humans and dogs have an enzyme in their saliva that starts to break down carbohydrates, cats don’t have this. Too many carbohydrates can lead to a fat cat.
The other thing to watch for is your cat’s hydration level. Some cats love a drink and these don’t need to be worried about. But for cats that don’t drink much, it is important that they get moisture from their food. Therefore, a dry food diet is inadvisable, as they won’t receive the liquid that they need from their food.
There is no strict right and wrong about what to feed your cat but understanding what their natural diet is can be a big help. Remember what they might have eaten in the wild and you will get a good idea about what they need in your home and by providing good quality cat food, you will likely have a fit and healthy cat.