As more research is done in the field of veterinary nutrition, we can help pet owners learn how to keep their pets healthy and happy, with one of the most enjoyable and important aspects of their daily care…food.
Research is showing one of the most important dietary ingredients for our cat friend is protein. The following is what you need to know about protein for cats and high protein cat diets
Energy Source Nutrients
There are six nutrient classes that are provided by diet including protein, water, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Of these nutrients, fat, protein, and carbohydrates are used as energy sources.
Different species utilize and digest nutrients in different ways, and therefore possess requirements of nutrients that are different. Generally, herbivores (plant-eating animals) rely more on carbohydrates for energy than animals that eat plants and meat (omnivores) or carnivores which are animals that eat only meat.
The Carnivores Cat
Unlike dogs, who are omnivores, felines are only carnivores. Meaning that their bodies have adapted to a diet consisting only of meat, which provides the protein.
Domesticated cats are similar to their wild ancestors and evolved very similarly to them. In the wild, a feline’s diet consists of mostly small rodents like mice, rabbits, insects, birds, frogs, and reptiles.
The metabolism of a cat is especially well-suited to a diet strictly based on meat. Herbivores and omnivores can process certain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, however, felines don’t have as much ability to do so.
Cats Require Certain Amino Acids
Many species share the need for nine essential amino acids that must be obtained from their diet, but felines require two more essential amino acids – Taurine and Arginine. Both of these additional amino acids are obtained from eating animal tissues.
Cats are not able to efficiently produce specific vitamins that are vitally important to their health, including vitamin A, niacin, and vitamin D, so they must get them from other sources like animal tissue.
Importance of Taurine
Taurine is an amino acid particularly important to heart and eye health. It is also important for kitten growth and normal reproduction.
Felines can process small amounts of taurine, however, they aren’t able to make as much as their bodies need. Without taurine, cats may suffer from blindness due to central retinal degeneration, reproductive failure, heart failure from dilated cardiomyopathy, and developmental abnormalities in the central nervous system.
Importance of Arginine
Deficiencies in arginine lead to high levels of ammonia in the blood, resulting in neurological symptoms that quickly lead to death and seizures.
Protein Importance for Cats
Felines use protein for energy. It is actually their most important source of energy. Unlike other species, a feline’s liver enzymes constantly break down proteins for maintenance and energy of blood glucose levels. When they don’t receive enough protein in their diet, even when there are other sources of energy like carbohydrates present, a cat’s body starts breaking down its own muscle tissue to create protein and amino acids.
Animal and Plant Proteins
Two main sources of protein used in cat food are animal protein and plant protein. Vegetarian diets and alternative protein sources may appeal to pet parents, but cats aren’t able to meet nutritional needs with those sources alone.
Animal tissue has specific nutrients that are in it only, and not in plants like taurine, methionine, and cystine. Methionine and cystine are amino acids required in high amounts in felines especially while they are growing.
Plant sources don’t provide levels high enough of these amino acids for cats. When there is not enough of these amino acids present, it can result in crusting dermatitis and poor feline growth. Kittens must have 19% of their diet consisting of animal protein to meet their methionine requirements. Proteins from animal sources have higher biologic availability and are more readily used by the body than proteins from plants.
It is difficult to determine how much protein is in pet food based on just a label. This is because of the differences in the moisture content of food. Labels on pet food, however, print nutrient content on the “as fed” basis, and this includes water content. This can be confusing to consumers since pet food that is canned contains about 75% moisture, and pet food that is dry has only about 10% moisture.
Adult Cats and Protein
Cats in their adulthood need significantly more protein as a percentage of their diet than humans or dogs. The exact protein recommendation has some degree of variation, however, cats in adulthood need a minimum of 26% protein in their diet, while dogs in adulthood require 12%, and humans require 8%.
As cats get older, they require more protein because of a reduction in digestive efficiency. Most cats 12 years or older need to be fed diets containing almost 50% protein. Luckily, probiotics are a great way to solve digestive upset.
While there are many variations to how much protein your cat needs, do your research, speak with your veterinarian and use your judgment when feeding your animal, and you should have a healthy pet!