Cats are ‘obligate carnivores’.
In biology ‘obligate’ is defined as ‘capable of functioning or surviving only in a particular condition or by assuming a particular behaviour’. It is necessary for cats to eat meat. This is because their metabolism has evolved to need some ingredients that - at this time - can only be found in meat.
So what should we feed our cats?
Please note many of the quotes used in this article have been sourced from 'Vet Record'. This is the main veterinarian publication run by the British Veterinary Association. It also includes some reputable secondary sources from articles written by qualified practicing vets.
Concerns on where cat owners get advice about feeding their cats.
‘Rather than speaking to their vets about feeding their cats, they go on social media, or speak to the breeder, or speak to their neighbour and then get misled in terms of feeding vegan diets or raw diets without actually speaking to somebody a lot more qualified to answer those questions'
Isuru Gajanayake, an RCVS, European and American Specialist in small animal internal medicine, is also a clinical nutrition expert at the Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service. He is worried about the reliability of the advice owners receive regarding their cats' diets.
One area of nutrition and cat feeding that's coming up repeatedly online and debated widely is whether it is possible - or advisable - to feed cats plant based diets. He currently explains the following:
'The main risk is deficiencies in protein and particularly amino acids. Plant-base proteins actually have a good range of amino acids but not a complete range that a cat would need.'
While it is possible to supplement vegetarian and vegan diets to make them nutritionally balanced, he believes that, at present, 'you have to be a bit careful about feeding vegetarian or vegan-type diets, especially to cats'.
But that does not mean it will never be possible to feed cats alternative diets. Never say never, he says.
'Hopefully with the advances in technology, we'll get there. One of the big reasons driving vegan-type diets is the ecological and ethical considerations, and they're very valid things.’
Vegan diets are just one example of the multiple views and biased opinions that exist online when it comes to what we - as caring pet owners - are asked to digest and make our buying decisions on.
Another example is the hotly contested wet versus dry food debate. While it seems generally accepted that wet food is good for hydration, there isn't any large scale research that covers the real nutritional difference between them.
This is because there are varieties of cat food available to us across pet stores, online retailers to home delivery food subscriptions. And without clarity on the ingredients these foods contain and how they're prepared it's very hard to do a meaningful study in this area.
So this begs the question…
What should we feed our cats and what do they need most from their food?
'Cats have some very particular nutritional idiosyncrasies or requirements that make them quite different from dogs and that potentially makes them a lot more vulnerable to the effects of feeding the wrong diet. Cats are true carnivores - their metabolism is very particular in terms of what they can and cannot eat' Isuru Gajanayake
This is in contrast to dogs, who being omnivores, can eat both meat and plant-based food and suffer few detrimental effects.
'The main thing would be to make sure [is your cat] is fed a balanced diet, make sure it's cooked, commercial - dry or canned - and it's appropriate for its age. I've seen kittens that were fed just cooked chicken, for example, for the growth period, and they've had quite serious metabolic issues as a consequence - very thin bones, spinal fractures, and things like that.' Isuru Gajanayake
So while it's technically possible to feed cats a homemade diet with meat, it's generally better to rely on commercial cat food. This is because these companies employ nutritional experts who formulate their products to be "complete," containing all the necessary nutrients for your cat's well-being.
‘Cats need a complete and balanced diet providing protein, carbohydrate, fats, minerals, vitamins and fibre, as well as some very specific nutrients such as taurine and essential fatty acids.’ Dr Pete Wedderburn BVM&S CertVR MRCVS (Telegraph Article)
Cheaper cat foods will likely use lower-quality ingredients. However, it's difficult to determine this by simply reading the ingredients on the label because they often follow legal requirements rather than using full food descriptions.
As such it isn't easy to make informed decisions between ingredient listings and the actual quality of the cat food.
So with this in mind one thing that is in our control when making cat food choices is seeking food with high meat content and protein levels - irrespective of whether you’re feeding them wet, dry or a mix of both.
For Kuba & Leia we buy our food from the UK pet store chain PetsCorner. Not only do they provide a full transparent breakdown of the ingredients in the food that they sell, the business has a strong background in pet nutrition and Dean the founder of PetsCorner even films himself with his cat George of them both eating the food they sell.
Some final food for thought.
In our experience, especially when making food choices for Kuba and Leia and other cats we’ve loved before them, we’ve learned to beware the self-serving nature of the marketing messaging and ingredient labelling that a lot of cat food brands promote. Ultimately the proof will be in the health and wellbeing of our cats.
For example we previously used a cat subscription service but a recipe change made both Kuba and Leia ill. Moving them to a proven, established and well regulated food supplier and buying from a physical retailer is reassuring to us because of the transparency of ingredients and also the due diligence that their suppliers have to go through to be allowed to sell through their stores. The trade off here is of course price - but we're willing to pay more for the right food.
All this said, as long as Kuba and Leia have shiny coats, increased energy levels and are happy cats - this is what matters most.
One final comment I wanted to include in this blog is in relation to how pet food companies are regulated in the UK. Since launching our new food bowl DINE, a few of our customers were curious about this, especially in relation to subscription cat food businesses. The answer is the Food Standards Agency and you can find out more here.
I hope this was an interesting read. We all know how fussy cats can be - so hope finding the right cat food for your feline overlord is as stress free as possible.
All the best
James and the team at Kuba & Leia