Carbohydrates supply some vital nutrients and fiber that cats need. However, cats can have a very difficult time digesting carbohydrate-laden foods. As mentioned in the discussion about protein, an assortment of digestive enzymes is produced in the bodies of humans, cats, and all other animals to help break- down and digest food. Various enzymes target specific foods at particular points of digestion, and each species is engineered to produce differing amounts of individual enzymes that are tailored to the animal’s diet. For example, one of the things that make cats carnivorous is the lack of amylase in their saliva, and they have low levels in their pancreas. Amylase is a digestive enzyme that targets carbohydrates and breaks them down to their molecular level, making them digestible. On the other hand, as mentioned previously, cats have large amounts of protease, which is geared toward breaking down protein.
If you observe cats in the wild, you will find they get their carbohydrates already partially digested by consuming the stomach contents of their prey, which usually contains grasses and other vegetation. Because their prey is often herbivores, those animals have the necessary enzymes to process the carbohydrates. By the time a cat hunts down the prey, the vegetation is already partially digested, which makes it easy for the cat to finish digesting it. Even if you wanted to, which you probably do not, it would be next to impossible for you to recreate such conditions in your home. Instead, to help your furry friend in your kitchen, you will need to offer her carbohydrates that are easily broken down — such as rice, boiled skinless potatoes, and vegetables. Finely chopping your vegetables and other carbohydrate sources will also make them easier for your cat to digest. To make it even easier on your cat’s system, grind them in a food processor, or use the pulp left over after juicing them. Of course, if you grind your cat’s meat, you can add vegetables in during the meat-grinding process.
What about fruit?
There really is no need to give your cat fruit. Not only will fruit make the cat’s urine more alkaline, some fruit, such as citrus fruit and grapes, but can also make a cat very sick. Besides, cats do not even enjoy a sweet taste, as they lack the sweet receptor gene. It is best to just stay away from the fruit when preparing meals for your cats.
To help extract the vital nutrients found only in vegetables and other plant foods, domestic cats have evolved longer intestines than their wild counterparts, which helps slow down the processing of food just enough to make it easier on them to eat vegetation. In addition to the fiber sources mentioned above, your cat can benefit from the nutrients in pumpkin, peas, and green leafy vegetables. There is a more complete list at the end of this chapter to help you decide which vegetables are good for your cat.
At the beginning stages of switching your cat over to a home-cooked or all-natural diet, you will need to be on high alert to see if he or she is having difficulty with any particular carbohydrates. Though it is safe to say that most cats simply cannot process corn, wheat, or soy, it is not so easy to make such sweeping generalizations about other carbohydrates. For example, some cats can tolerate and even enjoy spinach quite nicely, while others will suffer gas pains. Take some time to learn which carbohydrates your cat likes and tolerates as you add them to the diet.