Just like protein, the 25 to 30 percent of your cat’s diet that consists of dietary fat should also come from animal sources. As you will learn in the section on carbohydrates, a cat’s digestive system is just not developed to handle grains and grain products. Adding corn oil or soy oil to your cat’s food as the primary source of fat can potentially cause your cat discomfort.
Though cats get a good portion of their energy from protein, they also get a fair amount from fat. Calorie counts are the same for humans as they are for cats. So, for each gram of protein or carbohydrate ingested, your cat receives four calories to burn off. For each gram of fat eaten, he or she receives nine calories to burn. The extra energy is good for cats that are highly active, but if these calories are not burned off, your cat’s liver will very efficiently store it as fat. Some fat is necessary, but if you allow more than 30 percent of the diet to come from fat without enough exercise to burn it off, it will lead to obesity.
Fat gives your cat more than just energy. Similar to how amino acids are found in proteins, there are essential fatty acids in fats. Fatty acids are produced when the body breaks down ingested fat. They help oxygen move through the bloodstream. They are necessary for building cell walls and for overall cell health by helping stave off inflammation. They also help transport fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are needed for good eyesight, healthy bone structure, immune strength, and blood clotting. Additionally, appropriate amounts of essential fatty acids are what keep your cat’s fur shiny and soft and his skin supple and taut.
Cats that do not get enough fat in their diets are at risk of suffering from a deficiency of essential fatty acids. The first signs of fatty acid deficiencies are often cosmetic. The hair will grow dull and thin, and the skin will become scaly and itchy. Continued deficiencies will start causing problems. Your cat will suffer from vision problems, central nervous system irregularities, and impaired learning ability among a host of other poor health issues.
Good sources of fat come from the animals that give our cats good protein: the fat from chicken and other fowl, rabbits, beef suet, or small amounts of cold-water fish oil. Lard is not usually a healthy source of fat for cats because, although lard is animal-based, it often contains a chemical called butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which is used as a preservative. BHA is linked to several health problems in animals including dry skin, allergic reactions, and dental disease. Studies have also shown BHA promotes liver disease and other, more serious, medical problems in many animals. As reported in The Oxidative Enzymes in Foods, studies on BHA conducted by J.K. Donnelly and D.S. Robinson showed an increase in liver fat coinciding with a decrease in liver muscle in animals given that preservative. Fatty liver is a specific health condition that can seriously harm and even kill your cat. It is imperative that you do not feed your cat any foods containing BHA.
Once you start shopping for natural foods for your cat, talk to the butcher at your local market about your need for quality meats and fats for your cat. You may just find yourself the happy recipient of fresh fat that must be cut off of the meats the grocer sells to human shoppers. Most butchers are happy to find a good home for those meat products to keep them from going to waste.