It is believed that most domestic cats are descendants of small wild African cats living on or near a desert-like environment. Interestingly, there remain two species of wild cats — one in Europe called the forest wild cat and one in Africa, the desert cat — that is of similar size to domestic pets and continue to hunt in the wild today. Like the modern wild cats and the feral toms and tabbies found in alleyways and behind buildings, the ancestors of your pet cat lived off whatever food they could find — mainly birds, rodents, and other small mammals. Their typical diet — while all natural — may reflect more of what was currently available in the environment at that time, than what is best and most nutritionally sound for a cat. So, you cannot base all of your cat’s meals on what feral or wild cats do. You can, however, certainly, use their innate choices and behaviors as guidelines. For example, a feral cat’s diet consists largely of wild mice whose body composition are roughly 60 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and the remaining 10 percent fiber and carbohydrates. That ratio is ideal for the foods you should feed your modern, domestic cats. You can use that ratio as a template upon which to base the meals you prepare for your pets.
Like their feral cousins and wild ancestors, our domestic cats are true carnivores. It is evident in the way their bodies are made to hunt. Their claws are designed to tear open flesh. Their long, sharp teeth are perfect for ripping through the meat. Their keen hearing and vision are adapted for night hunting. And they have amazing ability to stalk — in perfect silence — your fuzzy slippers shuffling across the kitchen floor.
Aside from its undeniable hunting abilities, a cat’s body is primed for digesting and processing the protein found in meat better than it can any other food source. When food enters a cat’s mouth, it is attacked by protease, a digestive enzyme that specifically targets proteins in animal meats. Cat saliva is loaded with an abundance of protease, which breaks down protein, making it digestible so the body can absorb the nutrition in the meat. But the protease in saliva is only the beginning. The entire gastrointestinal system of a cat is primed for digesting and assimilating protein.
After the food leaves the cat’s mouth and travels down into the stomach, the digestion process is continued by pepsin and lipase, more digestive enzymes that break the protein down into large nutrient molecules. Once the food travels out of the stomach and enters the cat’s rather short intestines, even more protein-attacking enzymes go to work. Those enzymes are specifically designed to break the larger molecules down into smaller ones that can then be absorbed into the bloodstream. At the molecular level, the blood throughout the cat’s body will now distribute the amino acids that came from the protein.
Some of those amino acids will then go to work creating and repairing muscle and tissue, and others will get converted into energy. After all, your cat does more than just lie in the sun looking beautiful and needs the energy to stalk the broom and attack the toilet paper.
None of the protein in meat goes to waste in a cat. In truth, a cat’s need for protein is greater than any other need for a nutrient or food component. The the protein requirement is seconded only by fat, with carbohydrates at a distant third. In general, your cat’s ideal diet is almost exclusively animal products with just a minimum of non-protein-based plant material. When aiming toward providing all the food in your cat’s diet, your goal should reflect her needs and be: 55 to 60 percent protein, 25 to 30 percent fat, and 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates, which is just what a mouse would offer a wild or feral tabby.
Protein happens to be the only source of amino acids, which, as just mentioned, are necessary for building and repairing muscle tissue. They are also important for energy metabolism and other bodily functions. Amino acids are are integral to an animal’s health that no carnivore or omnivore can live without them. In fact, some amino acids are so crucial in a cat’s diet; they are called essential amino acids. In particular, a cat needs the essential amino acids arginine and taurine to be abundant in its diet. And, in yet another sign that cats are meant to eat meat, those amino acids are found in meat proteins only, notin grain or vegetable proteins.
Arginine assists with the removal of ammonia from a cat’sbody. When a protein reaches the gastrointestinal tract of a cat, by-products, and waste are created that will then need to be eliminated from the body. One of those by-products is ammonia. If ammonia is left to build up in your cat’s body, it can create urinary stones, urinary tract infections, and other health issues. The job of arginine in the meat is to bind up the ammonia, making it possible for her to pass it out into her litter box. Many cat parents have noticed the odor of ammonia around the litter box or when their cat sprayed an area with urine to mark its territory. It is natural to have some ammonia odor on occasion, but if you are noticing it with increasing frequency or intensity, you may need to speak to your cat’s veterinarian, as it could be a sign of a health issue. Arginine is so important in a cat’s diet that without it, the ammonia will build up in her bloodstream and reach toxic levels. It can then makes her depressed, and if the levels continue to climb, she may even suffers from seizures.
urine is another essential amino acid for cats. In fact, cats need taurine more than any other animal does. Without adequate amounts of taurine, your cat could suffer from a whole host of disorders and diseases. They can go blind, deaf, or both. Their hearts will be affected; they will increase their odds of developing cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle) and heart failure. Their immune systems will weaken, making them more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Female cats can suffer from reproductive failure, and kittens will have slower growth, poor development, and possibly even congenital defects. Because of the necessity of your cat getting enough taurine in its diet, you will notice that many of the recipes in this book have taurine added to them, as you cannot give her too much.
Your cat’s need for taurine suggests that at least one area where you should mimic wild cats is in ensuring that the protein portion of your domestic tabby’s food comes from the whole animal, not just the muscle meat like humans generally consume. Taurine is not found in much muscle meat, but there are large amounts in the organ meats, such as the liver of beef and in the hearts, gizzards, liver, and dark meat of chicken and turkey. Wild or feral cats eat those organ meats every time they catch their prey. To be sure your cat gets enough taurine, you will either need to ensure an adequate supply of the nutrient in her foods or to give it to her in supplement form. Because taurine plays such an integral role in cat health it is now sold in both powder and capsule supple- metformin at most pet supply stores and natural health grocers.
When it comes to protein, cats digest chicken, lamb, turkey, and rabbit best. Many have problems breaking down pork, and some just do not like beef. And fish, while it can seem like it is your cat’s favorite, should be kept to a minimum. Fish often releases a high amount of histamines in cats. Histamines are chemicals the immune system produces that cause inflammation and other allergic reaction symptoms, such as scabby, itchy skin, and itchy ears. If you know your cat is not allergic to fish, you may give it as a special treat maybe once or twice a week. However, be aware that even if your cat is not allergic to it, too much can lead to nutrient deficiencies because fish does not contain taurine and other essential amino acids. Aside from the potential health issues, fish seems to have an addictive quality to it. The reason is unknown, but cats fed fish on a regular basis often refuse to eat other forms of meat and become more finicky than usual.
Eggs, on the other hand, are an excellent source of protein for your cat. But you must serve them cooked because there is a greater risk of bacterial infections from raw eggs. You must also use both the yolk and white parts of the egg. The white has the protein, and the yolk has the fat and other nutrients. Both parts are easily digestible, and cats seem to enjoy them equally. One large egg provides about six grams of protein, which is a little more than an ounce of chicken, beef, fish, or other animal proteins. You can feed your cat eggs every day as long as this is not the only source of protein you provide her. If you do follow this regimen, be sure to supplement the eggs with essential amino acids and a variety of healthy carbohydrates, which will be discussed later in this chapter.
When humans become vegetarians, they learn how to fulfill their bodies’ need for protein via plant matter. Soy, wheat gluten, corn, nuts, rice, and beans are all plants that contain good sources of protein. However, they are only good sources of protein for humans and not for cats for a couple of reasons:
1. Your cat cannot digest grains very well. Wheat and corn will cause her intestinal distress if you rely on it to fulfill her protein requirements.
2. None of the plant proteins contain arginine or taurine, the key essential amino acids for your cat’s health. Cats are carnivores. Nature has created the perfect protein sources for their health in the animal species they eat.