Feeding Your Cat a Natural Diet

The nutritional elements in the food we eat are highly important to our quality of health, and can either support or harm our well-being, depending on their quantity. 

For animals, this is equally true, particularly for common types of pets such as cats, whose meals mostly come in the form of commercially produced pet foods these days.

Dietary Requirements

Cats have a diet that has certain requirements that need to be met through the food they eat. Whether in the wild or at home in a domestic situation, cats have carnivorous eating habits and behavior that still bear the distinct traits of its ancestors in the Felidae family.

Felines have traditionally consumed their food in a fresh, raw and unprocessed state, and fulfilled their dietary requirements through the digestion of prey they have caught and killed – inclusive of bones, muscle, skin and organs.

All cats, wild or otherwise, eat very little carbohydrates and are not an animal species suited to plant-based diets or vegetarian type meals. Their natural diets are strictly based on animal fats and proteins which provide an adequate supply of essential amino acids – in particular, taurine.

Feeding The Domestic Cat

No longer needing to chase after its food source, the domestic cat relies on its owner to provide it with its meals. Now enjoying the possibility of daily feeding schedules, there is no hunting to be done or times of starvation as it would in the wild.

The modern cat now finds itself able to eat on a regular basis, whether that is once, twice, or sometimes throughout the day by snacking on a supply of dry food, such as cat biscuits.

Most often the food consumed by a domestic cat is of a processed, highly palatable nature, and enhanced through the use of additives and flavorings to increase taste appeal. This does not necessarily mean an improvement or benefit in the nutritional value of the food, however.

“Animals can react in a similar way to humans to some colorings and preservatives in food, resulting in behavioral and physical problems, such as hyperactivity, altered immune function and allergies.” (Harris, p. 33)

Dry cat foodCredit: User:Alvimann/ morgueFile

Commercial Cat Food

With its food made up of multiple ingredients of varying quality, the domestic cat’s nutrition is rarely as natural as that of a wild cat. 

As a cat owner, you can find an array of products to choose from at outlets such as your local veterinary clinic, grocery store, or pet shop, but still not really know what food type or appropriate vitamin intake is even best for your cat.

While processed commercial pet foods can be appreciated for their long shelf life, convenience and their ease of storage, it is in the mass manufacture of these foods that the structure and valuable nutrients become altered and damaged through cooking and excessive processing. 

Elements such as essential fatty acids, considered healthy and needed in a cat’s diet, can be added safely in a moist homemade diet of raw or lightly cooked meat, but when included in commercial foods, the integrity of the ingredient is more often destroyed.

“Essential fatty acids especially are very sensitive to heat damage, and can go from a very important dietary component to a heat-denatured oil that has the potential to cause serious healthy problems in the long term.” (Harris, p. 33)

Liddy the cat hanging out in the treehouseCredit: User:katmystiry / morgueFile

Importance of Water

Water is also a significant factor when considering a cat’s diet and food intake, whether the animal is wild or domestic. While a wild cat is able to obtain adequate moisture from what it kills, for a house cat feeding on dry foods, cat biscuits do not offer healthy nutrition.

Produced by overcooking and the removal of most water content, dry foods are made from proteins derived from inexpensive plant sources and carbohydrates. A nutrient not needed or beneficial to a domestic (or wild) cat’s diet, carbohydrates are overall detrimental to a cat’s health contributing to obesity and diabetes.

Moist pet foods, typically packed in cans, provide a healthier alternative and although still containing carbohydrates among its ingredients, a much higher ratio of water and proteins are available in the cat’s meal. “Canned foods therefore more closely approximate the natural diet of the cat and are better suited to meet the cat’s water needs.” (Pierson, 2010)

Ending Note

It is apparent that a feline's natural diet has an important role to play in understanding the right food to feed a domestic cat. 

While top brand commercial foods have strict quality standards and can supply the nutrients an animal requires on a daily basis, it proves that it is up to us, as owners, to meet our pet’s needs through informed decision.

Next article: Why Your Cat Can't Go Vegan