Navigate to chapter
► Chapter One: Understanding Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs
► Chapter Two: Are All Commercial Cat Foods Bad?
► Chapter Four: Risks and Rewards of Homemade Cat Food
► Chapter Five: A Raw Diet for Your Cat
► Chapter Six: Homemade Cat Food Recipes
► Chapter Seven: Homemade Treat Recipes
► Chapter Eight: Frequently Asked Questions
Chapter One: Understanding Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs
In order to decide whether or not a homemade cat food diet will meet your cat’s nutritional needs, you first need to cultivate an understanding of what those needs are. Cats need many of the same essential nutrients as humans but in very different ratios. If you do not choose a diet that is properly formulated for cats, your cat could end up suffering from nutritional deficiencies or other health problems. In this chapter you will receive an overview of cat nutrition to help you decide whether switching to homemade cat food might benefit your cat.
The first thing you need to understand about cat nutrition is that cats are obligate carnivores – this means that their bodies are designed to derive nutrition primarily from animal products, not plant products. Meat plays a key role in your cat’s nutrition, though it is not the only source of nutrition you should be thinking about. Like all living things, cats require a balance of the three main nutrients (called macronutrients) as well as certain levels of lesser nutrients like vitamins and minerals (called micronutrients). The three macronutrients that all living things need are protein, fat, and carbohydrate. You will find an overview of each of these macronutrients in the following pages.
This macronutrient is made up of amino acids which form the building blocks of healthy muscle and tissue. Protein is the most important nutritional consideration for cats because it plays a key role in maintaining essential biological functions. Protein also provides your cat’s body with the carbon chains needed to produce glucose to be used for energy. For cats, protein should come from meat, fish, and eggs.
There are twenty-two different amino acids that cats need to maintain healthy bodily function. Your cat’s body is capable of synthesizing (producing) eleven of those amino acids – the other eleven must come from dietary sources. The amino acids your cat’s body cannot produce on his own are called “essential amino acids”. For cats, the eleven essential amino acids are:
Not only is protein very important for cats because it is what their bodies are designed to digest, but certain amino acids can ONLY come from animal sources – this includes arginine and taurine. It is also important to note that most animal proteins are also complete proteins. A complete protein is one which contains all of the eleven essential amino acids. Most animal products like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are complete proteins.
After protein, dietary fat is the second most important nutritional consideration for cats. Fat is a highly concentrated source of energy and it contains essential fatty acids that your cat’s body needs to help transport and utilize key nutrients. Fats can be derived from both plant and animal sources but, as is the case with protein, animal-based fats are more biologically valuable to your cat than plant-based sources. This simply means that they are easier for your cat’s body to digest, absorb, and utilize.
Fatty acids help to maintain healthy cell structure and function in your cat’s body – they also help to transport fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body. Fats also play an important role in keeping your cat’s skin and coat healthy – you can tell that a cat doesn’t have enough fat in its diet if its coat is dull and rough. Cats need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in their diet. Some omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The four omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid (LA), gamma linolenic acid (GLA), dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
Like amino acids, essential fatty acids are those that your cat cannot synthesize on his own so they must come from his diet. In terms of how much your cat needs of these essential fatty acids, research is still being conducted but current recommendations for the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for cats are between 10:1 and 5:1. Many commercial cat foods have high levels of omega-6 fatty acids and they actually add omega-3 supplements to help lower the ratio. If you choose to make your own homemade cat food, you will need to make sure that these fatty acids are properly balanced.
For humans, the typical American diet is very carbohydrate-centered. For many people, the typical meal consists largely of grains or starchy foods (like rice, pasta, or bread) with some kind of meat and perhaps a side dish of vegetables. The human body is designed to effectively process carbohydrates and to break them down into glucose molecules which can be used immediately for energy. Your cat’s body is not designed this way – in fact, cats have no biological requirement for carbohydrates in their diet. The only carbohydrates that wild cats eat come from the stomach contents of their prey.
Given this information, it should be easy to see the problem with many commercial cat foods that are largely made up of grains and other carbohydrates with meat playing a secondary role. Although cats do not have any specific requirements for carbohydrate in their diet, carbs do offer some nutritional benefit. Cats can derive a limited amount of energy from carbs and they also provide dietary fiber which helps to support a healthy digestive system. It is important to ensure, however, that any carbohydrate your cat does get from his diet is easily digestible.
Now that you have a better understanding of the three key macronutrients your cat needs, you may be wondering exactly how much of each he should get in his diet. Different pet experts and animal nutritionists will give you different values but The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition suggests a macronutrient ratio for cats of 50% protein, 40% fat, and 10% carbohydrate. Remember, both protein and fats should come from animal-based sources like meat, fish, poultry, and eggs.
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