You may have heard people call cats obligatory carnivores, but what exactly does that mean? And how does it affect what a cat can eat?
Simply put, an obligatory carnivore means that a cat must consume meat in order to survive. Eating meat is a cat’s biological need, so the majority of a cat’s diet must consist of meat.
Due to the makeup of a cat’s digestive system, they are prepared to eat meat, but they would struggle with a purely plant-based diet. Since cats are obligatory carnivores, the ASPCA does not recommend a vegan diet for cats. In her words:
“Feeding a cat a plant-based diet is similar to feeding a cow a meat-based diet – their digestive system is not designed and they will not thrive on it.”
For comparison, while cats are mandatory carnivores and must eat meat to survive, dogs are omnivores, which means they need a mixture of meat and plants to support their daily diet.
Adequate nutrition for obligatory carnivores
Meat protein should make up the majority of a cat’s diet. One reason for this is that a cat’s digestive tract is much shorter than the digestive tract of many other animals, which means it can digest proteins very quickly.
Because of this, most of the cat foods you can buy are based on high protein ingredients like chicken, beef, and fish.
Think of it this way: in the wild, you may occasionally see a cat chew on a piece of grass or a plant, but most of its food comes from catching animal prey. This is exactly how cats are genetically built.
What if a cat doesn’t eat enough meat?
When a cat’s diet does not contain enough meat protein, the chances are their body is breaking down its own internal organs to meet its energy needs.
In addition, cats need sufficient amounts of the amino acid taurine, which they cannot synthesize and manufacture themselves. Taurine is found in meat.
If a cat becomes taurine deficient, it can develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart condition that can stop the body from receiving oxygen. A lack of taurine can also lead to cat blindness.
Can cats eat anything other than meat?
As obligatory carnivores, the majority of a cat’s daily diet should consist of meat protein. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t add a small amount of other foods to meat.
Certain fruits and vegetables can be useful as a snack or supplement, including pumpkin, carrots, green beans, and melon. However, it is important to ensure that meatless foods are not a large part of a cat’s diet as they can lead to a number of health problems, including gastrointestinal disorders and weight problems.
When it comes to maintaining a balanced diet for your cat, consult your veterinarian if you are considering adding meatless foods to daily meals. Your vet can advise on a safe amount of meatless food for your cat.
What do you think of cats being obligatory carnivores? What type of meat proteins does your cat love the most? Let us know what you think in the comments below!