Cats Are Obligate Carnivores — What That Means & Why It Matters


Next time you catch your cat napping in a sliver of afternoon sunlight, think tiger. Think lion. You wouldn’t think a lion or tiger would eat a plant-based weight-reduction plan, right? In fact not! Big cats are obligate carnivores, which suggests eating meat is totally biologically essential to their survival.

Your little tiger isn’t much different. Domestic cats are true obligate carnivores who must eat meat to ensure that her body to receive certain vital compounds for her long-term health and well-being.

Cats need more protein than humans or dogs, in response to Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, board-certified veterinary nutritionist, head of the Obesity Clinic for Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Kittens need more protein than most other animals, and adult cats need two to 3 times more protein than dogs, she adds.

Vegetarian or vegan diets fail to supply the amino acids crucial for correct feline health and are too high in carbohydrates that cats haven’t evolved to have the option to process, in response to Marla McGeorge, JD, DVM, a feline specialist consultant in Portland, Oregon.

(Is being vegan healthy for YOU? Come discover >>)

Obligate carnivores — what exactly does that mean?

Cats are obligate carnivores but what does that actually mean? Photography ©Voren1 | Getty Images.

Before we go any further, let’s clear about what exactly obligate carnivores are:

  • Obligate (adjective): ob•li•gate • biologically essential for survival • restricted to at least one particularly characteristic mode of life
  • Carnivore (noun): automobile•ni•vore • an animal that feeds primarily or exclusively on animal matter

Must-have nutrients for cats

One vital amino acid that cats can’t get from any source apart from animal protein is taurine. Cats can’t make taurine from other amino acids as most mammals can, said Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, Professor of Internal Medicine and Nutrition on the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

When cats are fed a weight-reduction plan too low in taurine, they will suffer retinal degeneration, dilated cardiomyopathy and reproductive issues, in response to Dr. Linder. While all cat foods should include taurine, she says, the full amount within the weight-reduction plan isn’t the one essential factor. Other ingredients within the weight-reduction plan can affect how taurine is broken down within the gut and the way bioavailable it’s to the cat, so it’s essential to feed a weight-reduction plan that has been fastidiously formulated and tested, she adds.

Cats also lack the enzyme needed to make their very own arginine, one other amino acid present in animal protein, so it have to be provided in higher amounts of their weight-reduction plan, in response to Dr. Linder. Arginine is involved in removing ammonia from the body; if this function is impaired, cats can suffer weight reduction, vomiting, neurological issues and even death.

A meat-rich weight-reduction plan also provides vitamin A, a nutrient that cats are unable to convert from beta-carotene, in addition to other certain key nutrients, including arachidonic acid and vitamin B12, which might’t be sufficiently obtained from plant-based foods, says Dr. Bartges. With out a regular supply of those nutrients, cats can suffer from liver and heart problems, not to say skin irritation and hearing loss, he says.
Feline diets also need added niacin and vitamin D3, in response to Dr. Linder.

What protein is best for cats?

What protein is best for cats? Photography ©GlobalP | Getty Images.

As to which animal protein is best for these obligate carnivores — beef, chicken or fish — there isn’t any one best type, in response to Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVN, emeritus professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Actually, it doesn’t really matter if a cat gets her protein from dry or wet food, so long as she eats the food and it satisfies her dietary needs, says Dr. Buffington. The secret’s to review the label. Industrial cat food labels should say that the product is formulated to fulfill Association of American Feed Control Officials nutrient profiles and complies with its guidelines, meaning it’s nutritionally complete, balanced and appropriate in your cat’s age. In fact, in case your cat has specific dietary needs, at all times follow your veterinarian’s recommendations, he adds.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Nataliia Pyzhova | Getty Images.

In regards to the writer

Ellyce Rothrock spent half her life with Flea, a Maine Coon who lived to be 21 and is missed each day. She’s currently in search of a feline friend to administer Fritz and Mina, her German Shepherd rescues. She’s lucky enough to live her passion for pets as a 25-year member of the pet media industry.

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