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I recently spoke with my mother-in-law about one of her cats who is not eating well and losing weight and so my thoughts today are to write about feeding our cat companions. There is an ideal approach to cat nutrition, however, there is also a very important exception to this ideal approach. 
I have spoken to many clients about our purring feline companions being "obligate carnivores." In other words, they are creatures designed and obligated to eat meat. A feline in the wild will have little, if any, direct ingestion of plant material. The analogy I often use is that of a cat living in a corn field. If there are no mice, voles, birds or other small prey to eat the cat would not turn to eat an ear of corn to survive. The cat would starve to death without meat. A cat's anatomy and physiology is designed to consume a diet rich in protein and fat with little to no carbohydrates (grain).

The teeth of a cat are sharp and designed to puncture and cut through meat and to do very little chewing. In fact, a cat's jaw can only move up and down and has no ability to make a lateral chewing motion.  Cats also have a relatively short small intestine and stomach designed for digesting small, protein rich meals.
Evolution of the cat has enhanced and eliminated certain biochemical functions because they are meat eaters. For example, a dog can convert the carotenes found in fruits and vegetables into vitamin A. But the cat cannot derive vitamin A from plant sources and must rely on animal sources, such as organ meat (liver), to get the essential nutrient need of vitamin A met.

Cats simply do not have a dietary requirement for carbohydrates (grain) and yet most cat food is made with corn and rice and other grains very similar to the diets made for dogs.
A high protein diet is ideal. It is extremely important to note, however, that essential nutrients are missing from feeding just canned tuna, canned chicken or chicken livers and significant disease can be the result of feeding such a limited diet.
The good news is that there are formulated cat diets, both canned and dry, that are high protein and grain free. All the essential nutrients are met with these diets and are ideal for our carnivore cats. It is my suggestion to try a grain free diet to enhance the health and well-being of your cat. However, this is where I get to the big exception to this ideal feeding approach.

Domesticated cats often start life on a grain based kibble diet which accounts for the great majority of cat food available and this leads some cats to becoming what I refer to as "carbohydrate junkies". 
These cats likely crave the sugar high that comes with digesting corn and rice and other grains in their meal. And although they are obligate carnivores some of our domesticated cats will refuse to eat a high protein diet. While many cats make the diet transition from a grain based diet to a meat protein based diet smoothly, others will not. And while a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet is an ideal approach to feeding our carnivore cats, it is even more important that a cat eat every day even if it means feeding a carbohydrate based diet. If you have a "carbohydrate junkie" try to find food with meat listed as the first one or two ingredients rather than corn. Try a high protein diet or your cat, but more importantly, make sure your cat eats every day.

Kindest wishes,
Dr. Jacquie

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