The food you feed your cat is the single most important thing you can do for its health, happiness and well-being, so understanding cat nutrition is essential for a responsible cat owner.
We've put together this page of resources and essential information to help guide you in the right direction and keep your cat healthy and happy throughout all the stages of their life.
Cat Nutritional Requirements
At the most basic level, there are 41 essential nutrients required by cats (in comparison to 37 in dogs).
Cats vary from many species in their different nutritional requirements for protein, certain amino acids, and vitamins. They also have much shorter intestines than dogs, meaning that they are comparatively less able to digest plant material.
The nutritional needs of any individual cat can also be affected by its lifestyle, so an indoor cat and an outdoor cat will have completely different requirements. Other factors that dictate a cat's nutritional requirements, such as it's age or reproductive state (e.g. in-kitten or neutered).
Fortunately, the pet food industry in the UK has various cat foods available which take these factors into account to ensure you're providing adequate nutrients in your cat's diet.
Below are some of the essential nutrients you need to ensure are present in your cat's diet and why they are so important for a healthy cat to thrive.
Protein is an essential nutrient in your cat's diet, which helps the building of body tissues (including muscle), forms the basis for enzymes (substances needed for body function) and is involved in the prevention of disease.
Amino acids are the individual components that make up a protein. When it comes to cat nutrition, cats have higher requirements for proteins and amino acids than dogs. Cats break down protein very rapidly and are unable to adapt when dietary supplies are low by reducing the rate of breakdown.
Cats are very sensitive to developing a deficiency in the amino acid arginine. This amino acid is essential for metabolism, and cats not only break it down quickly but are unable to make their own. Arginine deficiency is more likely to become a problem if a low protein is fed because the arginine content is also likely to be low.
Another essential amino acid for cats is taurine, which is needed for eyesight, heart function, bile formation and reproduction in female cats. Cats are not able to make enough taurine themselves and rely on it being provided in their food. Nearly all taurine comes from meat, poultry or shellfish, so cats should never be fed as vegetarians.
Cats also need a dietary source of the essential fatty acid arachidonic acid as they are unable to make enough of their own. Arachidonic acid is found in animal fat sources only and is another reason cats must not be fed as vegetarians.
In most animal species, vitamin A is made inside their bodies. However, cats cannot make vitamin A, so it must be provided in the diet, either naturally or as a supplement.
Niacin, or nicotinic acid, is a B-complex vitamin which, in dogs, can be made using the amino acid tryptophan. The enzyme system responsible for this conversion does not work well in cats and they also need much more of this vitamin than dogs.