Choosy Cats Know Their Nutrients
December 17, 2012

Choosy Cats Know Their Nutrients, Sniff Out Right Mix Of Carbs, Fats and Protein

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Cat owners know their favorite felines can be quite finicky, but a new study shows that they can navigate a mixture of wet and dry food offerings to intake their target amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates necessary for homeostasis.

According to a report on the study that appeared in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B, domestic cats regulate their dietary intake by selecting food despite differences in the macronutrient content, moisture and texture.

At first blush, a domestic cat´s mealtime would appear to involve the relatively simple task of eating the food that is set in front of it. However, the scientists were able to show that the cat performs a highly selective process every time it stoops down to eat its food.

In three separate experiments, cats were fed wet and dry foods in different combinations: 1 wet and 3 dry; 1 dry and 3 wet; 3 wet and 3 dry. Within each experiment, the feline subjects were offered the wet and dry food combinations in both a “naïve” and “experienced” diet selection phase, where all the foods were given simultaneously. In another phase of the experiment, the foods were offered in six different combinations (1 wet with 1 dry) sequentially in 3-day cycles.

Throughout all the different cycles and combinations of food offerings, the cats were able to maintain the same balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate intake, according to the report.

The researchers also found that the ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates selected by the cats were consistent with a 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2011, which showed that cats target about 52 percent of their daily calorie intake from protein, 36 percent from fat and 12 percent from carbohydrates. Incidentally, the same selective nutrient ratio was observed in feral cats as well, suggesting that domestic cats´ intake closely matches the "natural" diet of their wild ancestors.

The researchers also noted in their study that the cats tended to avoid the dry food with the highest concentration of carbohydrate more than any other vittles. The researchers speculated that cats have evolved to consume a relatively low-carbohydrate diet, and the introduction of high-carbohydrate foods from their human companions is a relatively recent development. Despite the presence of dry food, which is relatively rich in carbohydrates, the cats were still able to hit their dietary targets through selective eating.

"This research has important implications for owners as it shows that cats are able to select and combine wet and dry foods to achieve their target intake of protein, fat and carbohydrate,” said study author Adrian Hewson-Hughes, a scientist at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England.

“In terms of products currently on the market, wet foods typically have higher proportions of protein and fat, while dry foods have a higher carbohydrate content."

"Providing cats with a combination of both wet and dry foods enables them to not only mix a diet in line with their preferred macronutrient target, but also express their desire to sample different foods,” he added.