Pioneering research has shown that, when given the choice, cats will consistently select food that is nutritionally very similar to their natural prey, such as mice and birds.
In the most extensive research of its kind, scientists at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition have demonstrated that healthy pet cats regulate the amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate they consume.
“These findings mark an important step forward in the field of pet nutrition and significantly further understanding of the feeding behaviour of pet cats,” commented lead study author Dr Adrian Hewson-Hughes. “It is particularly remarkable that, even after thousands of years of domestication, cats still select a diet nutritionally similar to their natural prey.”
This research could have important implications for developing optimised diets that address the specific needs of pet cats. In terms of products currently on the market, wet foods are generally higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate and often very similar to the levels favoured by cats, while dry foods offer textural variety and may also benefit oral health.
In a series of studies carried out over a two-year period, researchers at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition demonstrated that cats have an intake target that equates to approximately 52% of their daily calorie intake from protein, 36% from fat and 12% from carbohydrate. “This is a fascinating discovery and we are intrigued to know more about why cats have the ability to do this,” said Dr Hewson-Hughes.
WALTHAM intends to pursue further research in this area and will now focus on the selection of these key nutrients in other cat life-stages including gestation, lactation and growth, as well as in dogs.
This research was carried out in collaboration with two leading scientists in this field, Professor Steve Simpson based at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Australia and Professor David Raubenheimer at the Institute of Natural Sciences, Massey University, New Zealand.
The research has been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology and is now available free online: http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/full/214/6/1039