How Cats Can Achieve a Consistent Intake of Macronutrients

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Research from WALTHAM Shows that Cats are Able to Navigate Complex Combinations of Wet and Dry Foods to Achieve a Consistent Intake of Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate


Feeding a combination of wet and dry foods allows cats to mix a diet that meets their macronutrient target.

Even when provided with complex combinations of different wet and dry foods, cats are able to select and combine the foods in different amounts to achieve a consistent intake of protein, fat and carbohydrate, i.e. macronutrient intake. Published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B, the research shows that cats regulate their macronutrient intake by altering their food selection despite differences in the macronutrient content, moisture level and texture of foods.

The research was conducted by scientists from the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition – the science centre underpinning Mars Petcare brands such as WHISKAS®, NUTRO® and ROYAL CANIN®. It was undertaken in collaboration with scientists from the University of Sydney (Australia) and the Institute of Natural Sciences at Massey University (New Zealand).

In a series of three experiments, cats were provided with wet and dry foods in different combinations. Within each experiment, cats were offered the wet and dry food combinations in two (naïve and experienced) diet selection phases where all the foods were offered simultaneously. This was separated by a phase in which the foods were offered in pairs (1 wet with 1 dry) sequentially in 3-day cycles. The findings showed that the cats achieved the same balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate intake when provided with pairs of foods over 3 day cycles as they did when offered all the foods simultaneously. Importantly, this macronutrient balance was remarkably consistent across all experiments despite the very different food combinations offered.

Cat Eating 4 1c

The proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrate selected by the cats were in line with previous findings published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2011 showing that cats have a dietary macronutrient intake target of approximately 52% of their daily calorie intake from protein, 36% from fat and 12% from carbohydrate. These are similar to values reported for feral cats, indicating that domestic cats have retained the capacity to regulate macronutrient intake to closely match the “natural” diet of their wild ancestors.

Commenting on the impact of the research, study author and WALTHAM scientist, Dr Adrian Hewson-Hughes noted: “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. 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.”

Dr Hewson-Hughes continued: “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.”

WALTHAM is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of companion animals. This research forms part of a wider programme of ongoing collaborative research into the feeding behaviour of cats and dogs.

The research has been published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B and is available free of charge online.

Link to paper in Journal of Comparative Physiology