Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must eat meat to meet their nutritional needs and to thrive. As a true carnivore, they lack the physiology to efficiently digest vegetable matter.
Cats are fueled by protein and fat - not carbohydrates. As a matter of fact, cats do not produce the enzymes necessary to digest carbs. In the wild, the only carbohydrates (vegetable matter) they eat are those already digested by their prey. When we feed our cats vegetables, it is mostly for fiber. Their bodies do absorb some vitamins and minerals from vegetables, but animal tissue is the true source for a cat's nutritional needs.
What about cat grass (wheat grass, barley grass and oat grass)? Cats love cat grass! Their bodies mostly use this to settle an upset stomach or simply as something tasty to chew on.
Grains are a big no-no for cats. They fill no nutritional need. Grains can lead to inflammation, which is the basis of most diseases. Grains can be a major factor in obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, arthritis and more.
A cat's digestive tract (like all carnivores) is much different than a human's. They have sharp canine teeth for tearing skin and flesh, large stomachs with strong acids to quickly digest meat, bones and skin, and short intestines to process and eliminate waste. Humans have rounded canines for tearing fibers from vegetables and fruits, saliva that produces the enzyme amylase, which begins the breaking down of carbohydrates, small stomachs that break down foods and long intestines where most nutrients are absorbed into the body.
The protein in animal tissue has a complete amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Proteins derived from plants do not contain all the amino acids critical for the health of a cat. While humans have the physiological ability to turn plant proteins into the missing pieces needed for a complete amino acid profile, a cat's body is not equipped to do this.
One of the amino acids missing in plants is taurine. While humans and dogs create taurine in their bodies, cats can not. Taurine deficiency causes serious health problems in cats, including blindness and heart disease.
Taurine is found in animal muscle and organ meats, especially heart and liver. Some people feel it is okay to feed a cat a vegetarian diet and supplement with a taurine pill. This is like eating iceberg lettuce as your sole food source and then taking a synthetic multivitamin to make up the difference. It simply won’t work. Supplements are just well, supplementation. They are in addition to, not instead of.
It is also important to feed your cat proteins with a high biological value. That means muscle and organ meat, not feet and beaks, which is what many commercial cat foods pass off as meat. Just because the first ingredient on a label says 'chicken,' it doesn't mean that it is sourced from muscle or organ meat. Look for words like ‘white breast meat’ or ‘thigh meat’ on the label.
As a vegetarian, I understand that it is not right for me to push my eating philosophy on any other species - especially ones that are obligate carnivores. Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, offers advice to those wishing to feed their pet a vegetarian diet - keep a vegetarian pet, not a carnivore!
Lap of Love's Pet Nutrition Specialist
Jodi offers Skype/Phone consultations with pet parents across the country seeking guidance with their geriatric or terminally ill dog or cat. She will help formulate a diet that not only meets each pet's unique nutritional needs, but their human's schedule as well. For those living in South Florida, Jodi is available for in-home consultations.