Top 6 Essential Nutrients Cats Need For Healthy Living - And Why

Cats are obligate carnivores and are very different from dogs and people in their nutritional needs. What does it mean to be an obligate carnivore? It means that cats are strict carnivores that rely on nutrients in animal tissue to meet their specific nutritional requirements.

In their natural habitat, cats are hunters that consume prey high in protein with moderate amounts of fat and minimal amounts of carbohydrates. Cats also require more than a dozen nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids. 

These nutrients are the building blocks of various structural body tissues are essential for chemical reactions (metabolism, catabolism) transport substances into, around, and out of the body; supply energy for growth and maintenance; and provide palatability.

Although many cats are content to eat a single product, some cats may develop finicky eating habits and become very selective about what foods they'll accept.

Feeding your cat two or three different cat foods provides flavor variety, and may prevent your cat from developing an exclusive preference for a single food, so that if a medical condition dictates a change in diet, your cat may have an easier time adjusting.

Also remember that not eating can lead to serious medical problems in cats. This is true for sick cats that lack an appetite, for cats on a diet, and for the finicky cat that refuses to eat. A veterinarian should examine any cat that refuses to eat and is losing weight.

If you would like to learn about what your cats body needs, and why, here are the six essential classes of nutrients fundamental for healthy living:

1. Water is the most important nutrient.
Essential to life, water accounts for between 60 to 70 percent of an adult pet’s body weight. 

While food may help meet some of your pet's water needs (dry food has up to 10 percent moisture, while canned food has up to 78 percent moisture), pets need to have fresh clean water available to them at all times. 

A deficiency of water may have serious repercussions for pets: a 10-percent decrease in body water can cause serious illness, while a 15-percent loss can result in death.

2. Proteins
are the basic building blocks for cells, tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones and antibodies, and are essential for growth, maintenance, reproduction and repair. Proteins can be obtained from a number of sources. 

Animal-based proteins such as chicken, lamb, turkey, beef, fish and egg have complete amino acid profiles. (Please note: Do not give your pet raw eggs. Raw egg white contains avidin, an anti-vitamin that interferes with the metabolism of fats, glucose, amino acids and energy.) 

Protein is also found in vegetables, cereals and soy, but these are considered incomplete proteins.

3. Fats are the most concentrated form of food energy, providing your pet with more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates. Fats are essential in the structure of cells and are needed for the production of some hormones. 

They are required for absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins. Fats provide the body insulation and protection for internal organs. Essential fatty acids must be provided in a pet’s diet because they cannot be synthesized by a cat in sufficient amounts. 

A deficiency of essential fatty acids may result in reduced growth or increased skin problems. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid for cats. Arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, is also essential for cats for the maintenance of the skin and coat, for kidney function and for reproduction.

4. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids
play a vital role in healing inflammation. Replacing some omega-6 with omega-3 fatty acids can lessen an inflammatory reaction—whether it is in the skin (due to allergies), the joints (from arthritis), the intestines (from inflammatory bowel disease) or even in the kidneys (from progressive renal failure).

5. Carbohydrates provide energy for the body’s tissues, play a vital role in the health of the intestine, and are likely to be important for reproduction. While there is no minimum carbohydrate requirement, there is a minimum glucose requirement necessary to supply energy to critical organs (i.e. the brain). 

Fibers are kinds of carbohydrates that modify the mix of the bacterial population in the small intestine, which can help manage chronic diarrhea. For cats to obtain the most benefit from fiber, the fiber source must bemoderately fermentable. 

Fiber sources that have low fermentability (e.g. cellulose) result in poor development and less surface area of the intestinal mucosa. Highly fermentable fibers can produce gases and by-products that can lead to flatulence and excess mucus.

Moderately fermentable fibers—including beet pulp, which is commonly used in cat foods—are best, as they promote a healthy gut while avoiding the undesirable side effects. 

Other examples of moderately fermentable fibers include brans (corn, rice and wheat) and wheat middlings. Foods that are high in fiber are not good for cats with high energy requirements, such as those who are young and growing.

6. Vitamins are catalysts for enzyme reactions. Tiny amounts of vitamins are essential to cats for normal metabolic functioning. Most vitamins cannot be synthesized in the body, and therefore are essential in the diet.

When feeding a complete and balanced diet, it is unnecessary to give a vitamin supplement unless a specific vitamin deficiency is diagnosed by a veterinarian. Due to the practice of over supplementation, hypervitaminosis—poisoning due to excess vitamins—is more common these days than hypovitaminosis, or vitamin deficiency! (Note: I give my cats "Nutro" which gives them a strong immune system)

Excess vitamin A may result in bone and joint pain, brittle bones and dry skin. Excess vitamin D may result in very dense bones, soft tissue calcification and joint calcification.

Minerals are inorganic compounds that are not metabolized and yield no energy. These nutrients cannot be synthesized by animals and must be provided in the diet. In general, minerals are most important as structural constituents of bones and teeth, for maintaining fluid balance and for their involvement in many metabolic reactions.

Diet is the brick and mortar of health. This article lays out some often ignored principles of feline nutrition and explains why cats have a better chance at optimal health if they are fed pet canned food (or a balanced homemade diet) instead of dry kibble.

Putting a little thought into what you feed your cat(s) can pay big dividends over their lifetime and very possibly help them avoid serious, painful, and costly illnesses. 

An increasing number of nutrition savvy veterinarians, including board-certified veterinary internists, are now strongly recommending the feeding of canned food instead of dry kibble.

The three key negative issues associated with dry food are:

1) water content is too low
2) carbohydrate load is too high
3) type of protein - too high in plant-based versus animal-based proteins

In addition, dry food is very heavily processed which includes being subjected to high temperatures for a long time resulting in alteration and destruction of nutrients.

Dry food is also often contaminated with bacteria, fungal mycotoxins, storage mites/cockroaches and their feces, etc.

Most people who are concerned about their own nutrition have heard nutritionists say "shop the perimeter of the grocery store." This statement refers to the push to get humans to focus on fresh food - not overly processed food found in boxes and cans.

Also keep in mind that dry foods are not refrigerated and they sit in warm warehouses, on pet store shelves, and in your cupboards for weeks or months before your pets consume them. Fats can easily become rancid, and bacteria will proliferate, in this type of environment.

There is no doubt that dry food is responsible for far more intestinal problems, and other diseases, than most veterinarians and cat owners realize.

Common medical problems associated with dry food:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Cystitis/Urethral blockage/Urinary tract infection/Crystals
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Hairballs
  • Obesity
  • Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver disease)
  • Dental health
  • Asthma
Here are some of the most common ingredients:
  • Meat: Cleaned flesh from chicken, lamb, turkey, cattle, and related animals that have been slaughtered specifically for animal feed purposes. However, flesh means more than skin. It may include muscle, (including the diaphragm), fat, nerves, blood vessels from the skin, the heart, esophagus, and the tongue.
  • Meat by-product: Clean, nonflesh parts from the same animals mentioned above. This can include the blood, bone, brain, liver, lungs, liver, kidneys, and emptied stomach and intestines. There are no hooves, hair, horns, or teeth in meat byproducts. Chicken by-products are feather-free.
  • Beef tallow: A fat made from beef.
  • Meal: Finely ground tissue.
  • Bone meal: Finely ground bone from slaughtered feed animals.
  • Fish meal: Clean, ground undecomposed whole fish or fish pieces. The fish may or may not still contain fish oil.
  • Ground corn: Chopped or ground corn kernels. This is a GMO product and should not be eaten by cats...it can cause allergies and even cancer.
  • Corn gluten meal: A product that forms after corn syrup or starch is made. This also should not be eaten by cats as it can cause an overload of surgars/carbs which can cause diabetes or obesity.
Focus on Nutrients, Not Ingredients

This is where the label's “Guaranteed Analysis” comes into play. It lists nutrients found in cat food.

Everyone's lives are different and there are several ways to successfully feed your cat high quality nutrition. 

The goal of this article is to arm you with knowledge regarding the special dietary needs of your cat so you can make an informed decision on how and what to feed while striking a balance that works for both of you.

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