Nutrition is always paramount when it comes to keeping cats healthy! Cats thrive on good nutrition in the right proportions to help them grow, maintain a healthy weight, and boost their immunity.
Now, when healthy eating is this crucial, it is equally important to know what goes into cat food to make it nutritional. Cats derive their nutrition from a variety of ingredients that contain nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. A common misconception about nutrients is that energy is also a nutrient, however, energy comes from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and is known as dietary energy.
So, what should you look for?
All types of protein are broken down into amino acids in the body and stored for when they are required, then they are reassembled into the type of protein the cat needs at that time. Amino acids are classified into essential and non-essential amino acids. A cat's body can make all non-essential amino acids, however, there are eleven essential amino acids that need to be supplied through their diet - Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Taurine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. These amino acids are mainly found in meat, bones, and animal tissue, which is why cats cannot survive on a vegetarian diet. When buying cat food, it is important to look at the crude protein levels in the guaranteed analysis of the packaged food. Crude protein is a round-off of the amount of protein present in the food. By analysing the crude protein levels, you can determine how much protein is present in each brand of cat food - remember, however, dry food crude protein cannot be compared to wet food crude protein.
Fats are an important source of energy for cats. They also transport molecules and conduct nerve impulses. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are important for skin health, coat appearance, wound healing, and helping with inflammation. Essential fatty acids are found in salmon, chicken, liver, mutton, beef, and other animal meats. Sometimes, high-quality cat food includes fat in the form of oils derived from animal meat. Like with proteins, crude fat is analyzed by comparing the crude fat levels in different cat food brands. The AAFCO minimum for fat in all cat foods is 9% on a dry matter basis (PetMD).
For many animals, like humans, carbohydrates are a primary source of energy. However, felines use protein as their primary source and fat as their secondary source of energy. This results in carbohydrates playing a very tiny role in a cat's diet, and too much of this leads to obesity, heart problems, food allergies, and diabetes. That said, cats require less than 10% of calories from carbohydrates.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins are organic compounds, i.e. they contain carbon and minerals are inorganic compounds, i.e. they don't contain carbon. Both vitamins and minerals are necessary for healthy feline metabolism and function.
Vitamins and minerals are found in different ingredients, including but not limited to, animal tissues, vegetables, vegetable oils, seeds, legumes, grains, and fruits. Dry, wet, and fresh cat food contains varying ratios of vitamins and minerals necessary as per age and activity level. Some cats are also put on cat vitamin and mineral supplements when they are fed homemade food.
According to the AAFCO, these are the vitamins cats require -
Vitamin A: Necessary for healthy vision, strong bone and tooth growth, good reproduction, and maintenance of skin and mucous membranes
Vitamin D: Boosts blood calcium and phosphorous levels to sustain the growth and maintenance of bones
Vitamin E: An essential antioxidant
Vitamin K: Required for regular blood clotting
Thiamin: Needed for carbohydrate metabolism
Riboflavin: Releases energy from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
Pantothenic Acid: Required for the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
Niacin: Essential for processing fats, carbohydrates, and protein
Pyridoxine: Enables metabolism of amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids
Folic Acid: Required for synthesis of DNA and the amino acid methionine
Biotin: Makes fatty acids, some amino acids, and DNA/RNA
Vitamin B12: Needed for fat and carbohydrate metabolism and nerve conduction
Choline: Essential as a neurotransmitter, as part of cell membranes, and for lipid transport
According to the AAFCO, these are the minerals cats require -
Calcium: Vital for the growth and maintenance of bones and teethPhosphorus: Important for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth
Sodium & Chloride: Help with hydration, acid-base balance, neuro-transmission, and muscle contraction
Potassium: Important for nerve function, muscular contraction, and heart rhythm
Magnesium: Important for enzyme function and the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
Iron: Needed to transport oxygen throughout the body
Copper: Plays roles in iron absorption and transport, skin pigmentation, and skeletal growth
Manganese: Important for metabolism, immune function, and bone formation, as well as acting as an antioxidant and more
Zinc: Necessary for carbohydrate, lipid, protein, and nucleic acid metabolism
Iodine: Needed to make thyroid hormonesSelenium: An important antioxidant that works in conjunction with vitamin E
Yup, water is a nutrient! Water makes up most of your cat's body and is crucial for every cell to function to its optimum. Whilst some cats don't mind drinking from a water bowl, others prefer getting their water from food. For cats that don't enjoy drinking from a water bowl, bone broth or canned wet food is the only option - cats require 4/5 ounces of water per 2kg body weight.
Now that you have a fair understanding of what you need to look for in cat food, you can stay on top of your kitty's nutrition game!