Your Cat's Nutritional Needs

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37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 1YOUR CAT’SNUTRITIONAL NEEDSA Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 2THE DIGESTIVE TRACTPoint of DepartureStorage and ProcessingThe mechanical breakdown of food begins in themouth, where food is ingested, chewed, and swallowed. Chemical breakdown starts here as well,with the secretion of enzyme-laden saliva.The stomach acts as a temporary storage and processingfacility before emptying its contents into the small intestine. Early stages of digestion take place in the stomach,where pepsin and lipase aid in digesting protein and fat.stomachspleenesophaguscolonAutomatic TransportThe esophagus is a short, musculartube in which involuntary, wavelikecontractions and relaxations propelfood from the mouth to the stomach.smallintestineliverTreatment FacilitiesIn the small intestine, enzymes break down large, complex food molecules into simpler units that can be absorbed into the bloodstream.The pancreas is an organ that does double duty secreting digestiveenzymes into the gut and hormones, including insulin and glucogon,into the blood. Important for fat metabolism, the liver produces bileand partially stores it in the gall bladder between meals.End of the LineThe primary function of the largeintestine is to absorb electrolytes andwater. Also, this is where microbesferment nutrients that have so farescaped digestion and absorption.COMMITTEE ON NUTRIENT REQUIREMENTS OF DOGS AND CATSDONALD C. BEITZ, Chair, Iowa State UniversityJOHN E. BAUER, Texas A&M UniversityKEITH C. BEHNKE, Kansas State UniversityDAVID A. DZANIS, Dzanis Consulting & CollaborationsGEORGE C. FAHEY, University Of IllinoisRICHARD C. HILL, University Of FloridaFRANCIS A. KALLFELZ, Cornell UniversityELLEN KIENZLE, Zentrum Für Lebensmittel Und Tierernährung, Oberschleissheim, GermanyJAMES G. MORRIS, University Of California, DavisQUINTON R. ROGERS, University Of California, DavisSupport for the development of this pamphlet was provided by the President’s Circle CommunicationsInitiative of the National Academies. The pamphlet was written by Dale Feuer based on a report by theCommittee on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. Illustration and design by Van Nguyen.Copies of Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats are available from the National Academies Press,500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20001; 800-624-6242 or 202-334-3313 (in the Washington area); 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

37491 Cat P01 16x107/26/065:27 PMPage 1CONTENTSIntroduction1Proteins and Amino Acids2Fats and Fatty Acids3Energy Needs4Vitamins6Minerals8Feeding Practices10Food Choices12INTRODUCTIONHow much should I feed my cat? Does the food I’m providing meet my cat’snutritional needs? As our knowledge of the relationship between diet andhealth continues to advance and as the range of foods available for cats continues to expand, it’s more important than ever to base feeding choices ongood information.The information in this pamphlet is based on Nutrient Requirements of Dogsand Cats, a technical report issued by the National Research Council as partof its Animal Nutrition Series. The Food and Drug Administration relies oninformation in the report to regulate and ensure the safety of pet foods. Otherreports in the series address the nutritional needs of horses, dairy cattle, beefcattle, nonhuman primates, swine, poultry, fish, and small ruminants.Scientists who study the nutritional needs of animals use the Animal NutritionSeries to guide future research. The series is also used by animal owners,caretakers, and veterinarians to develop specialized diets for individual animals. Links to reports in the series can be found at

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 2ats need several different kinds of nutrients to survive: amino acidsCfrom protein, fatty acids and carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, andwater. The tables in this pamphlet provide recommended dailyallowances for nutrients based on the amount required to maintaingood health in normal cats. Your cat’s unique nutritional requirementswill depend on its size and its stage in life, among other factors. A better understanding of how cats use the various nutrients in food and how much of themthey need can help you choose a healthy diet for your pet.PROTEINS AND AMINO ACIDSAs carnivorous animals, cats derive most of their protein from meat, fish,and other animal products. Some animal-based protein is easier todigest than plant-based protein and is better suited to the cat’sdigestive system.Dietary protein contains 10 specific amino acids thatneither cats nor dogs can make on their own.Known as essential amino acids, they provide thebuilding blocks for many important biologicallyactive compounds and proteins. In addition,they provide the carbon chains needed tomake glucose for energy. High-quality proteins have a good balance of all of theessential amino acids.Deficiencies of single essential aminoacids can lead to serious health problems.Arginine, for example, is critical to theremoval of ammonia from the bodythrough urine. Without sufficient argininein the diet, cats may suffer from a toxicbuildup of ammonia in the bloodstream.Although not the case for dogs, the aminoacid taurine is a dietary essential for cats.Taurine deficiency in cats causes a host of metabolic and clinical problems, including feline centralretinal degeneration and blindness, deafness, cardiomyopathy and heart failure, inadequate immuneresponse, poor neonatal growth, reproductive failure, andcongenital defects. Found abundantly in many fish, birds, andsmall rodents, taurine is either absent or present only in traceamounts in plants. Strict vegetarian diets are not appropriate for catsunless supplemented with nutrients essential for cats that are not found in plants.2

37491 Cat P01 16x107/26/065:28 PMPage 3FATS AND FATTY ACIDSDietary fats, mainly derived from animal fats and the seed oils of various plants,provide the most concentrated source of energy in the diet. Fats contain more thantwice as much energy as protein and carbohydrates per gram. Dietary fats supplyessential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized in the body and serve as carriersfor important fat-soluble vitamins. Fatty acids play an important role in cell structure and function. Additionally, food fats tend to enhance the taste and texture ofa cat’s food.The maximum amount of fat in the cat’s diet can be reasonably high without anyknown adverse effects. In many cat foods, 50% or more of the energy comes fromfat. Studies indicate that cat foods containing even higher amounts of fat are safe.At a minimum, cat foods should have a fat content of about 9% of dry matter.Essential fatty acids are necessary to keep your cat’s skin and coat healthy. Deficienciesin the so-called omega-3 family of essential fatty acids can lead to a host abnormalities of the nervous system, ranging from vision problems to impaired learningability. Another family of essential fatty acids, known as omega-6, has been shownto have important physiological effects in the body. Tissues that perform such functions as storage (fat), metabolism (liver), mechanical work (muscle), and excretion(kidney) tend to have cell membranes in which omega-6 fatty acids predominate.DAILY RECOMMENDED ALLOWANCES FORPROTEIN AND FATSCrude ProteinTotal FatKITTENSWeighing 1.8 lbADULT CATWeighing 9 lb,consuming 250 CaloriesNURSING CATSWeighing 9 lb with 4 kittens10 g12.5 g41 g4g5.5 g12 gDetermining Grams of Essential Nutrients from Petfood LabelsPetfood labels do not generally list amounts of essential nutrients in grams.However, all pet food labels must state guarantees for the minimum percentages ofcrude* protein and crude fat, and the maximum percentages of crude fiber andmoisture. To convert these percentages to grams, simply multiply the crude percentages times the weight of your cat’s daily portion. For example, if you feed yourcat one 6-oz (170-gram) can of food per day, and the food contains 8% crude protein, the grams of protein would be 0.08 x 170 13.6 grams.*”Crude” refers to the specific method of testing the product, not to the quality of the nutrient itself.3

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 4ENERGY NEEDSCats need a certain amount of energy to sustain the normal activities of their dailylives. Growth, pregnancy, lactation, and exercise all increase these normal energy requirements. Generally measured in terms of calories, energy comes fromthree major dietary components: carbohydrates, protein, and fats.While not essential in the diet, carbohydrates provide an abundant source of energy. The major sources of carbohydrates in commercial cat foods are cereals,legumes, and other plant foodstuffs. Because cats are carnivores, the shortlength of their long intestines limits their ability to ferment fibers that are found inmany carbohydrates.TIDBITSevere illness or trauma may increase a cat’s energy needs. Whenever your catbecomes ill, please consult with your veterinarian or cat nutritionist about yourcat’s changed nutritional needs.4

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 5AVERAGE DAILY ENERGY NEEDSCALORIES PER DAY(Kilocalories per day*)5 lb10 lb15 lb20 lbKittens (after weaning)200———Lean Domestic Cat170280360440Overweight Domestic �1,3603366038511,091Exotic (wild) CatsPregnant/Nursing Cat(4 kittens / 4 kittens atpeak lactation)*1 Calorie 1 kilocalorie 1,000 calories. The term Calorie that is used on food nutrition labelsis really a “food calorie” sometimes called a “large calorie.” It is equivalent to 1,000 calories(or 1 kilocalorie) as calories are defined scientifically (the amount of energy needed to warm1 gram of water 1 C). In Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs, energy needs are expressedin terms of kilocalories, which are equivalent to Calories in this document.ENERGY NEEDS OF KITTENSBefore weaning, kittens need 20–25 Calories for every 100 gramsof body weight. Cat owners should start supplemental feedings from 2.5 to 4 weeks after birth, because mother’s milkis no longer sufficient.ENERGY NEEDS OF PREGNANT ANDLACTATING CATSNew mothers typically suckle their kittens for 7 to 9weeks and will lose weight while nursing no matterwhat you feed them. That is why it is important to feedyour pregnant cat enough to allow her to increase herbody weight by 40–50% by the end of her pregnancy.The energy needs of nursing cats generally increase withlitter size and through the fourth week of nursing. As a ruleof thumb, nursing mothers with more than two kittens needbetween 2 and 2.5 times the calories they needed at the time ofmating. Lactating cats should be given free access to a highly palatable, high-calorie food.5

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 6UNDERWEIGHT OR OVERWEIGHT?UNDERWEIGHTYour cat is not getting enough to eat if it feels “bony”to the touch, has little or no fat on the ribs, andappears to “cave in” just behind the ribs. If chronically underfed, adult cats may experience damage tointernal organs, impaired ability to nurse young, andincreased susceptibility to bacterial infections andparasites; kittens may be stunted in their growth;adult cats may develop osteoporosis.IDEALYour cat is at an ideal weight if it appears wellproportioned, shows a moderate waistline behindthe ribs, and has a thin covering of fat over the ribsand abdomen.OVERWEIGHTYour cat is overweight if it has heavy fat depositsover the lumbar area, face, and limbs and if there isan obvious rounding or distension of the abdomen.Obesity occurs in one out of four cats in westernized societies and is more common in older andneutered animals. Health risks include diabetes andosteoarthritis.VITAMINSVitamins are organic compounds that take part in a wide range of metabolicactivities. Vitamin deficiencies can cause a variety of health problems. Cats cannot synthesize some vitamins from precursors (pre-vitamin structures) in the diet.For example, they must get all of the vitamin A and niacin they need directly fromthe food they eat. Deficiencies in vitamin A can adversely affect the health of theeyes. Adult cats deprived of niacin in the diet will lose weight and may die as aresult. The diets fed to many cats, especially canned food containing fat-ladenfish products, make them more susceptible to deficiencies of certain vitamins,such as vitamin E. Vitamin E, an antioxidant, provides protection against oxidativedamage. Some vitamins are not only essential in small doses, but are also toxicin excess amounts. Too much vitamin A, a natural consequence of feeding largeamounts of liver to growing kittens, can cause hypervitaminosis A, a conditioncharacterized by a variety of skeletal lesions.6

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 7DAILY RECOMMENDED ALLOWANCES FOR VITAMINSFunctionsDailyRecommendedAllowance*Signs of Deficiency/ ExcessVitamin AVision; growth; immune function;fetal development; cellulardifferentiation63 µgConjunctivitis; cataracts, retinal degeneration andother eye problems; weight loss; muscle weakness;reproductive and developmental disordersSkeletal lesions in kittens, particularly outgrowthsof the cervical vertebrae; osteoporosisVitamin DMaintenance of mineral status;skeletal structure; phosphorousbalance0.4 µgRickets; abnormalities in skeletal development;progressive paralysis; ataxia; lack of grooming;reduction in body weight and food intakeAnorexia; vomiting; lethargy; calcification ofsoft tissuesVitamin EDefense against oxidativedamage2.5 mgAnorexia; depression; pain sensitivityin abdomen; fat tissue pathologyVitamin KActivation of clotting factors,bone proteins, and other proteins82 µgProlonged blood clotting times; hemorrhagingVitamin B1(thiamin)Energy and carbohydratemetabolism0.33 mgNeurological impairments including alteredreflexes and convulsive seizures; heart-ratedisorders; pathological changes in the centralnervous system; severe learning deficitsRiboflavinEnzyme functions0.27 mgCataracts; fatty livers; testicular atrophyVitamin B6Glucose generation; red bloodcell function; niacin synthesis;nervous system function; immuneresponse; hormone regulation;gene activation0.16 mgStunted growth; convulsive seizures;kidney lesionsNiacinEnzyme functions2.5 mgAnorexia; weight loss; elevated body temperature;fiery red tongue, with ulceration and congestionPantothenicAcidEnergy metabolism0.4 mgStunted growth; fatty changes in liver;small bowel lesionsVitamin B12Enzyme functions1.4 µgWeight loss; vomiting; diarrhea; intestinal disordersFolic AcidAmino acid and nucleotidemetabolism; mitochondrialprotein synthesis47 µgDecreased growth rate; increased ironlevels in blood*Daily needs for an adult cat weighing 9 pounds, consuming 250 Calories per milligramµg microgram7

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 8MINERALSTwelve minerals are known to beessential nutrients for cats. Calciumand phosphorus are crucial tostrong bones and teeth. Cats needother minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium, fornerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and cell signaling.Many minerals that are presentonly in minute amounts in thebody, including selenium, copper,and molybdenum, act as helpers ina wide variety of enzymatic reactions. The requirements for certainminerals may change as your cat ages.Cats can get too much or too little of aspecific mineral in their diets. An excessof dietary magnesium, for instance, has beenimplicated in the formation of stones in the urinary tract. Foods that maintain relatively low urinary pH levels, however, have been shown to preventthese stones.DAILY RECOMMENDED ALLOWANCES FOR MINERALSFunctionsCalciumPhosphorus8Formation of bones andteeth; blood coagulation;nerve impulse transmission; muscle contraction;cell signalingSkeletal structure; DNAand RNA structure; energymetabolism; locomotion;acid-base balanceDailyRecommendedAllowance*0.18 g0.16 gSigns of Deficiency/ExcessNutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism;loss of bone mineral content, which can leadto collapse and curvature of lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones; bone pain, which canprogress to pathological fracturesDepressed food intake; decreased growth;increased bone mineral density; increasedneed for magnesiumHemolytic anemia; locomotor disturbances;metabolic acidosis

37491 Cat P01 erZincManganeseSeleniumIodine4:53 PMPage 9Enzyme functions; muscle and nerve-cell membrane stability; hormonesecretion and function;mineral structure ofbones and teethAcid-base balance; regulation of osmotic pressure; nerve impulse generation and transmissionAcid-base balance;nerve-impulse transmission; enzymatic reactions; transport functionsAcid-base balance;osmolarity ofextracellular fluidsHemoglobin and myoglobin synthesis; energymetabolismConnective tissue formation; iron metabolism;blood cell formation;melanin pigment formation; myelin formation;defense against oxidative damageEnzyme reactions; cellreplication; protein andcarbohydrate metabolism; skin function;wound healing25 mgPoor growth; overextension of the carpaljoints; muscle twitching; convulsionsUrinary tract stone formation in thepresence of high pH42 mgAnorexia; impaired growth; excessivethirst and drinking; excessive urination0.33 gAnorexia; retarded growth; neurologicaldisorders, including ataxia and severemuscle weakness60 mg5 mgPoor growth; pale mucous membranes;lethargy; weakness; diarrheaVomiting and diarrheaReduced weight gain; longer timeto conceive0.3 mg4.6 mgEnzyme functions; bonedevelopment; neurological function0.3 mgDefense against oxidative damage; immuneresponse19 µgThyroid hormone synthesis; cell differentiation;growth and developmentof puppies; regulation ofmetabolic rateIncreased sodium concentration in renalfluid; excess potassium excretionSkin lesions; growth retardation;testicular atrophyNo studies of deficiency in catsNo studies of deficiency in cats88 µgEnlargement of thyroid glandsExcessive tearing, salivation, and nasaldischarge; dandruff*Daily needs for an adult cat weighing 9 pounds at maturity, consuming 250 Calories per day.9

37491 Cat P01 1607/24/064:53 PMPage 10FEEDING PRACTICESQ: Does my cat need to have meat and/or fish products in its diet?A: Domestic cats are descended from strict meat-eaters, and their behavior revealstheir carnivorous nature. When hunting, domestic cats will seek small prey suchas mice, birds, and insects. They may even kill and eat a rabbit. They will stop eatinga meal of commercial cat food and go off hunting if distracted by potential prey. Theparticular chemistry and structure of the cat’s gastrointestinal system is well-suitedto digesting and absorbing nutrients from animal-based proteins and fats.Unsupplemented vegetarian diets can result in harmful deficiencies of certain essential amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins.Q: How much fiber is good for my cat?A: Fiber in the diet is probably good for overall gastrointestinal health and may helpoverweight cats trim down. Dietary fiber is thought to help maintain proper weight bydiluting the caloric density of the food and through physical effects and hormonal interactions. For reasons not yet understood, dietary fiber also seems to help in the management of mild hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), a relatively common problemin older cats.On the other hand, too much fiber in the diet can decrease thedigestibility of other important nutrients. Also, certain featuresof the cat’s intestinal tract, including a relatively small colonand nonfunctional cecum, suggest that cats may not beable to utilize dietary fibers as well as other animals.Meals should not have more than 10% fiber.Q: How often should I feed and waterA: If given free access to food, catsbetween 12 and 20 meals a day, evenlyout over the 24-hour light–dark cycle.should be fed more than once a cat?will eatspreadCatsFresh water should be available at all times,but the amount needed varie

of its Animal Nutrition Series. The Food and Drug Administration relies on information in the report to regulate and ensure the safety of pet foods. Other reports in the series address the nutritional needs of horses, dairy cattle, beef cattle, nonhuman primates, swine, poultry, fish, and small ruminants. Scientists who study the nutritional needs of animals use the Animal Nutrition Series to .

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