The Carnivore Cat Unraveled

Apr 01 , 2021

The Carnivore Cat Unraveled

It is more than a cliché to say that dogs are omnivores whereas cats are obligate carnivores. This statement is more talked about on the net than Ex US President Trump’s twitter account being banned! 😂 But there is so much more to this statement! Often, we understand the statement only superficially, it meaning to feed our cats with a lot of meats (obligate carnivores) while feeding our dogs with a medley of meats, vegetables and even a bit of grains for our dogs (omnivores). While there is so much more this statement wants to tell us!

In this blog, I try to tell you what do we mean by calling cats as obligate carnivores and dogs as omnivores! A dog’s body is invariably more adept to derive nutrition from plant-based foods than that of a cat. Here is how!

Fatty Acid Conversion

Dogs and cats both need Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) in their diet. EFAs include both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.

EFA = Omega 3 & Omega 6.

The 4 important omega 6 fatty acids required by the body are Linoleic acid, G-Linoleic Acid, DG- Linoleic Acid and Arachidonic acid. Each of these Omega 6 fatty acids has an important function. For example, Linoleic fatty acid helps in maintaining permeability of the skin. Arachidonic acid is the one that creates inflammation around an injury and helps it heal, among its other functions.

Of all these omega 6s, Arachidonic acid is what may not be obtained from food. It is often made by the body. However, not all animals can generate arachidonic acid. Only herbivores and omnivores can make this essential fatty acid in their bodies. But they need to consume linoleic fatty acid in order to produce arachidonic acid. Linoleic acid is available in abundance in plant sources like seeds, nuts and dairy!

While dogs can produce arachidonic acid by consuming linoleic acid from nuts and seeds, cats cannot do that! Thus, they need to prey on animals who have already done so! The incompetence to utilize plant based linoleic acid to produce the essential fatty acid, arachidonic acid, is what makes cats essential carnivores.

Taurine - the essential amino acid for cats

Like fatty acids form fats or lipids, amino acids build proteins in the body. It is also interesting to know that amino acids are also generated by breaking down different proteins consumed in the diet such as through meats or plant based foods like lentils.

Like arachidonic acid is made from other fatty acids, the taurine is made from other amino acids consumed through the diet. Yet again, not all animals can make taurine from other amino acids. In our context, dogs can make it but cats cannot. Taurine is found in abundance in brain tissues, eye retina and muscle tissues of dogs and cats. Taurine is very important for cats and dogs alike as its deficiency can cause heart enlargement, poor immunity and sometimes even blindness. Therefore, while feeding protein in adequate quantity is enough for dogs to generate adequate taurine, cats need to get all of their taurine from their food. Therefore, they need to be fed animals who have already done the job of creating taurine in their body! This is why cats catch small prey like rats, mice and birds as their bodies already have taurine stored in them.

Vitamin A

Did you know there is no such plant food that gives vitamin A? Vitamin A is derived from a carotenoid called beta-carotene found in red-orange-coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato! Herbivores and Omnivores actually convert these carotenoids into vitamin A and store it in their tissues. Coming back to dogs and cats, while dogs can make vitamin A from carotenoids, cats cannot. Vitamin A is necessary for good vision, a healthy immune system and for maintaining healthy skin. So, you need not supplement your dog with vitamin A if being fed with fruits and vegetables. Whereas for cats, you need to feed them meats in order to fulfil their vitamin A requirement.

These were some fun facts on why cats are obligate carnivores, while dogs can be given an omnivore diet! We can only do better when we know better!