Cats are what’s known in the scientific community as “hypercarnivores.” This means that their optimal diet consists of mostly animal proteins (just like lions, tigers, and leopards). However, not all cat foods consist of pure protein.
In fact, there are many cat foods on the market that contain a large percentage of carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. The question is, are these ingredients actually beneficial to your cat’s health? Does your cat need grains? What if they’re sensitive to gluten and/or grains?
These are the types of questions that many cat owners have. Luckily, there’s nothing too complex about understanding feline nutrition standards, and below we cover all the basics to get you quickly up to speed. We cover basic cat nutritional profiles, as well as whether or not grain-free food is optimal for household cats.
The Basics of Feline Nutrition
Cats should not be thought of as similar to dogs (when it comes to diet). Many owners mistakenly believe that cats can eat the same type of diet as dogs. The fact of the matter is that cats require a very specific type of nutritional profile (i.e. one that places most of the emphasis on protein).
While dogs require a balanced diet full of different macronutrients (e.g. carbs, fats, proteins, etc.), cats should be receiving most of their nutrients from protein. Cats require much more protein (percentage-wise) than dogs, even though they’re much smaller animals.
In addition to protein, cats also require vitamins and minerals in higher concentrations than other animals. For example, cats typically need a lot more niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Sourcing these vitamins and minerals from animals would be ideal, so do some research on the brand/product you’re interested in buying before making your purchase.
Why Grain-Free Food Provides an Optimal Nutritional Profile for Cats
As we’ve already outlined, cats have a very specific set of nutritional needs which sets them apart from other pets (such as dogs). Grain-free diets typically feature a higher concentration of protein, fewer carbs, and a more optimized nutritional profile.
Protein is without a doubt the most important aspect of your cat’s diet. If your cat isn’t getting enough protein, their health will naturally decline. So, when you’re searching for a grain-free product, you should look for one that contains an appropriate level of protein. For example, Nature’s Variety Instinct canned and grain-free cat food is mostly protein along with a few other minimally processed ingredients.
An important aspect to keep in mind about grain-free food is that you need to make sure that you’re feeding it to your cat for the right reasons. For example, if your vet told you that your cat is eating too many carbs, you might want to start feeding it a grain-free diet (because carbs come from gains, right?), but there are actually quite a few grain-free foods that contain similar amounts of carbs (or more). Always examine the ingredient list of any food you intend to purchase for your cat.
One of the common ways that pet food manufacturers make their products “grain-free” is by replacing grains with other sources of carbs (e.g. potatoes). So, if you’re looking to start feeding your cat a high protein low carb diet, you need to choose the right brand/product. Look for a recipe that contains minimal carbs (not just grain replacements).
Cats With Food Sensitivities Might Benefit From Grain-Free Food
Food sensitivity in cats is a fairly common problem, and while this type of issue might be caused by underlying problems, more often than not it’s the cat’s diet causing them. Removing grains from your cat’s diet is a simple, quick, and relatively cheap way to correct their food sensitivities.
Not all sensitivities are caused by grains and/or gluten though. This is why you should always consult with your vet before starting any type of elimination diet, or making changes to your cat’s diet. There might be underlying issues that are causing your cat’s food sensitivities, and changing the diet might not be beneficial (in certain cases).
Generally speaking, carbs and grains should only make up a very small percentage of your cat’s diet. After all, wild cats rarely eat these types of foods. Instead, they get most of their nutrients from the prey they hunt. Protein should be the dominant nutrient, with fats taking second, and carbs taking third. Anything other than this ratio would be unnatural for your cat.