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Feature February 2013 Issue

How Cats Regulate Their Diet

Most cat owners have experienced the finicky nature of their pets, but a new study shows that cats actually navigate a mixture of wet and dry food offerings to intake the appropriate amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates necessary for their good health.

According to the study (in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B), domestic cats regulate their dietary intake by selecting food despite differences in the macronutrient content, moisture and texture. The scientists were able to show that the cat performs a highly selective process every time he eats.

In three separate experiments, cats were fed wet and dry foods in different combinations. Throughout all the different cycles and combinations of food offerings, the cats were able to maintain the same balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate intake, according to the study.

The researchers also found that the ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates selected by the cats were consistent with a 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, which showed that cats target about 52 percent of their daily calorie intake from protein, 36 percent from fat and 12 percent from carbohydrates. The same selective nutrient ratio was observed in feral cats as well, suggesting that domestic cats’ intake closely matches the “natural” diet of their wild ancestors.

The researchers also noted that the cats tended to avoid the dry food with the highest concentration of carbohydrate. The researchers speculated that cats have evolved to consume a relatively low-carbohydrate diet — and the introduction of high-carbohydrate foods from their human companions is a relatively recent development.

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