Should you feed your domestic cat veggies? How about wheat or potatoes based cat food? If they are okay for us and dogs, wouldn’t they be good for a kitten? The best way to determine the proper nutrition for a domestic cat is to take a look at what do wild cats eat in the wild.
Do cats eat vegetables in the wild?
While dogs and cats are both mammals and are part of the group called “Carnivora”. Dogs developed genes that allow them to digest starches so they can eat both plants and animals. Cats or Felidae as a species don’t have those genes. Those genes provide the digestive enzymes to digest things other than meat. Cats are a “obligate carnivore”. This means your feline is a true carnivore that require nutrients found in raw meat aka animal flesh. Yes, it can be cooked.
This is why wild cats have consumed small mammals for the several million years of their evolution. As descendants of lions and the tiger, domesticated cats definitely are carnivores like their big cat cousins. Long before any commercial cat food appeared, cats have thrived on this wild cat’s diet. So in short, no. A feline should not be fed vegetables. A feral cat learns from quickly that raw meat sustains them. Wild animal protein is what their genetics demand they should be feeding on. Not carrots, peas, or kale.
What do cats eat in the wild?
The most common foods for wild cats are:
- Small rodents. Mice, shrews, rats, and even a squirrel, rabbit or a hare.
- Small birds. A sparrow or robin for example.
- Insects and reptiles. Spiders, grasshoppers, lizards, and snakes.
Small rodents make up the bulk of your average stray cat. Even an outdoor cat that you give pet food may instinctively hunt small birds. Have you found your outdoor cat brings you “presents” such as a dead mouse? Even if they don’t eat them, they are just being the predator they are deep inside.
What is a wild cat diet?
Researchers conducted a study across the continent of Australia in 2015 on 400 feral cats. They found that a feral cat sustained itself on rabbits. If they weren’t available, they moved to small rodents as their raw food choice. The fact that a cat or kitten would eat insects and reptiles seems odd as it isn’t animal protein. But a wild cat and even an outdoor cat can easily hunt large quantities of insects and reptiles. Nature provided their species with whiskers and an excellent sense of smell to help find their prey. The interesting part is that most insects and reptiles provide nutrients not available from small mammals. It comes down to prey animal availability and the opportunity to hunt their preferred food source.
Cat Feeding Behavior
In other research, the British Journal of Nutrition researchers found in 2011 that a feral cats diet was 78% of the time on small mammals such as squirrels, weasels, bats, moles, and 16% of the time on birds. It is interesting to note these included some prey animals that were larger than the adult cats themselves.
A feral cat rarely hunts animals that are significantly larger than itself. Studies show that hunting success gradually decreases as the size of the prey animal increases. This makes sense because:
- Larger animals are harder to tackle.
- Larger animals tend to be more intelligent in avoiding cats.
- Larger animals pose more danger to cats, leading them to retreat when their plan of attack does not work out.
It makes sense that out in nature, a feral cat will prey on animals that are smaller than itself. What this says is that if a feral cat is hungry enough, they will use their excellent hunting skills to take down prey larger than themselves. To be sure, domesticated cats are excellent hunters. A cat’s claws aren’t just for tearing up your couch. Notice how pouncing is an instinctive behavior of your kitten? That’s how the stray cat you may see out and about sustains itself as a stealthy predator.
Please note that not all cats eat the same things. The diet of a feral cat depends on a variety of factors. These include availability of prey, habitat, seasonal changes, skills and preferences of the feral cats. Also, the social structure of the feral cat colony and even the sex of a cat can influence what prey animal they hunt and consume.
Should cats eat a wild diet?
Doesn’t it seem like every image of a feline shows them with a food bowl of milk? What did they do, tackle a cow? Seriously though, as cat owners, should we be feeding our domesticated cats commercial cat food that has veggies, grains, and lots of carbs?
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Dr. Deb Zoran recommends to feed your pet cat canned food that has at least 40% protein content or more and 10% or less of carbohydrates.
This would be similar to their natural diet of rodents of their ancestors. It’s important to note that a pet cat gets most of their hydration from wet food. That means if your house cat is on a mostly dry food diet, they can become dehydrated. Especially if they aren’t drinking enough water. Worse, dry commercial pet food can often have a high amount of carbohydrates and fats. Neither of which are digestible by your kitty (remember, they don’t have those digestive enzymes). Worse, these may upset your pet cats digestive tract. Remember that a house cat and even an outdoor cat doesn’t have to hunt for their food like their wild animal relatives the lion and tiger. Without that hunting activity, the carbohydrates and fats in from a dry food diet can cause weight issues.
Does all cat food have taurine?
Taurine is an essential amino acid. Your domestic cat requires taurine from their diet for their organs to function properly, helps with digestion, and female cats can bear kittens. Thankfully taurine occurs naturally in animal protein. The dark meat from a turkey has the highest taurine content. Next would be chicken liver and then chicken dark meat. That doesn’t mean your cat only has to eat these protein sources if the pet food has taurine added. This means wet food that consists of fish can work well if you have a finicky eater. If you love to give your house cat home cooked meals or raw food, please check with your Veterinarian to make sure your cat’s diet has all the nutrients they require.
You are now a feline nutrition expert.
As a loving cat owner, you now know what do wild cats eat. You understand the feline nutrition requires taurine. You understand that as a species, the wild animal that your cat is deep inside is an obligate carnivore. You understand that veggies in your cats food bowl are indigestible. You understand that a dry food diet requires you to monitor your cats fluid intake. Congratulations !
If you are looking for a good quality canned food, one of the premier commercial cat food producers can help. Purina Fancy Feast is a well known and highly regarded brand in the feline nutrition market. Many of our patients and our cats enjoy Purina Fancy Feast Grilled Collection. Each serving of wet food in this variety pack provides a completely balanced cat’s diet. This canned food has the raw meat sourced from turkey, chicken, and beef. What you are putting in your cats food bowl is supplemented with vitamins and minerals.
If your pet cat likes variety, a fish based version supplemented with taurine, vitamins, and minerals is a great choice. The Purina Fancy Feast Grilled Seafood Collection has fish protein from shrimp, tuna, and salmon.
Homework for cat owners that are feline nutrition experts
This is for you. As cat owners, our felines depend on us for their health and well being. So remember:
- Wild cats do not eat plants of any kind. There are no grains (they were, in fact, domesticated to protect grain storage), no vegetables, no fruit and no salad in a wild cat’s diet. What does this mean for you? Your cat’s food should also contain no (or at least a minimal amount of) plant materials such as rice, corn, peas, potato and other plant-based substances. See a list of other properties of a good cat food here.
- Cats consume the whole prey animal. This includes the muscle meat, organs, bones, skin and even feathers. Therefore, as luxurious as it may sound, feeding a cat pure raw meat only may be as harmful as not providing any meat at all.
Here’s a task for you: go to the nearest pet store and take a look at the ingredients listed on the labels of various brands of cat food. How many of them contain grain? Why do you think this is when a wild cat’s diet has no grain? Hint: Check our article “Why do they add grain to cat food”.
Thank you for becoming a feline nutrition expert. Your pet will be healthier when fed the right diet. And a healthy pet is a happy pet.