Feeding and diet

Cat physiology and behavior

Home| Physiology & behavior

Feeding and diet

Cats are classified as obligate carnivores, because their physiology is geared toward efficient processing of meat, and lacks efficient processes for digesting plant matter. The cat cannot produce its own taurine (an essential organic acid) in its own body and as it is contained in flesh, the cat must eat flesh to survive. Similarly as with its teeth, a cat's digestive tract has become specialized over time to suit meat eating, having shortened in length only to those segments of intestine best able to break down proteins and fats from animal flesh. The trait severely limits the cat's ability properly to digest, metabolize, and absorb plant-derived nutrients, as well as certain fatty acids. For example, taurine is scarce in plants but abundant in meats. It is a key amino sulfonic acid for eye health in cats. Taurine deficiency can cause a condition called muscular degeneration wherein the cat's retina slowly degenerates, eventually causing irreversible blindness.

Despite the cat's meat-oriented physiology, it is still quite common for a cat to supplement its carnivorous diet with small amounts of grass, leaves, shrubs, houseplants, or other plant matter. One theory suggests this behavior helps cats regurgitate if their digestion is upset; another is that it introduces fiber or trace minerals into the diet. In this context, caution is recommended for cat owners because some houseplants are harmful to cats. For example, the leaves of the Easter Lily can cause permanent and life-threatening kidney damage to cats, and Philodedron are also poisonous to cats. The Cat Fanciers Association has a full list of plants harmful to cats.
Cats can be selective eaters (which may be due in some way to the aforementioned mutation which caused their species to lose sugar-tasting ability). Unlike most mammals, cats can voluntarily starve themselves indefinitely despite being presented with palatable food, even a food which they had previously readily consumed

Toxic sensitivity

The liver of a cat is less effective at detoxification than those of other animals, including humans and dogs; therefore exposure to many common substances considered safe for households may be dangerous to them. In general, the cat's environment should be examined for the presence of such toxins and the problem corrected or alleviated as much as possible; in addition, where sudden or prolonged serious illness without obvious cause is observed, the possibility of toxicity must be considered, and the veterinarian informed of any such substances to which the cat may have had access.

For instance, the common painkiller paracetamol or acetaminophen, sold under brand names such as Tylenol and Panadol, is extremely toxic to cats; because they naturally lack enzymes needed to digest it, even minute portions of doses safe for humans can be fatalĀ  and any suspected ingestion warrants immediate veterinary attention. Even aspirin, which is sometimes used to treat arthritis in cats, is much more toxic to them than to humans and must be administered cautiously. Similarly, application of minoxidil (Rogaine) to the skin of cats, either accidental or by well-meaning owners attempting to counter loss of fur, has sometimes proved fatal.

In addition to such obvious dangers as insecticide and weed killers, other common household substances that should be used with caution in areas where cats may be exposed to them include mothballs and other inaphthalene products, as well as phenol based products often used for cleaning and disinfecting near cats' feeding areas or litter boxes, such as Pine-Sol, Dettol (Lysol), hexachlorophene, et. which, although they are widely used without problem, have been sometimes seen to be fatal Ethylene glycol, often used as an automotive antifreeze, is particularly appealing to cats, and as little as a teaspoonful can be fatal.
Many human foods are somewhat toxic to cats; theobromine in chocolate can cause theobromine poisoning, for instance, although few cats will eat chocolate.

Toxicity in cats ingesting relatively large amounts of onions or garlic has also been reported. Even such seemingly safe items as cat food packaged in pull tab tin cans have been statistically linked to hyperthyroidism; although the connection is far from proven, suspicion has fallen on the use of bisphenol-A based plastics, another phenol based product as discussed above, to seal such cans

 

Special thanks to :