Cat owners sometimes get lost among the different cat food options available in the market. Which one will be the most pleasing to the feline palate? Which one will have all the nutrients the feline needs to grow healthy?
Cats have specific requirements for proteins, amino acids, fats, among other nutrients. These requirements vary according to the physiological state, level of activity and age of the animal.
The development of cat food should always take into account these specificities so that the food provided guarantees the essential components for a healthy life and without nutritional deficiencies.
In addition, the physical form of food offered to felines also plays an important role.
Dry. Raw. Wet. The options are varied and each one has advantages and disadvantages. Factors such as palatability and digestibility are also closely linked to these different types of food and will have a direct effect on the nutritional quality of the cat food.
So before venturing into the feline nutrition business, it is critical to know the nutritional specificities of this species, the most common types of food, and the factors that can lead cat owners to choose between one or the other.
Proteins: what is the best source? And how much is needed?
As carnivorous animals, cats need to consume a considerable supply of proteins, preferably those of animal origin.
Proteins will provide the essential amino acids for various vital functions, such as antibody synthesis, enzymes that regulate innumerable metabolic functions, hormones, tissues, as well as contribute with a source of energy and promote a proper pH balance for the feline organism.
The balanced consumption of essential amino acids is key to the healthy growth and development of cats.
Protein sources of animal origin, such as meat, fish, eggs and chicken, have complete, high-quality proteins capable of supplying all the essential amino acids.
In the market, there are completely natural and suitable ingredients for use in pet food formulations in general.
Produced by enzymatic hydrolysis, a biological process that does not require the use of toxic solvents, these ingredients have bioactive peptides that will provide extra benefits to the animal’s body.
It is also important to emphasize that such ingredients have high digestibility, that is, the protein is readily absorbed by the organism of the felines, being used appropriately by the body. In addition, the mild heat treatment applied also helps in digestibility and does not adversely affect its nutritional value.
In contrast, plant-based sources of protein do not provide all the essential amino acids, which can cause problems for the health of cats because of this deficiency.
It is possible to combine different plant-based sources to reach an ideal balance. To do this, you must have a deep knowledge about the ingredients to be used so as not to run the risk of formulating foods that will cause growth and other vital functions problems to the animals.
Considering that, to choose animal sources ends up being a safer choice.
The daily amount of protein to be consumed by cats varies according to the physiological state of the animal, age, level of physical activity, among other factors.
However, as a general rule, an intake of 10g of crude protein per day is recommended for young cats, 12.5g for adult cats and 41g for lactating cats.
Fats as sources of essential fatty acids
Fatty acids, in general, are involved in cellular integrity, since they are part of the membranes, in addition to participating in metabolic regulation.
Among the unsaturated fatty acids, some polyunsaturated fatty acids are characterized as essential for feline health, such as omega-3 (alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic – EPA, docosahexaenoic – DHA) and omega-6 (linoleic, gamma-linoleic, arachnid and conjugated linoleic).
DHA, for example, contributes to ocular, reproductive and immune system health of cats. As they are essential, these fatty acids are not synthesized by the body of the felines, therefore they must be exclusively obtained through diet.
Although they are widely found in plant sources, essential fatty acids are not converted to their necessary derivatives by the feline organism. This means that it is preferable that these nutrients are obtained from animal raw materials. Fish, for example, are great sources of EPA and DHA.
Minerals: minority but not less important
Minerals are involved in almost all the physiological reactions of felines.
They act in the formation of enzymes, pH balance, absorption of nutrients, transportation of oxygen, among other functions.
Each type of mineral will have a different role in the metabolism of cats.
For example, calcium has a role in bone formation and in the transmission of nerve impulses, while phosphorus is part of the structure of DNA and RNA and is essential for the body’s acid-base balance.
Several vitamins for different functions
Vitamins participate in metabolic regulation and normal growth of animals.
Some of them also have other functions, such as prevention of nocturnal blindness (vitamin A) and antioxidants (vitamin E).
Water-soluble vitamins include those of the B-complex and vitamin C. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
As well as other nutrients, vitamins from animal sources are best absorbed by the metabolism of felines.
Types of feline food
Dry foods are the most common in the feline food market.
Dry foods are advantageous because of their cheaper price, so they end up being more popular among cat owners. In addition, this greater demand is also due to the practicality factor, since the “mess” promoted by the animals ends up being smaller by the very nature of the food.
Besides that, like any dry food, dry feeds have higher shelf-life stability. This causes consumers to end up buying these feeds in large portions to ensure long-term storage.
On the other hand, this type of feed usually has a high content of carbohydrates in the form of grains (up to 70% in some cases) that, although they are sensorially well accepted by cats, are not necessary in their diet.
As a general rule, when developing a dry cat food, it is important to always look for a high amount of protein (preferably of animal origin) and low carbohydrate content (below 30%).
Wet foods are usually canned. They have a high content of proteins from the meat, guaranteeing a sufficient contribution to the maintenance of the health of the felines.
In addition, the moisture contributes to a smoother and chewable texture, that is, canned food has better palatability than dry food. This contributes to a better acceptance of the food by the animals, which feel more stimulated to feed.
Unlike dry feeds, however, canned food has practicality problems, since they have lower shelf-life and higher prices.
The consumption of raw meat by cats can be seen as a return to their origins. Because of this, of the three most common types of feline feeding, this one ends up being the most palatable.
In addition, the feline organism digests raw meat better than any other type of food, since the digestive system of these animals is prepared for it.
Besides possessing all the nutrients necessary for the development of cats, raw meat also offers high water content, helping in feline hydration.
As a disadvantage, we can point out the high cost of this type of food, the lack of practicality and the fact that, because they are used to other types of cat food, animals may not adapt instantaneously to raw meat.
Feline feeding options are varied and each option has its advantages and disadvantages.
Regardless of the physical form of the food, it is important that the animals have a satisfactory intake of all the nutrients they need for a healthy growth and development.
Cat food formulators must keep in mind the knowledge presented here to be able to develop products that, in addition to being nutritious, are also pleasing to the feline taste.