There’s no way in getting around it, no matter how hard we try! Cats are obligate carnivores, requiring meat as their dietary mainstay. Cats lack amylase in their saliva, (the digestive enzyme essential in digesting carbohydrates). As a result they cannot efficiently digest carbohydrates.
But apparently many of the higher-end cat food manufacturers are trying to ‘get around it’. While they advertise ‘grain-free’ in their products, the first ingredients listed on the label of one of the more popular brands targeted for adult cats indicates a whopping amount of carbohydrates.
According to nutritional expert, veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker, even with the scientific evidence that proves cats are obligate carnivores, companies manufacturing dry pet food continue to add carbohydrates to their products.
A Canadian commercial pet food company recently produced the white paper (articles that are produced by businesses that are basically informational marketing pieces) The Biologically Appropriate Food Concept and Dietary Needs of Dogs and Cats. According to Becker the report does provide some good information for pet guardians to help them understand their pet’s nutritional needs.
The authors write,
“With short digestive tracts and gastrointestinal systems, dogs and cats are adapted to metabolize animal flesh and fat, not grains and carbohydrates. Today’s modern dogs (of any breed) are not only capable of eating the food of their wild ancestors, but actually require it for maximum health.” The same is true for cats.
Becker goes on to write:
“According to PetfoodIndustry.com, AAFCO’s 2010 Pet Food Nutrient Profiles and the National Research Council’s 2006 Committee on Animal Nutrition conclude that dogs and cats do not require carbohydrates in their diets. And it’s common knowledge that the natural diets of canines and felines contain almost no carbohydrates, with the primary source being predigested grains, fruits and veggies found in the stomachs of prey animals.”
For example: While the first ingredients listed are high in protein and low in carbs; read on: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Pea Fiber, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols) and Potato Starch. A little further down the list are whole Carrots, whole Sweet Potatoes, (Taurine*), Cranberries, Blueberries, Apples and Blackberries.
While blueberries, blackberries and cranberries are relatively low in carbs (and could be found in the stomach of prey animals), carrots are root vegetables. People on low carb diets often avoid eating them. However, sweet potatoes, (while highly nutritious) peas and pea fiber, potatoes, potato starch and peas are considered foods that are high in carbohydrates.
Many of the higher-end moist cat food are grainless. However, once again we find potatoes, peas, root vegetables and several varieties of fruit. Some grainless cat foods are also bulked up with meat by-products since it is less expensive to manufacture.
Felines may enjoy the flavor of these high carb vegetables, but they cannot readily digest them. Obviously they are included in the mix to add substance, bulk and cheap energy. I suspect kitty guardians reading the labels may think that these items provide their cats with a substantive balanced diet. Realistically, however, if the pet food manufacturers added more meat protein and omitted the fruit and high carb vegetables in their products, that they would be offering cats a much more species appropriate and more easily digested food. But would this be economically feasible? I think that is the question we must ask of these pet food manufacturers.
Therefore, when it comes to top notch feline nutrition; are kitty guardians being lulled into a false sense of security when they purchase foods labeled ‘grain free’? Do they fully understand that while grainless products may contain fewer grain carbohydrates but still contain a high level of carbohydrates? What will it take for them to learn that cats cannot easily digest those carbohydrates that are not nutritionally sound? What do you think? Please share your opinions in a comment.
*An essential amino acid for cats is necessary for normal heart and eye function.
Photo credit: Flickr User : Smitten with Kittens