What do cats eat?
What do cats eat, should be rephrased, "What should cats eat?" Domestic cats nearly always eat commercial cat food, a lot of it is dry cat food for convenience (you can see my selection of best dry cat food in the US at March 2010). This is not considered wise by enlightened veterinarians. But the wild cats…well we know what they eat because we see them hunting for prey on the TV. We probably all know that all cats are "obligate carnivores", meaning cats have to eat the flesh of other animals. The African wildcat is a domestic cat sized wild cat that was domesticated in Egypt. Its prey base is rodents and voles for instance. This is a specialist diet that lead to physiological and metabolic adaptations1. There are, in fact a number of pages on this site that are concerned solely with the prey of a number of wild cats, but the wild cat species page contains lots on information on wild cat diets as well:
Domestic cats should eat fundamentally the same food as wild cats i.e. they have the same nutritional requirements. The commercial cat food market is a sophisticated human orientated product that is meant to mimic as near as possible, within the limits of commercialism, consumerism and convenience, the wild cat diet. It sort of succeeds but a properly prepared homemade cat food diet is undoubtedly the best. It is said that the manufacturers have conducted extensive research into establishing nutritious and highly palatable (too palatable sometimes it could be said – see cat obesity) cat food that does not need supplements2. I am a little more sceptical than that.
Although in the USA, at least, a label that states that the product is, "complete" or "balanced", "perfect" or "scientific", should be preferred over cat foods that do not make these claims3. Also the label (in the USA) should state that it has been "found adequate" by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)4.
Cats, as carnivores, eat the flesh of other animals. For people with domestic cats and thinking about the question, "what do cats eat?" it occurs to me that the people asking the question (it is a searched for phrase on the internet) are probably trying to figure out what type of cat food is the ideal, in order to understand a cat's requirements more thoroughly and then try and meet those requirements. Otherwise there would be no need to ask the question – just buy commercial cat food at the supermarket instead. You can get a really good feel for what well fed cats eat by reading about how to make homemade cat food as it contains a number of recipes – see raw food diet for cats. You can also see a number of links to pages on various cat food topics by clicking here.
A more refined understanding of what cats eat can be achieved by analyzing the nutritional requirements of the domestic cat. These are set out in the chart below and then noting this against the nutritional content of cat food.
Nutritional content of commercial cat food5
What do cats eat – notes