If allowed to, domestic cats don’t select food on flavour but on nutritional content a study has found1.
Cats have an intuitive feel for selecting a food that is right for him/her based on its macronutrient content by which I mean the type of food (e.g. fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in his/her diet.
To restate that: for cats the actual and true content of the food in terms of nutrients such as fats and proteins trumps the smell and flavour of the food (the food’s organoleptic properties). In the short term cats might go for the flavour and smell but not so in the long term. It seems that cats can detect the true nutritional value of the food.
A study concluded that domestic cats are drawn towards foods containing a mix of 70% protein and 30% fat even if it is flavoured distastefully.
Following a learning period “flavour preferences do not account for the food choices and amounts eaten by cats.” Cats adjust the amounts and choice of food eaten to “achieve a particular nutritional outcome.”
Cats regulate their food intake to achieve an intake target for both protein and fat. We don’t yet understand the physiological mechanisms which drives this self-regulation.
Comment: I am a little confused. I had thought that the flavourings added to dry cat food made it addictively palatable to cats despite the food itself not being well balanced. This study would indicate that a cat would ultimately reject dry cat food because the nutrient content is not to his liking.
Here is the problem: when there is no choice preferences don’t come into it. The cat has to eat what he is given unless he is an outdoor cat who can hunt thereby balancing his diet with genuinely nutritious food. Not all, but many cats are feed a 100% dry food diet and it could be low quality cat food. If these cats are full-time indoor cats the natural drive to find a more balanced diet is hobbled. I wonder if this affects the cat in ways we don’t understand.
Are cats on diets poor in nutritional value emotionally stressed because they are unable to satisfy their natural inner drive to eat a diet balanced for their needs?
Source: 1 Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicester and reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science. At the time of writing this the Waltham Centre’s website was not responding.
See the study – it is very technical I am afraid and it took me a while to decipher it.
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