Raw Information and Resources

Feline Nutrition Foundation Archive

Feline Nutrition Home PageBeginner
Feline Nutrition's Easy Homemade Cat Food RecipeBeginner's Luck: Where Do I Start?How to Transition to a Raw Cat Food DietJust What is a Raw Cat Food Diet, Anyway?Easy Raw Cat Food for the Busy PersonYour Cat's Nutritional Needs: The BasicsThe Benefits of Raw Food for CatsThere's No Such Thing as a Vegan CatEight Effective Bribes for the Kibble AddictDon't Let Your Senior Cat Become a Skinny Old KittyThe Skinny on Senior Cats: Metabolism ExplainedSlimming Your Cat: What Works, What Doesn'tHigh Pressure Processing: The Future of Raw Cat Food?No Bull, Taurine Is a Must for KittyAdding Taurine to a Raw Cat Food DietHomemade Cat Food, a Balancing ActThiamine in Raw Food for CatsCalcium Supplements in Homemade Cat FoodDon't Let Calcium/Phosphorous Ratios Scare YouVitamin E: Liquid vs. PowderArginine: Essential and Abundant for Cat NutritionLysine and Raw Cat Food DietsCare to Compare? Wild vs. Domesticated PreySpooked By Salmonella: Raw Cat Food!Tips for Transitioning Your Finicky Kitties'Natural' vs. 'Grain-Free' Cat FoodFiguring Out the Carbs in Canned Cat FoodTake Heart, But Not Too MuchThe Case Against Cod Liver OilFeeding Kitten Food to an Adult CatRaw Cat Food vs. More FiberProbiotics, Digestive Enzymes and Raw Cat FoodRaw Cat Food and Kibble Don't MixFeline Nutrition: Who Bears the Responsibility?Pet Food and Feeding: Personal RuminationsReading a Pet Food Ingredient Label
Bio-Inappropriate: The Dangers of Dry Cat FoodFeline Diabetes: The Influence of DietFeline Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Nature and TreatmentFeline Hyperthyroidism: What You Need to KnowA Diet for Your Cat's Urinary and Kidney HealthConstipation: Real Help for Your CatPhosphorus Can Be Key for Cat KidneysWater, Water and Water Battles CrystalsFeline Cystitis and Bladder/Kidney StonesHigh Blood Pressure: Yes, Your Cat Can Get It, TooNutrition is Vital When Treating Feline LeukemiaFeline Pancreatitis: Signs of TroubleAnother Furball? It Might Be Feline AsthmaOpen Wide: The Basics of Kitty DentalsCat Scratch Fever: How It Affects CatsDiet and Your Cat's Cancer RiskChunks and Bones For Your Cat's TeethA Cat's Food Allergies and Intolerances ExplainedHow Toxoplasmosis Affects CatsAvoiding Hepatic Lipidosis in Your CatHow Raw Food for Cats Affects Blood Test ResultsGet Kitty Exercising to Trim DownSalmonella: The Chicken or the EggSafe Handling Practices for Raw MeatIf You're Feeling Stressed, So Is Your CatChoosing the Right Insulin for Your Diabetic CatA Veterinarian's View on Raw Cat Food: Andrea Tasi, VMD
Answers: What Exactly is an 'Obligate Carnivore?'Answers: What Dry Food Does to Your Cat's AppetiteAnswers: Why Won't My Cat Eat?Answers: Who Were Pottenger's Cats and Do They Matter?Answers: To Grind or Not to Grind Raw Cat Food?Answers: What Dry Food Does to Your Cat's TeethAnswers: What Dry Food Does to Your Cat's FurAnswers: What Dry Food Does to Your Cat's PeeAnswers: What Dry Food Does to Your Cat's GutAnswers: One More Reason to Ditch Dry Cat FoodAnswers: Do Cats Need Dietary Fiber?Answers: Cats in a Bind over PhosphorusAnswers: Let's Talk About Cat BarfAnswers: Making Raw Cat Food Kitty-SizedAnswers: Raw Food for Cats, What About Eating Bones?Answers: Getting Kitty to Like ChunkyAnswers: Are Exotic Meats Nutritious or a Novelty for Cats?Answers: Raw Food and Outdoor Cats, What About Worms?Answers: Take a Deep Breath and Cut the Mouse in HalfAnswers: The Stomach Contents of PreyAnswers: Flaxseed Oil for Kitty?Answers: Plant vs. Meat – The Protein Feud for Cat FoodAnswers: Kitty That Only Wants FishAnswers: Is It Okay for My Cat to Have Milk?Answers: Feed My Cat a Raw Egg Yolk?Answers: Raw Cat Food for My Cat's Mystery Allergy?Answers: Your Cat's Acid StomachAnswers: Cat Urine Ph, Why It MattersAnswers: Kittens Go Through Teething, TooAnswers: Raw Cat Food for All of Those Kittens!Answers: Why Did My Cat's Fur Get So Silky?Answers: Goaltending the Cat Food BowlAnswers: Who Are AAFCO and the NRC?Answers: Taking the Complexity Out of B Vitamins for CatsAnswers: The Paradox of Prescription Diets for Cats
How to Think Like a CatRaw Meaty Bones for Cats: Adult Supervision Required!Let Me Tell You About Raw Cat Food. Hey Come Back!But Kitty, What Nice Teeth You Have...Sasquatch vs. My CatI Worry About My CatYour Cat Worries About ThisYour Kitty May Need to Go to Chunk SchoolAre Cats Clandestine Consumers?Dry Cat Food – The Big EasyEight Cat CuriositiesCats and Cantaloupe: A Method to their MadnessThe Myth of the Finicky CatFalling Off the Cat Food Recipe CliffCat Daddy Talks Cat DietThe Popularity of Cat PoopThe Most Important Member, YouYou Said You Feed Your Cat, What?Oh! Those Dirty Little Kittens!It's My Cat's House, I Just Live ThereBlack Cats Are Not Unlucky at AllLessons From the Stoic CatIs There a Cat in the House?Rice Isn't NiceDon't Let it Bug You Kitty!Tell Your Cat to Chew on This!Cat Longevity and the Ultimate Test?Bug Patrol and Cat Stampedes: Life with Lots of CatsWhat Scraps?
Feeding Raw Food In Australia: What's Up Down UnderThe Cemetery Cats of Buenos AiresCats Are Paying Attention to Your FeelingsCheetahs in Captivity Need a Better DietIt Started With a Caracas Cat Named CaterpillarConsidering a Hybrid Cat?Tales from the Trenches: Feeding Kittens a Raw DietSaving Alistair: How Lyn Thomson Helped Stop IBD 11,000 Miles AwayRaw Cat Food Essentials and Fun Stuff, Too!There's No Kibble Served at the Big Cat RescueWhat Bob Dole Taught Me About Raw FoodAn Answer For Alex: Raw Food and Tight RegulationMangiare Crudo in Italia (Raw Fed in Italy)Melamine to Frankenprey: A Documented JourneyCould Everything We Know Be Wrong?A Brief History of Commercial Pet FoodWhen a Vegetarian Feeds A Raw DietRead Me! Great Books About CatsDuke's Story: Inflammatory Bowel DiseaseAdoption: What Should We Feed Our New Kitten?Malaysian Kittens Meet Frankenprey!Raw Food Co-ops: Make Buying Less Trying!Feeding Cats Ring Dings and Krispy Kremes
One Page Guides
Cats Are Cats!What Should You Be Feeding Your Cat?The Dangers of Dry FoodRaw Feeding for BeginnersTransitioning to a Raw DietEasy Recipe for Success
About Us
Welcome to Feline NutritionThe Feline Nutrition FoundationA Message from the FounderThe Feline Nutrition Foundation Mission StatementThe Feline Nutrition Team

Blog & Newsletter

Current Specials

Current Specials

This content is archived from the Feline Nutrition Foundation

Your Cat's Nutritional Needs: The Basics

Updated: Saturday, June 01, 2019 04:56 PM
Published: Tuesday, February 09, 2010 04:22 AM
Written by Kymythy R. Schultze, CN

This article discusses the basic nutritional needs of your cat. Many nutrients have been studied individually in a clinical setting – in fact, they're examined more individually than in the food they came from. This is unfortunate because it's important to remember that the essential building blocks of health aren't isolated in nature. Whole foods contain a complex blend of synergistic compounds that work together to support optimal well-being. While that may sound complicated, it really isn't – if you simply use species-appropriate real food as the foundation for health. One of the great things about feeding our cats a well-prepared diet of real food is that it's chock-full of all the nutrients we know are important to feline health. Plus, we're also including natural nutrients that have yet to be isolated, synthesized, and added to the cans and bags of processed pet food. It's more complicated for pet-food manufacturers who formulate products with isolated ingredients to make an appropriate substance that mimics real food in supporting a lifetime of great health for your cat.

Take the taurine disaster, for example. Taurine is an amino acid that pet-food manufacturers didn't consider essential until cats began to suffer and die from eating processed products deficient in it, Now it's an isolated chemical added to most cat foods, but if you're considering feeding your cat real food, I have great news: The first food group we'll discuss is a fantastic source of natural taurine!

Protein. Dietary protein supplies essential amino acids and is needed for the manufacture of antibodies, enzymes, hormones, and tissues and for proper pH balance. It provides energy for cats and is essential for growth and development. Complete proteins contain ample amounts of essential amino acids and are found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs, and poultry. Incomplete proteins do not provide all essential amino acids and are found in many foods, including legumes, grains, and vegetables. These plant proteins don't supply the essential amino acids that a cat needs (such as taurine), which come from animal protein.

Cats need animal sources of this nutrient, as the amino acids from vegetable sources aren't well utilized. How much each animal may need can vary slightly due to a variety of factors, including physiological state, age, activity, and the digestibility of the protein source being fed. Overall, cats have a very high requirement for protein.

Fat. This concentrated source of energy also provides essential fatty acids and aids in nutrient utilization and transportation. It's involved in cell integrity and metabolic regulation as well. Saturated fat is found primarily in animal sources, while polyunsaturated fat comes mostly from plants.

Fats (and oils) are composed of fatty acids, sometimes referred to as "vitamin F." The following are the fatty acids most involved in feline health: omega-3 fatty acids, which include alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid; and omega-6 fatty acids, including linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, arachidonic acid, and conjugated linoleic acid.

Linoleic and arachidonic acids have long been considered to be essential fatty acids for cats. More recently, DHA has been added due to its important contribution to feline vision, reproductive health, and the immune system. EPA may also be of benefit.

Essential fatty acids are just what they sound like – essential for the cat's health – and they must be obtained from food sources. Unlike some animals, felines don't efficiently convert plant sources of EFAs to the needed derivatives. For example, cats must eat meat to obtain arachidonic acid. Also, they don't convert LA to GLA (as some animals do), and studies show that GLA can benefit the health of feline skin and coat. We can theorize that in nature, the cat would eat another animal whose body had already made the conversion, thereby offering some of this useful fatty acid. The cat would also consume omega-3s and CLA when eating its natural herbivorous prey.

To sum up, LA; AA; DHA (which is mostly found in nature with other useful omega-3s); and to a lesser extent, EPA and GLA, can be considered important fatty acids for good feline health. CLA may become recognized as a bigger player in feline nutrition in the future because it's found in the meat and fat of a cat's natural diet, but it has only recently been "discovered" by nutritional science.

Minerals. These are essential to the cat and are involved in almost all physiological reactions. They contribute to enzyme formation, pH balance, nutrient utilization, and oxygen transportation and are stored in bone and muscle tissue. Biological availability may vary widely depending on the source of the nutrient. Elemental minerals are generally taken from the earth or water; chelated minerals are those that are bound with other organic substances, often making them easier for the body to absorb.

Minerals include calcium, chloride, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, sulfur, and zinc. There are others that cats require at trace concentrations. Minerals, like vitamins, work synergistically, with a cooperative action between them.

Vitamins. These nutrients are essential for metabolism regulation and normal growth and function. Usually found in food, some are synthesized within the animal's body. They're classified as either fat or water soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E, and K. The water-soluble group includes C and the B complex. Generally, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body, while water-soluble ones pass through more quickly. Once again, the carnivorous cat utilizes animal sources of nutrients more readily than plant sources. For example, felines can't convert beta-carotene from plants into vitamin A (as some animals do), so they need preformed vitamin A from an animal source. This type needs no conversion.

Water. Because cats are designed to fulfill most of their water requirements by eating fresh raw food, they naturally have a low thirst drive. This can lead to health issues when they eat dry food products and treats. One of the problems is that even though they become dehydrated eating the kibble, their natural "programming" may not encourage them to drink more, and their urine can become too concentrated. Even though a healthy cat doesn't drink much, you should always have clean drinking water available. And please make sure it's good quality, which means that just turning on the faucet may be out, especially if your community puts fluoride in the water supply. If you have a well, get it tested annually for contaminants.

But Wait…There's More!

There are a number of other substances that contribute to good health, some of which come from food sources and some of which are created within the body. These include antioxidants – comprising vitamins, minerals, and enzymes – which help protect the body from damaging free radicals. Now, I know that "free radicals" sound like a terrorist group, but they're actually cell-damaging atoms. Hmm…I guess you could consider them a form of body terrorist! Free radicals may be formed internally by exposure to cigarette smoke, pollution, radiation, and other damaging substances. With our cats being bombarded with more environmental toxins than ever before, antioxidants are important factors for good health.

Enzymes are protein molecules that are essential for most bodily functions. They're involved in energy, tissue, organ and cellular repair and much more. They're also essential for digestion, and different species of animals need different levels for particular types of food. Not surprisingly, creatures have the enzymes needed to properly break down the foods found in their natural diets and tend to be deficient in those that work on substances they wouldn't eat in the wild.

In addition to being manufactured by the body, enzymes can also be found in food, although temperatures of 118 degrees (F) or above destroy them. Those in raw ingredients help prevent depletion of the body's internal supply of enzymes.

There are probably many more nutrients yet to be discovered, but that's the great thing about feeding fresh food – those undiscovered, yet important, substances are already in there!

What's Not Nutritionally Required

You may have noticed that carbohydrates (usually supplied by grains in pet food) weren't listed among the necessary nutrients for cats. Even the National Research Council's Subcommittee on Cat Nutrition states that "…no known dietary carbohydrate requirement exists for the cat…" And really, if you consider feline physiology and what the species has been eating for thousands of years, it makes perfect sense that grains shouldn't be part of the cat's diet.

Another good reason not to feed grain is the fact that it breaks down into sugar within the body – something a cat definitely doesn't need! Many studies link sugar consumption to illness, including cancer.¹ Eating a high-carb diet really wreaks havoc on a cat's body. Carbs are usually thought of as energy foods, but felines utilize protein and fat very efficiently for those needs. This is one reason why cats have such a high requirement for quality protein.

Good Nutrition is a Team Effort

All the components we discussed don't work alone in nature; foods don't contain single nutrients. For example, we've probably all heard that oranges are a good source of vitamin C, but that piece of fruit contains many other cofactor nutrients that actually aid in the absorption and utilization of the vitamin. Even if farmers created a "Franken-orange" that contained only that vitamin, it wouldn't be as effective without the other "helpers," such as bioflavonoids and minerals that aid in vitamin C's effectiveness.

Likewise, vitamin E isn't simply the d-alphatocopherol that you'll find in a capsule from the store. It's actually a family of at least eight different molecules that work better when taken together, the way they're found in fresh food, rather than alone in supplemental form. Many studies have shown that natural nutrients from food are more beneficial than isolated synthetic supplements.² And by the way, oranges aren't a species-appropriate source of vitamin C for cats, but raw liver is.

Nonfood Requirements

Your cat has other needs in addition to a good diet. Yes, food is the foundation of health, but there are other factors that can have a big impact on your feline friend's well-being. Of course it needs a clean, accessible litter box and a safe place to call its own, but your cat also needs you.

Even though cats are perceived as very independent creatures, they really do benefit from your love and attention. Please talk to, play with, and touch your cats in ways they enjoy. I promise that if you make them an important part of your life and treat them with love and respect, you'll all benefit immeasurably.

Kymythy R. Schultze has been a trailblazer in the field of animal nutrition for nearly two decades. She's a Clinical Nutritionist, a Certified Nutritional Consultant and one of the world's leading experts on nutrition and care for cats. Visit her at Kymythy.com. "Your Cat's Nutritional Needs: The Basics" is chapter 3 of Kymythy's book Natural Nutrition for Cats, The Path to Purr-fect Health, and is posted here with her kind permission.

1. "Dietary Glycemic Load and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in the Women's Health Study," Journal of the National Cancer Institute 96, no. 3, 2004.

"Consumption of Sugar and Sugar-Sweetened Food and the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in a Prospective Study," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 8, 2006.

2. "Vitamin E," Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, December 2009.