There is no doubt about it….cats are wild by nature! However sweet, however tame, however comfy she is by the fire or on her favorite perch, in her favorite bed, we know she is not far from self sufficiency. If our sweet little kitty somehow ended up living outside, there is a strong chance she would hunt, eat and survive. Some are more efficient hunters than others, evidenced by the prizes they might drop at the doorstep, or bring in the house to proudly display. Birds, bats, mice, rats and even larger prey like pigeons or rabbits. Thousands of cats in feral colonies survive and thrive in cities and then there are the barn cats of the world, who not only flourish but help their people in keeping rodent populations down.
Cats have been connected with humans for a mere 3500 – 4500 years. Their relationship with people traces back to Egypt when they were used to keep grain stocks along the Nile free of vermin. In all its history of domestication, the cat has remained virtually unchanged and raw diets have fed the order Carnivora for 60 million years!
The modern domestic cats’ closest relative is the African Wild Cat and having descended from a desert animal makes our kitties lovers of sun and heat but also gives them a rather unique characteristic….they are neither designed nor intended to drink much water. A cat, domestic or wild, should get it’s hydration from the blood of its prey. Naturally, cats do not have a high thirst drive but when they eat dry food they must drink a lot of water. Water consumption through drinking is not ideal for hydration because they are intended to absorb and process water through digestion, not through drinking and constant filtering through the kidneys and urinary system. This alone tells us a cat needs to eat raw meat for its body to function properly, but there are many other physiological features that prove the cat to be a true or obligate carnivore. These include, elongated canine teeth, used for grabbing, holding and subduing prey, sharp carnassial teeth to shear flesh, a shorter snout for increased bite power, keen diurnal and nocturnal vision, muscular back legs for pouncing on and ambushing prey, independent movement of ears to determine distance and location of prey, long whiskers to pick up minute vibrations of prey walking and sharp retractable claws to grab and hold down a potential meal.
Like dogs, cats have a short digestive tract to digest meat and move it through the GI system quickly so it doesn’t putrefy, but there are even more vital reasons why a cat needs to eat raw meat to thrive. Certain liver enzymes used to break down protein are always active in a cat. Part of its protein intake is used to fuel this on-going process. A lower protein diet does not de-active it. Cats derive the majority of the enzymes they require for digestion from a raw diet. When not on raw, their pancreas must work overtime to provide these enzymes and this can lead to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis and absorption problems.
Some additional points about nutrition for an obligate carnivore:
Felines have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates. They obtain most of the energy they need from animal fats and proteins and they cannot utilize fat from vegetable sources. Animal fats carry water soluble vitamins D, E, A and K, linoleic acid and arachidonic acid. All of these are essential to the feline.
Cats cannot convert beta-carotene from plant sources into vitamin A. They must get vitamin A naturally through sources such as liver, heart, animal fat and muscle meat.
Taurine is also essential but it is very important that this amino acid is naturally occurring in the diet. Cats are unable to synthesize their own taurine from other amino acids (like most of the rest of us!) because they don’t have high enough levels of certain enzymes. Taurine is a type of organic amino acid essential for vision, immune health, cardiac muscle function and nervous and reproductive system function and the best way for a cat to get it, is through raw meat.