Monday 21 May 2012

Food Selection in Domestic Cats

There is no question that cats have food preferences. Some cats are finickity eaters. For me, one of the most important factors in feeding cats is variety. Cats do become bored with their food if they are fed the same food day in and day out. They will eat it if hungry enough but you will see signs of boredom with a certain food if it is provided monotonously.

It may be a food that he liked but now seems to dislike. A change to something else for a while will rejuvenate his interest in the food that he became bored with. The different food may even be a food that in the past he did not show a great interest in, yet all of sudden he likes it. There is a counter argument though that says that we should not try too hard, too often, to please our cat as it can lead to cat obesity, a modern cat health problem. It is about good cat caretaking ultimately.

There is the perennial question of whether cats will eat dog food or food that is missing vital nutrients. Apparently cats cannot tell through taste if a food presented to them is deficient in nutrients or if it is not a balanced food. However, if a deficient food is provided for a long time a cat will eat less of it or refuse it because he will learn that the taste of the food is connected to the illness that he suffers as a consequence of eating it. This is not an accurate assessment by a cat, obviously, as feeling unwell may be due to a reason unconnected with the food eaten.

We are told that the palatability of food is decided on taste primarily. However, in my experience, the domestic cat will smell food as a initial check on palatability and perhaps to see if it is a type that he has liked before. Cats don't seem to be able to check visually at close range. It is down to smell then taste.

It seems that today, in the modern world (2012), cats can fail to self regulate intake resulting in obesity. This may be due to overfeeding treats. If treats of human cooked food are more palatable than commercially available cat food what does that tell us about the palatability of cat food or the drift to human preferences by the domestic cat? My cat prefers human cooked food, most times not always.

A cat's taste buds are located on the tongue - upper surface and back of tongue - and on the palate. A cat's taste buds can detect the freshness of food. This is based on taste bud receptors that can detect certain chemicals in the tissues of dead animals. It seems that the quantity and therefore strength of taste of these chemicals informs the cat as to how fresh the food is e.g. how long the prey has been dead. Cats don't like carrion (carcasses of dead animals).

Cat's can detect amino acids that contain sulphur. Taurine is in this category and an essential ingredient for a cat. Accordingly, cats are able to gauge palatability based on the taurine content of food (taurine deficiency in cats and taurine for Bengal cats).

Cats don't like sweet foods. Although there is a lot of sugar in dry cat food. It is a hidden ingredient.

As to feral cats, they prefer voles, young rabbits and hares over mice and rats. Mice and are caught not always eaten. Shrews are rarely eaten after being caught. This is put down to the diet of the shew: insects.

Small wild cats make several kills in a 24 hour day. Some travel miles at night in search of food. It is very challenging. The mode of feeding of wild cats and feral cats - small prey, frequent feeding - dictates how we feed our domestic cat. You'll notice that cats eat less and more frequently than humans. This is hard wired from the wild cat ancestor, the African wildcat.

Geriatric cats lose their sense of taste and smell so need a high palatability cat food if they have a weight loss problem. Old cats do lose weight.

Associated: Feeding feral cats.

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