Saturday 20 February 2021

Are felines carnivores?

I would hope and expect that 99.9% of the world's population know that felines are carnivores. They are meat eaters. It is stronger than that. They have to eat meat because they are what are called 'obligate carnivores'. They are obliged to eat the flesh of animals due to their evolution. They are specialists as genetic mutations have lead them to becoming dependent on the flesh of animals.

But it is not as straightforward as that. Although evolution dictates that they have to eat the flesh of animals they do also eat the stomach contents of the animals that they kill. The stomach contents will be vegetation because they prey upon animals that feed on vegetation i.e. herbivores. So felines also eat vegetation.

A lot of commercially prepared cat food is based on polluted carcasses of animals
A lot of commercially prepared cat food is based on polluted carcasses of animals and therefore arguably plant based foods + added nutrients is better in quality. Image: MikeB.

Also, we know that domestic cats sometimes eat grass. That is a plant and the plant is not an animal! And therefore felines are not exclusively carnivores. They eat grass, it is believed, because grass contains folic acid which is missing in their diet. Folic acid plays a role in the production of haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying protein found in red blood cells. Although there are many theories about why cats eat grass.

The snow leopard specifically eats a certain bush i.e. vegetation and it is my theory that they do this because it increases the amount of oxygen in their bloodstream. It therefore enhances their ability to live at high altitude. I stress that this is my theory because no scientist has studied this. Although I have an article about the snow leopard being partly vegetarian! You can click here to read that article if you wish. Note: In Pakistan more than 22% of faeces of snow leopards inspected contained plant matter and in Ladakh (in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir ) more than 50% contained vegetation including willow and Myricaria bushes (Myricaria germanica)

Another point worth making about felines being carnivores is that there is a trend nowadays towards eating plant protein rather than protein from the muscle of animals. This is to help curb climate change. Therefore manufacturers have started to sell plant-based dry cat food for domestic cats. On the face of it this is not going to work but the manufacturers add the nutrients necessary to make the food balanced for domestic cats. You can make your own mind up about it but I believe that as long as the essential nutrients are present at a microbiological level then the food is nutritious.

There is a caveat to that last statement and that is this. A recent study decided that if you want to curb the hunting of the domestic cat (and a lot of cat owners do) you should feed them with a high quality grain-free entirely meat-based wet cat food. You should find that they hunt less. It appears that "complete and balanced" wet cat food normally available is not quite as complete as it should be and therefore the domestic cat decides to hunt mice in order to supplement what they might consider to be a deficient diet from their perspective.

This is a novel approach to curbing domestic cat hunting. Further work is needed on this. But domestic cat wet cat food and dry cat food can be quite deficient and too far removed from a natural prey animal such as a mouse. Dry cat food is highly artificial for example. It's convenient but there are deficiencies with it. And there's too much plant material to bulk up cat food and to keep the price down. But hundreds of millions of cats fed on this type of cat food and they survive on it but we don't know how much health damage it does to them in the long term.

To return to the question in the title: are felines carnivores? Yes, is the answer because evolution dictates that. They have become highly specialised due to their evolution and dependent upon a meat-based diet. In the wild they satisfy that evolutionary demand by preying on wild animals and sometimes livestock (e.g. the mountain lion). But in the human world, people have found ways to feed the domestic cat with plant protein and dry foods containing grain which is less than ideal.

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