Sunday 1 August 2021

How do cats react to the hydrochloric acid in the stomach of their prey?

How do all wild cats react to the hydrochloric acid (Hcl) in the stomach of their prey animals? It's an interesting if slightly esoteric question. Clearly the hydrochloric stomach acid in prey animals does not bother in the slightest wild cats when they eat their prey. For the sake of clarity, many animals have acid in their stomach to help digest foods. This is hydrochloric acid. It's quite strong and is why you can burn your mouth if you are sick many times.

Hcl. Image: Pixabay.

I believe that the answer is found in the fact that the pH of the acid in the stomach of carnivores like tigers is less than or equal to 1, i.e. it is highly acidic, whereas for humans and herbivores (and herbivores are the prey of tigers and other wild cat species) the pH ranges from 4-5 with food in the stomach.

Therefore, the hydrochloric acid in the stomach of prey animals which helps to digest their food is not that strong. Also, it is dispersed through the contents of the stomach. It probably tastes a little bit acidic to wild cats. I believe that cats can taste the bitterness. In fact, I know they can because one way to stop domestic cats drinking antifreeze is to make it bitter by the addition of a bittering agent.

The reason why tigers for instance have such a highly acidic stomach acid is because they're digesting meat which is harder to digest than the food that herbivores eat.

Incidentally, hydrochloric acid with a pH of 1-2 is similar to industrial strength hydrochloric acid! It facilitates protein breakdown and kills the abundant dangerous bacteria often found in decaying flesh foods.

Another factor is that herbivores break down the cellulose in plants with 'cellulose digesting bacteria' in the stomach. This probably accounts for the fact that the pH of their hydrochloric acid is less strong than that of carnivores. All plants have a cell wall present in the cell structure which contains cellulose.

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