Low Carb for Cats
March 31, 2011
According to Dr. Debra L. Zoran, a clinical assistant professor
of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at Texas A&M University
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, cats are
metabolically adapted for higher protein, low-carbohydrate
"More than 35 percent of cats in the United States are
overweight or obese," said Zoran.
Age, sex, and activity level are all factors that influence the
weight of a cat; however, feeding style is a significant
contributor to obesity rates. Traditional weight loss plans include
low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. However, cats are not traditional
animals when it comes to their ideal diet.
"Cats are not only carnivores but they are obligate carnivores,
meaning they require additional protein and other nutrients that
are only present in animal tissue", said Zoran.
Zoran explained that cats utilize protein for energy, even in
the face of large amounts of carbohydrates in the diet.
"Because cats lack salivary amylase and have low concentrations
of other carbohydrate-digesting enzymes, digestion of sugars is
very inefficient in cats," explained Zoran. "When it
comes to cat food, extra carbohydrates only mean extra calories,
which, if not burned for energy, are stored as fat."
In addition to their enzyme deficiencies, a cat's small
intestine is much shorter than that of an equally sized omnivore
such as a dog. Felines have longer GI tracts which allow them to
handle complex carbohydrates.
Instead of slimming down a fat cat, a high carbohydrate, high
fiber diet may lead to abnormal intestinal function or even
"While these [low-fat, high carbohydrate, high fiber] diets may
result in weight loss, they do so to the detriment of lean body
mass which is protein in muscles," said Zoran. "Losing lean
body mass often contributes to weight regain because cats'
appetites are not reduced and satiety, or a sense of satisfaction,
is never reached."
Past studies evaluating the use of a canned low-carbohydrate,
high-protein (45 percent or higher) diet for weight loss in cats
has revealed that all cats lost weight and maintained lean body
"These diets not only resulted in sustained weight loss in these
cats, but also in normalization of appetite because they are
satiated," explained Zoran.
This does not mean that cat owners need to bake some blackened
tilapia for Tiger or slap some ribs on the grill. A high-protein
diet for your cat does not call for extra fuss; suitable foods can
be found in the pet food aisle.
"The best commercial diets for achieving a high protein,
low-carb profile are canned foods like those used for growth, such
as kitten foods, or canned diets specially designed for adult
diabetic cats," said Zoran.
Some cats will turn their noses up at the sight of canned food,
but no worries, there are also dry food options that provide
high-protein and low-carbohydrate nutrition. However, Zoran
recommends that most cats be fed at least some canned food as part
of their diet to reduce both carbohydrate intake and overall
"Dry foods tend to be very calorie dense," said Zoran, "Feeding
them only 50 percent canned food is a good starting point."
Sadly Garfield might need to give up his lasagna dinners for a
healthy serving of protein instead.
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