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Cats and Protein: How much protein do cats need?

Photo by duan wen on Unsplash
  1. Dietary Protein & Cats’ Metabolism

Cats are pure carnivores, which makes them hungry for meat, especially for animal protein.

In nature, wild cats eat insects, birds and small animals, the proteins and fat of which are converted into glucose and energy. Starch and vegetables, meanwhile, are foreign to the stomach of a cat. While human beings can process a variety of carbohydrates, lipids, and plant and animal proteins, carnivores like cats are geared towards a more monotonous diet of pure meat.

Looking at the biology, when protein is insufficient in an omnivore’s diet, the animal slows down its body’s metabolism of protein, opting instead to digest other forms of nutrients. However, studies have shown that no matter what a cat eats, indeed, even if they do not eat, their bodies metabolize protein all the same. If they don’t have enough protein intake to balance out their metabolism, then their body starts to break down their muscles. For many household cats, this fact of biology is a disaster, as their owners buy feed that is too low in protein to sustain them.

Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

2. Muscular Atrophy

The function of protein is to maintain an animal’s body structure, hair, skin, tendons, and muscles, and just like bodybuilders, cats need sufficient protein intake to maintain healthy musculature.

Without enough protein, cats suffer from muscular atrophy. Cats that routinely eat a lot of carbohydrates and little protein become obese, while old cats, like the one in the picture, are especially sensitive to low protein diets, as their ability to metabolize protein is weaker than before.

3. What do cats need?

In an experiment on the dietary preferences of cats, scientists used a variety of nutritional combinations and found that cats would routinely choose a meal with a 10-to-4 ratio of protein to fat. This roughly translates to 50% of a cat’s calorie intake coming from proteins and 50% coming from lipids. What does this mean?

For an inactive adult cat, 40–45 kcal/kg of body weight is needed per day, while an underweight and active cat needs 80 kcal/kg per day

So, considering that 50% of calories should come from protein, providing that protein contains roughly 3.5 kilocalories per gram, a cat’s protein requirement is around 5.7g to 11.4 g/kg body weight. Use this formula to calculate how much protein your cat needs!

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