The evolution of a cat's diet and the importance of nourishing as nature intended


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21 November 2022
TV Vet Dr Marc Abraham advises on steps to take to accommodate your cats everchanging taste buds and the importance of a rotational diet.

The domestication of cats has taken place over thousands of years. The earliest evidence of the process of cats living in close proximity to humans actually comes from grain stores. Humans would store their crops indoors, which saw an increase in the number of mice. Wild cats would hunt out the mice to eat, which is where humans began to see the value of having cats around as companions.

Fast forward to the present day and the role of cats in our lives has changed (though some still retain their jobs as vermin catchers). They are now much-loved companions that share our homes - sofas and beds alike. Evolving over this time, it’s unsurprising that their taste buds have changed too. Although, the instincts and nutritional requirements are still firmly rooted in the wild cats from which they descended. 

Like wild cats, domestic cats are obliged carnivores, meaning that their diet should feature rich inclusions of fresh and raw high-quality animal ingredients. Unlike other domestic animals, cats have the shortest digestive tract to body size ratio which makes it harder for them to break down plant materials. Therefore, feeding a cat a strict plant-based diet can be detrimental to their health in the long term.

To help educate pet owners on their cat’s essential feeding habits, super-premium pet food brand ORIJEN encourages them to nourish as nature intended. ORIJEN derives from the Latin term ‘origin’ - meaning source or beginning. Born from a desire to mirror the diet cats have evolved to eat, ORIJEN recipes reflect diets as close as possible to what our cats’ ancestors found and consumed in the wild. ORIJEN pioneered Biologically Appropriate food and WholePrey nutrition, which is why the first five ingredients of its recipes are always fresh or raw meat, poultry, or fish, and nutrient-rich organs. This gives owners the ability to nourish pets with  nutrient dense diets so that pets thrive for their lifetime.  

Here, TV vet Dr Marc Abraham OBE explains why cats’ taste buds have evolved. He also advises on the various steps cat owners can follow to cater to those everchanging taste buds and the importance of a rotational diet:  

1.  Cats are naturally carnivores and should be fed accordingly – Cats are meat-eaters and extremely well-adapted to a predator lifestyle. Not only do they eat meat, but cats have become somewhat dependent on it. Cats have no need for special enzymes or metabolic pathways to digest and convert nutrients in plants, as primarily hunting animals they already have everything they need in the animals they kill. However, adapting to become strict carnivores means cats have uniquely special dietary requirements that don’t apply to most other animals. Therefore, feeding a nourishing, high-quality cat food is always preferable. In fact, one of the most important things to look out for when buying cat food is that the label says ‘complete’ food. Both ORIJEN Guardian 8 and Kitten are complete cat diets, which means they’ve been developed to meet all their nutritional needs, vital to your cat’s long, healthy, and nourished life.

2.  Cats are still closely related to their carnivorous ancestors - The domestic cat is descended from the North African wildcat and remains very similar to this species in size, shape, behaviour, and physiology. DNA evidence suggests that wildcats first ‘self-domesticated’ in Egypt roughly 10,000 years ago when hungry spotted felines wandered into early farm buildings to feed on grain-stealing rodents, and stuck around for free scraps, as well as backrubs from grateful humans. Both ORIJEN Guardian 8 and Kitten cat diets, like the rest of the ORIJEN range, always includes as first five ingredients fresh or raw meat , poultry, fish, and nutrient-rich organ, allowing cats to follow the diet they have evolved to eat. Over the millennia, cats in Egypt evolved from useful village predators to physical embodiments of the gods, symbols of divine protection, and even ‘magical’ creatures, capable of bringing good luck to the people who housed them.

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3.  Cats eat frequently but in small quantities – Just like their wild ancestors, cats are naturally specialised to hunt alone, meaning their prey is generally much smaller than they are. Since the average mouse only contains about 30 kilocalories, cats must hunt, kill, and eat around ten mice per day to meet their daily energy and nutrient requirements. Therefore, under natural circumstances, cats will consume frequent small meals. Nowadays, relying on their owners to eat, means most cats rarely follow their natural feeding patterns, and instead are restricted to schedules more convenient for us humans. So consider being more accommodating to your cat and provide them with more frequent meals in smaller quantities. For example, on every ORIJEN bag you will find feeding guide with the daily recommended portion for your feline based on the weight and activity level.

4.  Encourage your cat to stimulate their brain – In today’s modern world cats often miss out on opportunities to hunt for their food, all of which involve mental exertion which, unsurprisingly, can lead to boredom, apathy, anxiety, frustration, stress, and some serious, related behavioural issues. To prevent and even tackle some of these potential problems, as well as dividing your cat’s daily food ration into multiple portions, such as feeding these throughout the 24-hour period using either timed feeders, try using puzzle feeders which hold food and must be manipulated to release it, helping meals last longer; this will encourage more exercise, as well as providing a fun ‘brain-teaser’ for your cat!

5.  Consult your vet to prevent obesity in your cat – Most cats are usually fed from the same bowl in the exact same location every day, meaning little or no exertion is required to obtain food. So keeping your cat’s healthy weight is something else that must be considered, and like us all cats are individuals, meaning there’s great variation in the amount of food they need to consume to ensure they don’t become overweight. Obesity is the most common nutrition-related problem in UK cats, making cats susceptible to several health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Most vet practices run free weight clinics, so ask your vet to help you determine the ideal bodyweight for your cat and follow their suggestions for adjusting your cat’s diet and exercise plan to reach and maintain that target weight. 

ORIJEN has strengthened its range of cat food with the addition of two products: Kitten and Guardian 8.

ORIJEN Kitten diet is specially formulated to give your kitten the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong. Packed with 90% quality animal ingredients like chicken, turkey and salmon, it helps support muscle development in your growing kitten. It also contains 11 fresh or raw ingredients, including WholePrey ingredients such as muscle meat, organs and bone, the most succulent and nourishing parts of the prey. This diet helps support your kitten’s brain development and cognitive function with naturally occurring DHA and EPA from salmon, whole mackerel and herring, and pollock oil.

ORIJEN Guardian 8 targets the health-conscious pet owner who is looking for a diet that will help to support their adult cat for a lifetime. With 90% high-quality animal ingredients and 2/3 of those being fresh or raw, Guardian 8 helps to support your cat’s immune and digestive system, skin and coat health, maintain muscle, joint and heart health, support brain and cognitive function as well as eye health.

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