Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs
In this post, we’re talking about the differences and similarities between the nutrient requirements of dogs and cats!
Well, we all know that dogs and cats look and act pretty different (usually…) but, they also both have four legs, two eyes, two ears and are fur covered. So, lot’s of similarities but also lots of clear differences.
It seems like they’d have similar nutrient requirements yet that’s not entirely true. So, back at it again (we make her work hard) we’ve consulted our in house pet nutrition specialist Alex Camara, MSc. to get to know the nutritional differences between cats and canines.
So, let’s jump right into it!
Both eat kibble, right? But cats aren’t just tiny dogs. Dogs and cats both need a set of nutrient classes. These include water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, but within each class, there are differences between the two species.
The first key difference between the nutrient requirements of cats and dogs is that dogs can adapt their water intake while cats can’t. Dogs can drink more or less in response to their body water stores, exercise, food, and sodium intake. Cats, mmhh not so much.
So why cats? WHY? Seems like a basic for land mammals right? Well, since cats have evolved from desert animals, they have evolved and adapted to tolerate low water intake. So, it’s kind of like a little kitty superpower. But, these adaptations have also been implicated as risk factors for conditions like feline lower urinary tract disease. So, having fresh water available for your cat is extremely important! Not to mention, offering it in different ways may help entice your cat to drink more. Enter boujee cat water fountain and luxurious canned/wet food. Let’s be honest, this is on-brand with cats. They love to be extra.
Dog vs. Cats Protein Requirements
The second key difference is cats have a requirement for higher amounts of protein.
Why? It’s to maintain a process called gluconeogenesis.
That’s a big science-y word, let’s break it down. Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic pathway cats use to transform amino acids into glucose for energy. Dietary protein is composed of amino acids. Cat’s need enough protein in their food to get the necessary amino acids for the energy to knock your glasses off your night table in the middle of the night.
Both the nutrient requirements of cats and dogs require at least 10 out of 22 of the amino acids they need from their diets. These are indispensable or necessary for dogs and cats: essential amino acids. The other amino acids are just as important but their bodies can actually make them.
Our third key difference is that cats also have a special requirement for the amino acid taurine. Something you’ve probably heard about if you share your living space with a kitty. Cat’s also have a higher requirement for arginine than dogs.
These amino acids are vital to build and maintain tissues in the body, create enzymes, blood components, hormones, other metabolites, and energy. Current pet food requirements for protein and amino acids are also generally higher for cats than they are for dogs.
We’ve covered protein and all the amino acid goodness. Let’s move on to fat.
Fat provides essential fatty acids and is a source of energy for dogs and cats. Although most mammals can make saturated fatty acids from glucose or amino acids, some polyunsaturated fatty acids cannot be made in the body. These include the likes of linoleic, linolenic, arachidonic acid, EPA and DHA.
But our (generally) smaller furry friends, cats, they’re specifically lacking. They lack or have low quantities of certain enzymes to be able to elongate or desaturate fatty acids in the body to make these long-chain fatty acids (arachidonic acid, EPA, and DHA). What does that mean? It means our cat friends require a higher concentration of these long-chain fatty acids than dogs in their diet. Puppies and kittens also require higher concentrations of these fatty acids than adult dogs and cats (read more about the difference between dog and puppy diets here).
On to CARB Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs!
Carbohydrates provide energy as well as fibre for both dogs and cats. Fibre consists of soluble and insoluble fibre which provide different benefits to mammals.
Soluble fibre escapes enzymatic digestion in the small intestine and enters the large intestine for microbial fermentation. From this fermentation comes short-chain fatty acids which can be an energy source. Soluble fibre also helps promote gut bacteria growth! Sounds gross but it’s actually amazing and healthy. Healthy gut bacteria can improve digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as immunity in both dogs and cats.
Last but Not Least, Vitamins!
Vitamins are divided into water-soluble (B vitamins) and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, and K). Vitamin requirements are based on essentiality type studies in animals.
Unlike humans, dogs and cats don’t need a source of vitamin C in their diet, they can make vitamin C in their bodies. Cats require the active form of vitamin A in their diet, but our pooches can convert pre-vitamin A, beta carotene, into the active form of vitamin A in their body.
Cats also have a higher requirement for niacin, a B vitamin, as well as vitamin D3 due to higher activities of enzymes that break down precursors of those vitamins into other compounds. Both dogs and cats require a balance of minerals in their diet. Dogs require a slightly higher ratio of calcium to phosphorus than cats. So, we need to ensure our four-legged friends are getting the vitamins they need in their diets.
It’s important to note that dietary requirements will also vary in both species with life stage, activity level, gestation and lactation.
In a nutshell, dogs and cats on the surface seem similar in diets but there are some very big differences. It’s important to take the different species dietary requirements into account along with your individual pets needs when choosing diets suited best for your pet.