Why are cats such picky eaters? A recent scientific study seems to show that they can instinctively choose the best cat food for their bodies, regardless of its flavor or aroma.
Mercola.com reports that scientists from Australia and the UK studied the eating habits of cats, by offering them food with different nutritional content and flavors. What they found is surprising.
For the study, the scientists formulated three different flavors of wet food with about the same protein-to-fat ratio. The foods were the consistency of porridge. One contained fish, another rabbit, and the third, orange flavoring.
They offered the three foods to a group of male and female cats, all of which initially showed a preference for the fish-flavored food, followed by rabbit, and with the orange-flavored stuff coming in a distant third.
However, over time, the kitties learned about the nutrient content of the three different foods and began choosing the foods that allowed them to meet their unique nutritional requirements for protein and fat.
As lead author Adrian Hewson-Hughes, Ph.D., explained to Discovery News (Seeker):
“Cats initially selected food based on flavor preferences, but after ‘learning’ (due to prior exposure) about the nutritional composition of the foods, cats selected foods to reach a particular target balance of protein and fat regardless of added flavors.”
What This Means for Your Cat
All in all, the results of the study are pretty amazing! Our feline friends can apparently “analyze” their food, and can learn to eat the blend that helps them feel their best. (We humans could use an ability like that!) The study found that cats will self-adjust their intake of foods to achieve an ideal balance of protein to fat and carbohydrates. In fact, cats can only tolerate up to 25% of their diet in the form of carbos, and will often choose to eat far fewer carbs. They just don’t seem to need them.
(As I researched information for this post, I came to the conclusion that cats eat a form of the Paleo Diet… without the fruits and nuts!)
The bottom line – cats have good reasons to be finicky about their food. If their food is changed (for example, when the store is out of their usual brand, or the manufacturer reformulates the food), it can take cats a while to adjust to the “new” food. Their little internal analytical laboratories need some time to work out if the stuff is any good!
Training When Young
Kittens should – like human children – be exposed to a variety of foods. Offer a variety of wet and dry foods specifically formulated for kittens. Let the kitten sample lots of different flavors & textures. Not only will this strategy help the kitten to get all the nutrition it needs for growth, but it will also avoid the kitten “imprinting” on a specific brand of food. Allowing your cat to have a broader experience of foods when young can help avoid extremely finicky eating when the cat is an adult.
(Photo by Matúš Benian – via Flickr)
When to Call the Vet
It’s also important to understand that eating behaviors can be an indicator of the cat’s overall health. For example:
If a previously good eater suddenly becomes finicky or finickiness persists… your cat may have a physical problem and need veterinary care. Any cat who quits eating completely or has a loss of appetite accompanied by other symptoms of illness should be seen by the veterinarian right away.
(Thanks to HowStuffWorks.com for the info.)
What Foods Should Cats Not Eat?
Of course, there are quite a few foods that cats should not eat. Here’s a short video that lists many of those foods, and why they should be avoided.
The list may not be complete, so – when it comes to your cat’s diet, if in doubt, leave it out! Consult your veterinarian, or do some research if you have concerns about what’s best for your cat.
Choosing the Best Cat Food
It can be a challenge to find the best cat food. Our cats can be a great little nutritionists, if we listen to what their choices tell us. If you have some food recommendations, please share them below. And if you have some funny (even interesting) stories about your cat’s diet or preferences, feel free to share them in the comments below.