Dogs and cats are vastly different species, although both share classification in to the carnivore category, dogs are seen as mesocarnivores (at least 60 % of their diet is meat), whereas cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need to consume at least 70-90% of their food as animal protein. Dogs can survive as “omnivores” – although they are not designed to digest grains – and are therefore more adapt at surviving adversity (as they can live on plant and animal food sources), whereas cats and other obligate carnivores, have a much more limited food source and are therefore more vulnerable to changes in their environment and diet. Humans have had cats and dogs as their companions for thousands of years, but somehow have lost the knowledge of how to see these species as individuals – often viewing cats as a small dog, but they have many differences when it comes to their nutritional needs.
Cats and dogs have some major differences, especially when it comes to their diet. Cats are unable to digest carbohydrates well, as they have no salivary amylase, which is used to pre-digest carbohydrates in the mouth. As mentioned above, cats are called obligate carnivores, they must have at least 70-90 % of their diet as meat protein. The remaining 10-30% can be finely ground / par cooked plant material as would be found in the partly digested plant material in the prey’s digestive track. Feeding cats like dogs, can cause severe medical issues, as they will end up with deficiencies which will affect their lifespan, fertility and growth.
Dogs in the other hand are mesocarnivores, meaning they can get by with less animal protein and can successfully survive (for a period) on and digest carbohydrates, due to a limited amount of amylase produced in their digestive tract and can almost fall under the classification of omnivores due to this versatility in their diet.
Dogs can also consume much larger meals at a time as they have larger, more expandable stomachs, whereas cats have small stomachs and need to be fed small meals multiple times a day. Cats also prefer room temperature or warmer food – signalling that the “prey” is fresh, whereas dogs are quite happy to scavenge their food, so temperature does not matter as much to them.
Cats have sharper teeth, which are designed for cutting and tearing, whereas dogs have the ability to grind their food with sharp molars.
Cats drink less water than dogs, as they have evolved from desert animals, depending on their food for a large amount of their fluid intake – it is therefore important to have multiple water sources for cats around the house.
Cats need the amino acid, Taurine, found in organ meat such as the heart, in their diet as they cannot synthesise taurine in their body, like dogs.
The digestive tract length in a cat is shorter than the dog and the time food takes to transit the digestive tract is also shorter in cats than in dogs.
As seen above, there are marked differences in these two species, why is it that we see these two species as the same when comes to their diet? As humans have moved away for the land and became more urbanised, they also have lost the connection with the land and food scraps from slaughter, became less available. The convenience of processed foods gained popularity since the 1950’s and marketing associated with these products, as well as the fallacy that a balanced raw fed diet cannot be done at home, has led to more and more people feeding processed kibble to their animals. Veterinarians recommend processed kibbled diets and they are often the only source of education some people have about pet care, but veterinarians have very little nutritional training, therefore cannot guide their clients in how to feed their animals in a more species appropriate manner and will recommend kibbled foods and dissuade clients from putting their pets on raw diets. Kibbled dog and cat food look the same and some people believe that what is good for one is good for the other, but unfortunately for the cat this can have disastrous consequences.
Cooked and highly processed foods have very little to offer in terms of minerals and vitamins and the cooking / heat extraction destroys most of these and will need to be added back into the food in the form of synthetic vitamins and minerals to make the food balanced, which raise the question of bioavailability of these synthetic minerals and vitamins. Processed pet food companies perpetuate the myth that cats eating their foods are happy and healthy, but have much higher carbohydrates in their food, than what a cat is designed to digest, the reason for this would be that high quality meat proteins needed by cats to thrive, are expensive.
Which brings us to the question of finances – many people are finding it hard to afford quality food for their pets, coupled with a lack of pet care knowledge, therefore a one size fits all approach works for them, but unfortunately to the detriment of their pets’ (especially the cat) health.
As seen on the above sections, cats and dogs are vastly different and it is important that these differences are taken into account when it comes to caring for our companion pets. Unfortunately, convenience and a lack of knowledge have led to people assuming cats and dogs can be fed the same food. When it comes to feeding cats and dogs care needs to be taken to provide them with food appropriate to their unique digestive system. It is important to realise the dietary differences between cats and dogs and to make sure they are addressed in their respective diets. As with human nutrition, there should be a focus on unprocessed foods developed for the individual species.
Anneke is a Degree qualified Naturopath, with a passion for animals and natural health. She has been using natural health solutions with her children and pets since 2001 and after doing many equine treatment courses, decided to follow her heart and started her formal education as a human naturopath in 2014, graduated in 2018 after 4 years of full time study. Upon graduating she enrolled into various equine and small animal therapy courses and in a Diploma of Holistic Animal Care (equine and companion animals) to further cement her knowledge in animal care.