Are cats carnivores? Why are cats carnivores?

By Cami
Updated on
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Are Cats Carnivores?

Yes, cats are carnivores–in fact, they are obligate carnivores. Let me explain…

This question probably popped up in your head at least once: Are cats carnivores?

After long research hours, I found a meta-study that said 3% of dog obesity is attributed to animal-specific factors, and 97% of factors are controlled by the owner (household environment, diet, exercise, etc). Cats were not too different. 

As responsible cat owners, it is important to figure out what our furry friends need in their diet to prevent serious health issues. Cats, like all carnivores, need a set of macronutrients– protein, fat, and carbohydrates. But, how much of each?

Keep reading if you want to learn:

What type of carnivores are cats?

Cats are obligate carnivores. That is a type of carnivore that depend only on animal meat for survival. The digestive system for this type of carnivore is not built to digest plants properly. Plants don’t provide the necessary nutrients for them as well.

The next level down from obligate carnivores is hypercarnivores. Hypercarnivores are a type of carnivore that needs 70% or more meat in their diet. 

According to this, felines ideally should get 70% or more animal meat in their diet.

Protein & Amino Acid Requirements

As obligate carnivores, you probably guessed that cats need lots of protein in their diet. They need a high amount of nitrogen and 11 essential amino acids (taurine, arginine, etc). They are both found in aminal meat. Cats need more of certain essential amino acids, such as taurine, arginine, methionine, cysteine, tyrosine, and carnitine. They serve different benefits outlined in this article

Cats use meat protein not only for structural and synthetic purposes but as their main energy source. Protein and amino acids also help regulate their blood sugar levels. If your furry friend is not eating enough protein, you can risk having a sick, injured, or anorexic cat. 

Fat Requirements 

Fats play the second biggest part in a cat’s macronutrients. European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) recommends at least 9% fat in manufactured cat foods. Veterinarians say that 9% is the bare minimum and a cat’s diet should have around 20 to 40% fat in them. But remember, this includes the fats already present in animal meat. Don’t add an additional 40% amount of fats to your cat’s dinner. 

Cats in different stages of their life may need a different amounts of fats. Kittens, pregnant and lactating queens may need more fats to support their growth. Senior cats may need less because they can’t digest it as well.  Some cats need more because they are not eating enough or experience irritable bowel syndrome.

Essential fatty acids, like omega-3 fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), can help with managing certain cat diseases. As you can see, each cat requires a unique diet.

Carbohydrates Considerations

Cats do use carbohydrates as an energy source, but minimally. They don’t have an essential need for dietary carbohydrates. If an appropriate amount of carbohydrates is given to them, their bodies can efficiently digest it

That being said, vets suggest they are not able to properly digest high-carbohydrate meals. There are 2 reasons:

  1. Cats lack glucokinase, an enzyme that detects how high the blood sugar level is in the body and is used to break down glucose inside cells.
  2. Cats lack salivary amylase in their saliva making the enzymes involved in starch and carbohydrate digestion less active.

The question is not whether cats can digest carbohydrates, but rather how much carbohydrates should they eat. The answer varies from cat to cat. You must take into account species-specific tolerances and cat-specific health issues. 

Obesity & Carbohydrates

No doubt, carbohydrates can play a part in your cat’s obesity. But it is not because your cat eats or doesn’t eat carbohydrates. It has to do with the overall macronutrient composition of your cat’s diet and caloric intake. 

Your feline companion may eat more fatty foods to compensate for a lower-carbohydrate diet. That can result in more calories in your cat’s dish. 

The most important factor that increases the risk of obesity is caloric intake. Feeding a low-carb diet with no calorie restriction is also a culprit of kitty obesity!

Diabetes & Carbohydrates

Veterinarians say research literature shows mixed results on the relationship between eating more carbohydrates and increased insulin and blood sugar levels. So, a high-carbohydrate diet doesn’t necessarily cause your cat to have diabetes. 

Yet, there is some evidence that shows a lower-carbohydrate diet can help with treating diabetes in cats. Always consult a vet about your cat’s diet if there are health complications.

The Bottom Line

Like the human body, feline health is complex. There are no simple, absolute, or universal claims that can fit every cat’s needs. 

Cat parents have an obligation to our furry companions to provide a proper diet that satisfies their biological needs. This means respecting the nutritional guidelines set out by authorities like FEDIAF and AAFCO.

We can also research our cat’s general and unique needs to the best of our abilities. But, always consult a vet before making decisions. 

What to do next

Speaking of giving your cat proper food, there are some foods you should never give your cat. Check out these toxic foods for your cat!


Are cats’ nutritional Needs Different from Dogs?

Yes! Scientists categorize cats as obligate carnivores and dogs as omnivores. Carnivores need animal meat to sustain themselves. Omnivores can do that with both animal meat and plants.

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Cami spends a lot of her time researching cat care backed up by scientific studies. With a passion for cute kittens, she shares her insights and tips to help you provide the best possible care for your beloved feline friend.