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Feline Nutrition

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Fiber

Vegetable matter provides another important function besides energy content: it helps to keep the bowel functioning smoothly through the mildly abrasive and water-absorbing actions of its cellulose content, commonly referred to as "fiber." Note that two seemingly opposite conditions may arise from a lack of fiber: constipation, from a lack of abrasive action, or diarrhea, from a lack of water-absorbing action. While fiber is not a nutrient per se, a "regular" cat needs some fiber in his diet.

As with so many other things, fiber requirements and types have been completely distorted almost beyond recognition by the advertising industry. Fiber is simply cellulose, which is the basic material from which the cellular walls (membranes) of plants are made. Cellulose is cellulose, regardless of it's source, be it from oat bran or grass. In the wild, a cat derives all the cellulose it requires from the stomach and intestines of its prey. The pampered cat, too, should receive all the cellulose it needs from its normal diet.

As an interesting aside, many of the smaller wild cats subsist chiefly on insects and insectivores (lizards, etc.). At first glance, one would think that such cats would have insufficient cellulose and carbohydrates in their diet. This is not the case, as insects and other arthropods are exoskeletal creatures with a covering of chitin, a polysaccaride compound consisting of a simple cellulose-like base molecule (chitin and cellulose are chemically related) coupled with various simple sugars, thus providing both fiber and carbohydrates simultaneously. Good things, those bugs!

Vitamins

Vitamins and related compounds are complex organic molecules used as catalysts or agents in various metabolic processes. In the wild, the cat derives all the vitamins it requires from its prey and from sunlight. The domestic cat must receive all its vitamins in its diet. Under some conditions, your veterinarian may prescribe a vitamin supplement.

A warning is in order here. If the diet is properly balanced and the cat is young and healthy, vitamin supplements are unnecessary. Giving vitamin supplements to a healthy cat may actually lead to a condition of vitamin toxicity, which can be very dangerous, even deadly. In a like manner, a vitamin deficiency can also be very serious. The best solution is a well-balanced diet without supplements unless prescribed by a veterinarian.

Each vitamin plays its role in the health of a cat. Vitamin A is fundamental to good vision, proper growth, and a healthy skin. Vitamin B1 is needed for growth and overall body function. Vitamin C is important for a healthy skin, coat, and gums, but is not required in the diet as the cat synthesizes all it needs. Only very small amounts of vitamin D are required for regulating the use of calcium and phosphorus, necessary for good bones and teeth. Vitamin E is required for a healthy skeleton and reproductive system. Vitamin K is required for proper blood clotting, but like vitamin C is wholly synthesized by the cat. Vitamin B12 is not required by the cat except in very small traces.

Minerals

In addition to the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins, all of which are complex organic molecules, certain small amounts of various inorganic substances are required for life. Life is often though of as being composed of six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous; the same elements that make up DNA. The "big six" are the overwhelming components of life, comprising all but a fraction of a percent of all living tissue. That fraction of a percent is crucial.

The elements iron, sodium, iodine, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and a host of others are also required in varying amounts. All these inorganic substances are lumped together under the general term "minerals."

Again, atoms are atoms, and there is no such thing as "organic calcium," advertising claims notwithstanding. The calcium extracted from limestone is identical to the calcium extracted from seashells or bone. Limestone was once seashells, after all. By the same token, calcium is an element, as are iron, sodium, iodine, etc., and cannot be artificially produced. All elements, with the exception of a few short-lived and highly radioactive ones such as plutonium, are found only in nature (the short-lived ones are also found in nature, but not on Earth).

Like the vitamins, the minerals are necessary for overall body function. The three most important minerals are iron, calcium, and phosphorus. Iron is crucial to proper blood function: it is the "heme" in hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body (making the blood red as it does so). Calcium and phosphorus are required by the bones and teeth, which together contain over 99 per cent of the body's calcium and phosphorus, and for proper muscle action.

Unclassified Nutrients

Like everything else, there are a few nutrients that do not fall neatly into the major groups: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are nonetheless essential to life. One such nutrient is linoleic acid, a fatty acid midway between the fats and the carbohydrates in chemical composition, which is necessary for healthy skin and fur, among other things. There are many such unclassified but required nutrients.

Cat-Peculiar Nutrient Needs

It is important to remember the at cat is a cat, it is not and is never a dog, or a human, or any other living creature. Cats are unique, and have unique needs. Just as a cat needs little or none of some of the nutrients required by us, such as vitamin B12, it has a definite need for others that we do not, as well as differing proportions of those nutrients we have in common.

Inositol, one of the B-complex vitamins, for example, is definitely required by the cat to be present in its diet, but is synthesized by dogs and humans.

In a similar manner the compound taurine is required for good vision in certain nocturnal animals, such as cats. It is believed to be required for a healthy tapetum lucidum, a lining inside the eye that acts as a sort of "light-amplifier," greatly increasing night vision and, incidentally, making the eyes very reflective.

The metabolism of a cat is vastly different from dogs and humans in its ability to purge various chemicals from the system. It is this metabolic difference that causes cats to be easily poisoned by things that a dog or human would shrug off. Common aspirin metabolizes (is broken down and purged) in a human in about four to six hours, but requires 38 hours in a cat! This difference makes the cat highly susceptible to salicylate toxicity.

An overabundance of certain nutrients or substances, or a deficiency thereof, can and often does lead to various medical conditions and problems.

Water

People don't often think of water as a part of the diet, but without water there is no life. About 70 per cent of a cat's body is water.

A cat requires about one fluid ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. In the wild, the majority of this water comes from the cat's prey. In the home, this may also be true if the diet consists of canned food, but with semi-moist or dry foods this is not the case. Fresh water must always be available to your cat, regardless of its diet.

Do not substitute milk or other liquids for water. To a cat, milk is a food, not a beverage. The only cat beverage is water.

Many people are distressed when their cat will drink from a scummy puddle, the gutter, a pond, even the toilet, but won't touch its nice, clean water dish. There is a simple cause for this behavior: the water dish tastes bad to the cat, or used to taste bad (cats have good memories). If we think in cat terms for a moment, algae, mud, fish- bits, even feces are all natural, normal things it rather expects in the wild. But chlorine! Feh! Remember that your cat has a sensitive sense of smell and taste (plus another sense midway between the two) and can readily detect odors and flavors lost on us, while even we can taste the chlorine in our tap water. This foul taste is what makes the sale of bottled water profitable.

You may find that your cat will also appreciate bottled water. Barring that, you may try boiling your pet's water first, as boiling will drive out the highly-volatile chlorine. Even letting it stand out a few hours before serving will allow the majority of the chlorine to evaporate. Often, adding an ounce of club soda (carbonated water) to 16 ounces of ordinary water will do the trick. Cats love carbonation.

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