Dogs and cats are often lumped together in regards to their dietary requirements, at least to the extent of labeling them both as carnivores. In reality, however, their dietary requirements are quite different. We’ve outlined those differences for you here.
The primary reason for the dietary differences between dogs and cats is that they are not, in fact, both strict carnivores. Cats are obligage carnivores designed to eat a diet consisting primarily of protein. Dogs, on the other hand, are carno-omnivorous and are able to digest carbohydrates (although they don’t have an established requirement for them).
A study published by the American Journal of Physiology states, “Dogs and cats are from separate branches within the order Carnivora. This order contains more than 260 species, most of which are omnivores, despite their name. Dogs are carno-omnivorous animals, adapted to eat a varied diet, whereas cats are carnivorous and naturally eat a diet of principally protein and fat, with very little carbohydrate.”
These basic differences in digestive capabilities have resulted in evolutionary differences in their requirements. For example:
- Dogs can synthesize arachidonic acid from linoleic acid, making it unnecessary in their diet. Cats are unable to synthesize amino acids taurine or arginine, resulting in both amino acids being dietary requirements.
- Dogs can make their own Vitamin A from beta-carotene synthesized by plants, whereas cats cannot.
It’s important to understand these differences if you are to formulate a complete diet for your dog or cat. Manufactured dog and cat food already takes these differences into account, which is why a cat should not be fed dog food.
Batchelor, D. J. Sodium/Glucose Cotransporter-1, Sweet Receptor, and Disaccharidase Expression in the Intestine of the Domestic Dog and Cat: Two Species of Different Dietary Habit. 2010.
Dzanis, David A. The Association of American Feed Control Officials Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles: Substantiation of Nutritional Adequacy of Complete and Balanced Pet Foods in the United States. 1994.
Strieker, M. J. The effects of dietary protein on essential amino acid requirements in kittens. Doctoral thesis, UC. 1991.
Messonnier, Shawn DVM. Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements 2001.
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