Providing your cat with a healthy daily diet is one of the most important duties of any pet owner. But understanding the ingredients, and knowing which ones are best at fortifying your pet can be a challenge.
The best place to start is by learning about the building blocks of nutrition. Nutrients are divided into a few subcategories -- protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, and water. Each nutrient benefits your cat in a variety of ways. Here's your easy-to-digest guide to the essentials of cat nutrition.
Common pet food protein sources include meat, poultry, fish and some plant ingredients like corn gluten and soybean meal.
Protein is best known for supplying amino acids, or protein subunits, to build hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. It also plays a main role in hormone production.
Cats, true carnivores, require essential amino acids such as taurine, that are not all found in single plant protein sources such as soybean meal.
Common carbohydrate sources are plants and grains. Carbohydrates, also categorized as starches (sugars) and fibers, provide energy and bulk, respectively.
Starches are made up of various types of sugar, such as glucose or fructose. Through digestion, cats (and dogs) can easily convert sugar into usable energy.
Fiber may or may not be fermented -- or broken down into short-chain fatty acids -- by bacteria in a cat's (or dog's) intestines. Highly fermentable fiber sources like vegetable gums provide high amounts of short-chain fatty acids. Moderately fermentable fibers, such as beet pulp, provide short-chain fatty acids and bulk for moving waste. Poorly fermentable fibers, such as cellulose, provide mainly bulk for moving waste through the digestive tract and only a few short-chain fatty acids.
Fats are found in meats, poultry, fish and plant oils, such as flax and vegetable oils. Fat, for all its bad press, fulfills many vital body functions. Animal cell membranes are made of fat. Fat also helps maintain body temperature, control inflammation and more. Fat is the primary form of stored energy in the body, providing twice as much energy as carbohydrates or proteins.
Fats also provide the important fat subunits, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for skin and coat maintenance and proper membrane structure. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be important in blood clotting and decreasing inflammation.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins are responsible for promoting bone growth, blood clotting, energy production and oxidant protection.
Vitamins A, D, E and K require fat for absorption into the body, while vitamins such as the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C need water to be absorbed into the body. Minerals provide skeletal support and aid in nerve transmission and muscle contractions.
Your cat needs proper nutritional support to keep it healthy inside and out. Building on these basics will ensure your cat a long and vital life for years to come.
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