Feline Nutrition Trends
Due to the specific dietary needs of cats, finding nutritious products that optimize feline health can be challenging for consumers and retailers.
Creating appetizing, yet wholesome, recipes that will meet the distinctive nutritional needs of cats can be difficult for manufacturers, and finding these products can be a complicated task for consumers. While domestic cats might be considered part of the family, their nutritional requirements still reflect the physiological demands of their wild ancestors.
While other animals can lead healthy lives by relying on a vegetarian diet that satisfies their dietary needs, cats’ bodies cannot remain healthy without incorporating rich protein sources in their meals.
“Our feline friends require over 36 percent protein to prevent muscle wasting, and over 50 percent protein to promote an ideal body mass,” explains Gina Zaro, marketing director for Englewood, Colo.-based Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products.
Products manufactured with synthetic proteins exist, but these are not as nutritious for cats, whose bodies require natural sources to function properly. Additionally, the healthiest cats receive their natural proteins from animal sources—not artificial additives.
“Cats are obligate carnivores—cats are not small dogs—they metabolize their food differently than their dog friends and human companions,” says Zaro. “Dogs can survive on a diet without animal-based protein and cats simply cannot.”
Due to a need for certain amino acids that are derived from animal-protein sources, cat bodies require protein that is found in meat. When manufacturers choose to forego quality meat-based sources for these amino acids in their product lines, they could potentially put their four-legged customers at risk.
“Meat contains the complete array of essential amino acids cats need, plant proteins do not,” says Heather Hickey, vice president of sales for Ziwi USA Inc., located in Overland Park, Kan. “Carb-heavy fillers don’t provide much nutritional benefit to cats, and may promote obesity and other diet-related health issues.”
The differences regarding how cat bodies consume meals, gain beneficial nutrients and metabolize food, when compared with other animals, are extremely important to consider when stocking products that claim to offer comprehensive nutrition. Because of their body structure, when cats consume food, their systems attempt to work efficiently to fortify the animals with nutrients that are processed through amino acids.
“Their gastrointestinal tract is shorter relative to their body size, compared to most monogastric species, which gives them less time to extract nutrients from the food they eat,” says Josh Patterson, trade marketing director at Nulo, based in Austin, Texas. “Since their diets in the wild were primarily meat-based, cats evolved with enzymatic activity tailored to a meat-based diet.”
One of the most important considerations when thinking about feline nutrition is the production of taurine, an amino acid that promotes healthy function of physiological processes in cats. Though taurine is an essential component of feline health—as it aids in processes such as cardiovascular function and eyesight—some cats don’t produce enough due to their evolution from skilled hunters to human companions.
“Through domestication, we’ve brought cats indoors and taken away their freedom to hunt and select their own food sources, forcing them to eat starch-based diets with little to no meat, but still expecting them to thrive,” explains Patterson.
Fitness in Felines
Without including daily activity to maintain healthy cat weight, felines will not experience the full benefit of consuming wholesome food products. When hunting for their food, the ancestors of today’s cats remained active—another essential aspect of feline health—but modern felines lost these natural methods of remaining fit when they became domesticated. To maximize cat health through a healthful diet, pet parents must prevent their felines from becoming fat cats, which is a problem faced by many of these animals.
“Cats are rarely active enough to warrant significant changes in their diet. In fact, more often the opposite is true,” reveals Patterson. “We encourage pet parents to incorporate more activity into their cat’s daily routine as a well-rounded approach to helping their cats maintain a healthy weight.”
While they might not realize this issue, consumers must also recognize the importance of keeping felines hydrated. As pet parents engage in more activity with their cats, ensuring sufficient water consumption by their felines becomes increasingly important. Retailers can help solve this problem by recommending wholesome, moist food recipes, which will contribute to keeping cats hydrated.
“Since canned foods have a higher water content, a wet diet can be a smart choice for pet parents who are concerned that their cats may not be consuming enough water,” reveals Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods, which is headquartered in Mequon, Wis. “Furthermore, cats can be more sensitive to texture and may favor a canned pate over a dry kibble.”
Including moist food in a cat’s diet doesn't require completely abandoning dry food sources. Simply combining dry food with moist toppers can provide additional hydration.
Simple Reigns Supreme
With many options for providing nutrition to cats, consumers are sifting through unclear marketing gimmicks and unsubstantiated claims. As they conduct research, they are finding that their cats don’t need fancy meals, but instead require simple formulas based on the diets of their wild predecessors.
“Fads may come and go, but the biological needs of cats haven’t changed at all,” says Hickey. “As pet parents become more aware of the nutritional needs of their cats, they are buying higher-quality products that contain more meat, without all the fillers, gums and binders.”
As manufacturers continue to deliver on this demand for simple yet wholesome recipes, retailers must join the initiative by eliminating confusing marketing speak that could frustrate consumers. By simply providing information, remaining transparent and offering real solutions, retailers can successfully navigate this trend that brings feline nutrition back to the basics.
“Retailers should be looking for foods that are based on the true needs of a cat with delivering transparency at the shelf,” says Zaro. “Retailers should also look for brands that promote education and community to empower customers.” PB