What Exactly is an ‘Obligate Carnivore?’

Omnivores, herbivores, and carnivores. These terms most likely will sound familiar to most. But have you ever heard of the obligate carnivore? And do you know how this term relates to our pets?

Obligate carnivore

Animals that are carnivores, are those that thrive on a meat-based diet. There are many animals that are considered carnivores, like the fox, raccoon, striped skunk, martens, mongooses, lynx, and the river otter. But not all animals that are carnivores, are also obligate carnivores.

The difference between a carnivore and an obligate carnivore, is that an obligate carnivore needs to eat meat to survive. Firstly, because they are unable to properly digest vegetation and get nutrients from them.  Secondly, because the specific nutrients that an obligate carnivore animal requires, can only be found in animal flesh. Examples of obligate carnivores are cats, snakes, seals, eagles, and dolphins. 

The metabolism of the obligate carnivore, and the nutritional needs of the cat.

One of the characteristics of the digestive tract of an obligate carnivore is that it’s short. Raw meat is highly digestible, so there has been no evolutionary need for them to develop a long gastrointestinal tract. They also haven’t developed the gut bacteria that plant eating animals have. Because of this, they are unable to properly digest vegetation and get the nutrients they need from them.

Obligate carnivores also need a high amount of protein in their diet. Unlike us humans, who use carbohydrates as our main source of energy, obligate carnivores get their energy from protein and fat. If their diet lacks protein, they will start breaking down their own body muscle and organs to provide the energy they need. Besides that protein will provide energy, it also facilitates the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients. 

Because a cat’s body evolved around eating the meat of prey animals, they lack the ability to synthesize certain amino acids and vitamins like taurine, vitamin A, niacin, and arginine. The prey animals that the ancestors of our cats ate contained all these nutrients, hence making it unnecessary for their bodies to develop a way to make these nutrients themselves. While herbivores and omnivores are able to make the needed amino acids and vitamins in their own bodies, an obligate carnivore is fully dependent on eating meat to provide these nutrients to them. For example, we humans can turn beta-carotene into vitamin A. Our cats however, will be unable to synthesize beta-carotene into vitamin A, and will need vitamin A in its pre-formed state in their diet. When your cat will not get a steady supply of the nutrients they need, they will develop health issues like skin irritation, hearing loss, liver problems, and heart problems.

Obligate Carnivore

Can my cat eat a vegan diet?

You should not feed a vegan diet to your cat because their digestive system isn’t made to handle a plant-based diet. A cat needs species appropriate food, which means it’s made of meat. An excellent choice for cats is a complete raw meat diet. Another option would be meat-based kibble or wet food, and even though not perfect nutritionally, most cats will adapt to such diets without issue. When you decide to go for kibbles or wet food, choose a brand with a high percentage of meat protein. 

Can my cat eat raw meat?

A raw diet is an excellent choice for cats. There are some myths when it comes to feeding a raw diet which may prevent cat owners from making the switch. Some people believe their cat will turn wild and aggressive if they feed it raw meat, but this is not the case. Feeding a raw diet to your cat will not change their behavior. A mineral deficiency, which can happen on any diet, might result in aggression.

Another myth is that raw food is unsafe. While handling raw meat always poses a risk, and the right precautions should be taken just as you would when handling meat for human consumption, the bacteria in meat pose minimal to no threat to our cats. This is because their digestive tract is developed to digest raw meat and has built in natural defenses to ward off any harmful bacteria, like a high acidity level. If your cat is sick, bacterial resistance might be lower. Handle the meat for your cat the same as you would handle meat for human consumption, and it’s a safe choice of diet. 

When choosing a raw diet, make sure that it’s complete and balanced. You can either buy pre-made raw diets that come balanced and complete or make your own raw diet from scratch. You can find many information sources online which will provide you with enough details so you can ensure that the diet you feed is complete and balanced.

The obligate carnivore

A type of carnivore that needs meat to survive. Through this article we hope to have answered any questions one may have about the dietary needs of their cat and improve the overall welfare and well-being of pet cats. Is your cat on a raw diet and are you worried about it being fed correctly while you’re away? We would be happy to help, all our sitters are comfortable and experienced with feeding raw diets. If you would like more information about our cat sitting service, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to help.

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