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Feeding Cats as in Nature — How to Do It? Whole Prey Diets and Research

2024-03-18
Feeding Cats as in Nature — How to Do It? Whole Prey Diets and Research

What should cat food be like? We often agree that the best cat food resembles what a cat would eat in nature. Thus, more and more guardians decide to take this step. By giving up deciphering the ingredients of commercial wet and dry cat food versions, they choose a whole prey diet, inspired by the diet of wild cats. It is a proven way to provide cats with optimal nutrition in home conditions.

By supplementing the Raw PetFood blog with discussions of research on pet nutrition, we cannot overlook the extensive analysis conducted in Australia in 2015. It provides valuable information on what products and in what quantities can be part of natural, wet cat food, whether it's barf or whole prey.

The Diet of a Wild Cat in Australia — A Continental-Scale Analysis

In 2015, a comprehensive study of the diets of wild cats (Felis catus) in various environments across the Australian continent and surrounding islands was conducted. This study was a pioneering effort aimed at integrating dispersed data and using it to create a comprehensive picture of cats' feeding habits. It took into account how geographical and environmental diversity affects cats' food preferences.

Cat Food in Nature. How Was It Studied What Cats Eat?

Scientists focused on collecting and analyzing data from many sources. These included scientific publications and field reports, including previously unpublished ones. The data for analysis came from 49 sets of studies, covering different areas of Australia and its continental islands. They contained information on the feces and stomach contents of wild cats, allowing for a precise determination of their diet.

The data selection criteria ensured that the samples analyzed came exclusively from wild cats, thereby eliminating the possibility of misinterpreting the results due to the involvement of domestic or stray animals fed by humans. This makes the analysis particularly valuable from the perspective of a guardian seeking knowledge about composing a possibly natural wet cat food of the barf and whole prey type.

The Impact of the Environment on What Cats Eat

The analysis showed that the composition of the diet of wild cats was strongly related to environmental factors, such as geographic latitude and longitude, average annual rainfall, temperature, and environmental productivity. For example, the consumption of rabbits was negatively correlated with the consumption of rodents and marsupials, suggesting that cats may switch their food preferences depending on the quantity and availability of different food sources.

What Animals Make Up the Natural Diet of Cats?

The researchers defined eight main food categories that were the subject of analysis:

Arthropods — Spiders and Insects in a Cat's Diet

Arthropods, including insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates, constituted a significant component of the diet of wild cats, appearing in about 36% of the samples analyzed. Their presence in the diet underscores the opportunistic nature of cat feeding, which utilizes a wide range of available food sources.

Rodents in a Cat's Diet

Rodents, including various species of mice and rats, were another important food category, with an average frequency of occurrence of about 28%. Researchers considered rodents a key source of protein and other nutrients for wild cats. They noted that rodents play a central role as a dietary component for cats in various environments.

Birds in a Cat's Diet

Birds of various species were also frequently consumed by wild cats, with an average frequency of occurrence in the studies of about 27%. It was shown that cats hunt both land and water birds, proving their high hunting skills and adaptability.

Rabbits in a Cat's Diet

The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) was also an important component of the diet, especially in areas where this species was particularly numerous. Rabbits constituted about 26% of the diet components, indicating their significant importance as a food source for wild cats in Australia.

Reptiles in a Cat's Diet

Reptiles, including lizards and snakes, were present in the diet of wild cats with a frequency of occurrence of about 24%. Consumption of reptiles was especially common in dry and warm regions, where these animals were more numerous, thus more readily available as a dietary component.

Other Ingredients in a Cat's Diet

Marsupials, including the possums, less frequently made up part of the cat's diet, with a frequency of about 10%.

Carrion, including the remains of large mammals, constituted the smallest part of the diet, with a frequency of about 6%. However, this indicates that wild cats sometimes utilize carrion as a source of a small amount of food, being another example of their opportunistic feeding behavior.

Research Results — Natural Cat Food Is Diverse

The research revealed an incredibly varied diet of wild cats, dependent on many environmental factors. Scientists identified 400 species of vertebrates alone that cats consumed. They also noted that the diet of wild cats is flexible, and the cats themselves can adapt to changing environmental conditions, indicating their ability to optimize feeding strategies for survival.

This study can help us understand how to properly compose wet foods of the barf and whole prey type for domestic cats. It is important, above all, to pay attention to the quantity and variety of components in the natural diet of cats. Similarly, we can assume that when composing wet food for cats of the barf and whole prey type, one should reach for a wide spectrum of meats and whole prey.

Form of Food. Is Dry Food Suitable for Cats?

Despite the large variety of foods in the diet of wild cats, we can draw some general conclusions about the appropriate composition of cat food. First, even in areas close to deserts, the diet of wild cats in no way resembled what we know as dry food. Even arthropods (insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates) have more moisture than dry food.

Another obvious conclusion is that carbohydrates, which are often components of commercial dry and wet cat foods, were not included in the diet of wild cats in any amount. In the absence of alternatives, cats fed on insects, lizards, and carrion, but it was always some form of meat — never grains, vegetables, fruits, or carbohydrates of other origins.

What Should Be Included in Cat Food?

The analysis suggests that it is correct to offer cats products such as whole bodies along with bones and organs. Such food not only imitates what cats eat in the wild but also provides essential nutrients, such as calcium from bones or taurine from the heart, vitamins A and D from the liver.

The findings related to the dietary diversity of wild cats indicate that our domestic cats can benefit from a diet that is not limited to one or two sources of protein from the meat consumed.

In Raw PetFood's offering, we strive to include as wide a spectrum of meats and prey as possible, allowing for the composition of a possibly diverse diet. We currently propose to diversify the menu of domestic cats with the following products:

Using such an assortment of prey not only enriches the diet with various nutrients but also promotes natural hunting behaviors, such as biting, chewing, and tearing meat, which positively affects the overall condition and health of cats (blog: about cat food from a behaviorist's point of view).

Whole Prey Diet and Cat Safety

However, adapting a whole prey diet to the needs of domestic cats requires more than just mimicking a list of prey. It is important to remember the quality and safety of the products provided. When choosing frozen carcasses, make sure they come from trusted sources to avoid the risk of diseases that wild or unknown origin animals may carry. Additionally, although the whole prey diet aims to provide comprehensive nutrition, key might be precise monitoring of the cat's health and, if necessary, diet adjustment or supplementation to satisfy all nutritional needs of the pet.

In summary, research on the diet of wild cats provides valuable insights on how to improve the feeding of domestic cats, using wet foods of the barf and whole prey type. They offer a perspective that goes beyond traditional feeding, emphasizing the importance of diversity, naturalness, and quality of the composition of our cats' food.




The article was prepared based on: A continental-scale analysis of feral cat diet in Australia, whose authors are: Tim S. Doherty, Robert A. Davis, Eddie J. B. van Etten, Dave Algar, Neil Collier, Chris R. Dickman, Glenn Edwards, Pip Masters, Russell Palmer, and Sue Robinson.

Article text: inessiwinska@gmail.com

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