Animals, People, & the Earth

Healthy Food Pyramid for Cats

A Holistic Food Pyramid to Optimize Your Cat’s Health

Since 1979, we have been committed to a holistic way of caring for animals, another way. One of the easiest and most effective ways we can help our pets to achieve health, wellness, and longevity is through the nutrition we provide for them.  We have created our Holistic Food Pyramid for Cats to help you feed a balanced diet, made with whole foods, that provides the nutrients your cat needs to thrive. We hope that these building blocks allow you to prevent the many chronic illnesses, stemming from poor nutrition, that affect millions of pets today.

The Importance of Hydration for Cats

Long before the days of kibble, domesticated cats relied on scavenging and scraps of human food to get their nutrients. This diet typically consisted of 70-80% moisture which supplemented their fresh water to keep them hydrated. However, commercial diets like kibble only contain around 10% moisture which has led to an increase in chronic dehydration for many cats. The strain this causes on the body can lead to issues with vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, while also decreasing their energy and appetite. One way to check if your cat is hydrated would be to gently lift the skin or “scruff” in their shoulder blade area. If the skin remains as a ridge rather than quickly returning to a normal flattened state, they are likely dehydrated.

We recommend feeding a variety of quality-sourced, high moisture foods such as:

  • Air-Dried
  • Raw
  • Homecooked
  • Canned

When feeding a kibble diet, adding warm water, bone broth or even goat’s milk to your cat’s bowl will help them stay hydrated. Some cats may also prefer to drink from the many fountains or bubbler bowls that are available at your neighborhood retailer.

How Much Protein Your Cat Should Have

Cats are obligate carnivores which means, unlike their canine counterparts, they require a much greater amount of protein to fulfill their amino acid requirements. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein that are vital for survival. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body which means they must come from the diet.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires commercial cat foods to contain a minimum of 26-30% crude protein, depending on life stage. However, studies have found that cats prefer and will naturally seek out a diet consisting of about 50% protein. When fed a diet higher in protein, researchers found that cats brought home 36% fewer wild birds and small animals. This suggests that feeding higher levels of protein can satisfy a cat’s biological instincts and help preserve the billions of wild birds and mammals that fall prey to their hunting each year.

To ensure your cat lives a healthy life, we recommend feeding foods that source high quality, humanely raised meat, and avoiding the use of by-products. In addition, consider supplementing your cat’s diet with protein-rich toppers and treats such as air-dried, freeze dried, raw, or homecooked meats.

The Role of Fats in Feline Health

Depending on age and activity level, a cat’s diet should typically consist of 25-30% fat. The building blocks of fat are known as “fatty acids.” Essential fatty acids are required in the diet as cats cannot produce them on their own.

Below is a breakdown of the two main groups of fatty acids that are essential for your cat’s health:

Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Cats

Function Sources
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) * Supports healthy skin Flaxseed oil, Eggs, Navy Beans
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) Helps to reduce inflammation Fish oils, Flaxseed oil, Marine Microalgae (such as spirulina and chlorella), Sugar Kelp
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Contributes to healthy brain development, skin, and eyes
Linoleic Acid (LA) Helps the skin retain moisture and supports healthy growth and immune function Sunflower oil, Eggs, Sugar Kelp
Arachidonic Acid (AA) Supports skin growth, reproduction, the digestive system, and blood clotting. Fish oils, Marine Microalgae, Egg, Poultry,

*not considered essential by AAFCO definitions. See NRC ALA recommendations.

Healthy Carbohydrates for Your Cat

Cats have a limited number of enzymes that break down carbohydrates. However, studies suggest cats can still digest and utilize nutrients from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates should only make up around 10% of your cat’s diet but this does not mean they are less important. We recommend foods containing nutrient-rich complex carbohydrates. As opposed to simple sugars, complex carbohydrates also provide a source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage which may help prevent chronic illness. High fiber carbohydrates take longer to digest which helps prevent a spike in glucose. Studies have found that diets high in simple sugars can lead to harmful changes to the metabolism. Complex carbohydrates can play an important role in helping to prevent or combat conditions like obesity and diabetes.

Below are examples of nutrient-rich carbohydrates to include in your cat’s diet:

  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet Potato
  • Pumpkin

Notice the rainbow of colors? That’s because these foods are rich in phytonutrients. Phytonutrients provide many health benefits such as supporting the immune system and contributing to disease prevention.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Cats

There are certain vitamins and minerals that are essential to your cat’s diet. Vitamins and minerals occur naturally in foods such as meat, vegetables, and fruits. Even though vitamins and minerals equate to less than 10% of your cat’s diet, meeting these levels in pet food manufacturing is virtually impossible without additional supplementation.

Commercial diets that meet AAFCO’s definitions of “complete and balanced” typically do not require additional vitamin and mineral supplementation. However, keep in mind that highly processed kibble is often less digestible which means fewer nutrients are delivered to the body.

We recommend feeding minimally processed food and treats that are air-dried, freeze-dried, raw, and/or homecooked. If you are formulating your own or following a recipe for a homecooked or raw diet, we recommend including a whole-food multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure their daily requirements are met. One recommended option is Dr. Bob Goldstein’s Daily Raw Nutritional Supplement.

Below are examples of whole foods and herbs that are rich in your cat’s essential vitamins and minerals. Whether you are feeding air-dried, dehydrated, raw, or homecooked, consider including some of these ingredients into your cat’s food pyramid:

Essential Vitamins for Cats

Function Sources
Vitamin A Supports vision, teeth and bones, skin, and reproduction Beef, Fish, Egg, Liver, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Spinach
Vitamin D Supports healthy bones Salmon, Egg, Beef Liver
Vitamin E Protects cells from damage Liver, Spinach, Sunflower Seeds
Vitamin K Maintains normal blood clotting Spinach, Broccoli
Thiamine Supports carbohydrate metabolism and the nervous system Poultry, Egg, Liver, Brewer’s Yeast
Riboflavin Aids in energy Muscle Meat, Egg, Liver Green Vegetables
Pantothenic Acid Assists with maintaining a healthy metabolism Chicken, Egg, Liver, Broccoli
Niacin Maintains healthy energy and hormone production, supports metabolism, nervous system, and cognitive function Poultry, Fish, Liver
Pyridoxine Helps support a healthy metabolism Poultry, Kidney
Folic Acid Aids in the production of methionine, an essential amino acid Liver, Kidney, Brewer’s Yeast, Green Vegetables
Biotin Helps produce fatty and amino acids Salmon, Egg, Beef Liver
Vitamin B12 Supports a healthy metabolism and nervous system Salmon, Egg, Liver, Kidney
Choline Contributes to a healthy liver, nerve, and muscle function Krill, Egg, Heart, Liver

Essential Minerals for Cats

Function Source
Calcium Main mineral in healthy teeth and bones and supports normal muscle function Salmon, Spinach, Rosemary
Phosphorus Maintains healthy bones, teeth, and metabolism and helps stimulate kidney function Chicken Liver, Brewer’s Yeast, Chervil (French Parsley)
Potassium Supports nerve and muscle function Chicken, Salmon, Dill
Sodium Maintains healthy nerve and muscle cell function Naturally occurring at various levels in meat, fruits, and vegetables
Chloride Supports the metabolism and maintains healthy acid balance Naturally occurring in many vegetables and seaweeds, like kelp
Magnesium Essential mineral for healthy nerve, muscle, and heart function, supports immune health and regulates glucose Spinach, Broccoli, Seeds
Iron Maintains and supplies oxygen in the circulatory system Beef, Poultry, Egg, Apples, Green Vegetables, Thyme
Copper Aids in iron absorption and the production of bones, collagen, and tissues Beef Liver, Spirulina, Thyme, Basil
Manganese Supports the metabolism, healthy bones, and cartilage and energy production Eggs, Green Vegetables, Thyme, Basil
Zinc Promotes healthy immune and brain function, growth of skin and coat, and collagen and hormone production Oysters, Beef Liver, Chicken Heart, Parsley
Iodine Assists with hormone production in the thyroid which contributes to a healthy metabolism Kelp
Selenium Protects cells from damage and supports a healthy metabolism and thyroid Turkey, Salmon, Beef Liver

Building Your Cat’s Pyramid for Holistic Health

When it comes to building your cat’s pyramid, remember to choose minimally processed, high-quality, whole foods wherever possible. You may be surprised to find that the food we feed, in fact, has the power to transform your cat’s health and help them to live a longer and happier life!

 

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