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Do Dogs and Cats Have Different Diet Needs?

We all know that cats and dogs are different. That’s one reason we have cat people and dog people. We recognize that they are different creatures with unique abilities, characteristics, attitudes, and personalities. So, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that dogs and cats would have different nutritional requirements. 

Differences In Dogs and Cats:

Scientifically, dogs are labeled as carnivores, while cats are labeled as strict or obligate carnivores. This means that cats need a diet of fresh meat to thrive. They have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, but they need lots of protein. A dog does well with lots of protein and some plant matter and still thrive.

Another interesting difference between dogs and cats is how their bodies respond to an absence of protein in their diet. If a dog lacks protein in his diet the enzymes that he uses to breakdown protein become dormant. If a large amount of protein is given to a dog with dormant protein enzymes, the protein may make him very sick, even kill him depending on the protein deprivation. However, if a cat has a diet with no protein, the enzymes are still active and ready for protein to be reintroduced at any time. 

Speaking of enzymes, there is an enzyme called amylase that is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates. Dogs and cats create different amounts of this enzyme. In fact, dogs produce about 20 times more amylase than cats. This doesn’t mean that you can feed your dog a strict carbohydrate diet and he will thrive, it simply points out that cats cannot tolerate carbs as well as dogs can. 

I know what you’re thinking “isn’t there a part of the brain that requires glucose, a.k.a. sugar/carbs,  to function properly?” Well, yes there is a part of the brain that requires glucose to function optimally. So, how do cats get enough sugar for their brain if they don’t seem to be able to absorb and use carbohydrates? This is where a process called gluconeogenesis comes into play. This is a process in the body where the body creates any needed glucose from protein. Cats are very adept at gluconeogenesis so they easily get all the glucose they need from protein.

Another interesting thing about the digestive differences in dogs and cats is that dogs have a digestive tract of about 2 feet while a cat’s digestive tract is only about 13 inches. This is significant because the creatures with the longest digestive tracts are herbivores because plants take so long to digest. The 2-foot digestive tract of a dog points to a slightly increased ability to digest plants. While the 13-inch digestive tract of a cat points to a digestive tract made for meat digestion because meat takes much less time to digest. 



Dogs are also scavengers and are designed to be able to eat what they find, even if it’s a few days old. A dog’s body is equipped with the tools it needs to be able to get rid of any toxins and most pathogens that may have contaminated the old kill. Cats, on the other hand, are excellent hunters and designed to eat fresh meat. Cats don’t have the same ability to digest “ripe” meat and get rid of the contaminants it might contain. 

One of the big things that most of us are aware of is that cats must get the amino acid taurine from their diet, while dogs can make taurine out of other amino acids. This is why a lot of kibbles and canned foods for cats add taurine to their diets. Thankfully, there is little need to add taurine to a raw diet for cats because meats are a rich source of taurine. 

One more thing about taurine, it can oxidize if exposed to oxygen. If the taurine oxidizes then there is less taurine in the diet for the cat to use. This is one reason why ground diets for cats may not be the best option. If you do feed your cat a ground raw diet you may want to supplement with some raw heart chunks to make up for any lost taurine. Raw heart is an excellent source of taurine. 

Dogs also have the ability to convert 5-15% of plant-based alpha-linolenic acid into the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Cat, however, completely lacks this ability. This indicates that cats need to get their EPA and DHA for meat sources like fish, brain, and eyes.

Cats also lack the ability to convert plant-based beta-carotene into vitamin A. Again indicating that cats must get this necessary nutrient, vitamin A, from meat sources. Thankfully, raw liver is an excellent source of vitamin A.

Another interesting difference between cats and dogs is that dogs can be fasted for longer periods of time. Dogs are made for a gorge and fast type of lifestyle. In the wild, a wolf might eat 15lbs of venisons after the pack has a kill and then fast for multiple days. Wild cats, on the other hand, are daily hunters finding fresh prey every day. This is one reason why cats shouldn’t be fasted for more than 24 hours. If they are it may cause damage to the liver. 

Cats are also notoriously pickier, with fleeting facies of what would taste good to them from one moment to the next. Your cat might refuse rabbit on Thursday and then want nothing to eat but rabbit on Saturday. So, just because your cat refuses a protein one day, doesn’t mean your cat will never want to eat it. Compare that to most dogs who will eat any protein on a daily basis if they like it.


In the end, if we only look at AFFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) and their minimum nutrient requirements for dogs and cats, you could easily create a raw diet that exceeds the minimums for both species without harming either one. But just because they aren’t harmed does not mean that they are thriving. For an optimal diet for any cat or dog, you must observe and tweak to create a diet that makes the individual thrive!






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