Impact of macronutrient composition and palatability in wet diets on food selection in cats

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Pets require adequate nutrition to ensure a good health, vitality and longevity. Nutrient requirements vary considerably depending on the species, size, stage of life and physical activity. Although both dogs and cats belong to the order of Carnivora, dogs belong to the Canoidea superfamily and cats to the Feloidea superfamily (MacDonald et al., 1984). Whereas Canoids’ diets vary from herbivorous (Giant panda) to omnivorous (bears and dogs), all Feloids have evolved as strict carnivores. As comprehensively reviewed by MacDonald et al. (1984), Morris (2002), Case et al. (2011) and Verbrugghe and Bakovic (2013), the evolution of cats to a strictly carnivorous diet has resulted in metabolic adaptations and particular nutritional requirements. The nutritional idiosyncrasies of cats include a high‐protein requirement and a need for some nutrients of animal origin (such as taurine, arachidonic acid and vitamin A as retinol). The literature also reviews that cats are anatomically adapted to that diet as indicated by their dentition with large canines to sever the neck of their prey and their taste perception and preferences (Boudreau and White, 1978; Bradshaw, 2006). In a natural environment, wild cats consume protein‐rich prey with very low carbohydrate content (1‐2% of metabolizable energy provided by carbohydrate) (MacDonald et al., 1984; Eisert, 2011) to fulfil their nutritional needs.
However, domestication led to a modification of cats’ way of life and feeding. Today, many domestic cats are fed with commercial dry or wet diets including palatants. Whereas no dietary requirement for carbohydrate has been recommended in cats (National Research Council, 2006), commercial cat foods contain various amounts of carbohydrate for technical and economical reasons. Commercial feline diets contain less protein than carcasses of select birds and small mammals (mean crude protein content of 62.19% in dry basis) (Kremen et al., 2013) and carbohydrate may contribute up to 45% of the metabolizable energy of cat food formula, which is also true for dogs (Axelsson et al., 2013). As carnivores adapted to a diet based on prey, cats are not physiologically adapted to high‐carbohydrate diets, as shown by the low expression of enzymes responsible for carbohydrate digestion (Morris et al., 1977; Kienzle, 1993a; Kienzle, 1993b; Zoran, 2002; De Oliveira et al., 2008). However, they are able to digest well‐processed starch (Kienzle, 1993a).
Based on this assessment, it has been assumed that cats avoid carbohydrate‐rich diets and prefer food with high protein content. The geometric multivariate analysis concept allows the study of the interactions between protein, fat and carbohydrate on animals’ food preference (Hewson‐Hughes et al., 2011, 2012, 2013). Hewson‐Hughes et al. (2011) have demonstrated that cats are able to regulate their food intake to reach a target diet with a macronutrient energy composition of 52% protein, 36% fat and 12% carbohydrate. However, the effect of palatability enhancers on this selection of diets has not yet been investigated. The objective of our study was to examine cats’ food selection when offered diets with various protein/carbohydrate ratios and to investigate the effect of a palatability enhancer on food selection. We hypothesize that palatability of wet diet may modify macronutrient selection in cats.
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