ANIMAL scientists have reported that a raw meat diet is a good source of protein for cats, but pet owners may need to supplement with other nutrients.
In a new paper in the Journal of Animal Science, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha, Neb., analyzed the value of raw meat diets for cats and exotic felids. The researchers used several tests to evaluate the nutrients in meat from bison, cattle, horses and elk.
To test how the different diets affected cats, the researchers collected blood serum and fecal samples from domesticated cats and captive African wildcats, jaguars and Malayan tigers, according to an announcement. The researchers also used cecectomized roosters to analyze amino acid digestibility in the different diets.
They found that raw meat diets met many nutrient requirements for cats, but there were some gaps. None of the diets contained the recommended levels of linoleic acid, and the horse meat did not provide the levels of arachidonic acid recommended for kittens, gestating females and lactating females.
This research is important for animal scientists, zoos and pet owners.
The researchers explained that captive tigers, jaguars and African wildcats were traditionally fed horse meat-based raw diets.
"With the closing of horse abattoirs in 2007, the availability of quality-grade horse meat in the U.S. has decreased, increasing the need for research on the digestibility and composition of possible alternatives," the researchers wrote.
There is also a growing trend of raw meat diets for house cats. Kelly Swanson, associate professor of animal science at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study, said the researchers are "a bit wary" of pet owners feeding cats homemade raw diets because it risks exposing cats to increased pathogens and nutrient imbalances.
Pet owners often feed trimmed cuts of meat. These cuts lack fat, which is crucial in feline diets. According to the researchers, if pet owners feed their cats raw meat diets, they will likely have to supplement the food with other nutrients, including appropriate sources of fat and essential fatty acids.
A high-protein diet can also change the types of microbes in the gut. The researchers wrote that increased protein fermentation in the bowel may lead to more "odiferous" feces, depending on the digestibility of the protein.
The researchers recommended future studies on sources of fiber in raw meat diets and also on the concentration and digestibility of amino acids in different raw meats.
The paper is titled "Evaluation of Four Raw Meat Diets Using Domestic Cats, Captive Exotic Felids & Cecectomized Roosters."