The unique nutrient requirements of cats

Cat with bird in a teeth.

It’s no secret that people love their cats. Today, cats are considered the world’s most popular pet. In 2016, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owner Survey estimated 94.2 million cats and 89.7 million dogs in the United States.

However, when compared to dogs, cats have unique nutritional and dietary requirements that require special attention. These requirements stem from the cat’s evolution from its strictly carnivorous ancestors and the nutrients supplied to them through the consumption of animal tissue.

Today, the average house cat lives a much more sedentary lifestyle and can thrive on a variety of diet types. But when it comes to formulating diets for cats, special attention needs to be paid to a few key nutrients that must be included in sufficient amounts to maintain optimal health. The unique nutritional requirements of cats are related to their requirements for protein, taurine, arginine, vitamin A, vitamin D, niacin and arachidonic acid.

Protein and amino acids

From a nutrient perspective, cats do not necessarily require an ultra-high protein diet, but they do have higher requirements for amino acids from dietary protein than dogs. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and certain amino acids can be produced by the animal (i.e. nonessential amino acids), while others can only be obtained from the diet (i.e. essential amino acids).

Cats require 10 nonessential amino acids and 11 essential amino acids. They also have a unique requirement for the amino acid taurine as well as a need for significantly increased levels of arginine compared to dogs.

Arginine

Research has shown that cats are sensitive to diets lacking arginine. A diet deficient in arginine has been shown to rapidly result in severe clinical symptoms in cats due to increased levels of blood ammonia.

Arginine is necessary for the detoxification of ammonia by converting it to urea for excretion in the urine. During a deficiency of dietary arginine, ammonia builds up and results in ammonia toxicity within the cat. Cats are unable to synthesize the precursors ornithine and citrulline, both needed for the production of arginine.

However, arginine is abundantly available in animal protein, and cats have evolved to be reliant on it from a dietary source.

Taurine

Similar to arginine, taurine is an amino acid that is readily found in meat protein. Dogs and other mammals are able to produce taurine through the oxidation of sulphur amino acids, cysteine and methionine. For cats, the enzymes necessary for these pathways have low activity levels, and as such, cats are limited in their production of taurine.

Dietary taurine is necessary in the diet for cardiovascular health, bile formation, retinal health, as well as proper growth and development in kittens. Symptoms of taurine deficiency include retinal degeneration and/or an enlarged heart, also known as dilated cardiomyopathy.
Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds necessary in minute amounts for proper regulatory function and health maintenance. Vitamins can be classified into one of two groups: fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in fatty tissues, whereas water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored and are excreted in the urine if consumed in excess.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for bone health and development. Humans can produce vitamin D from exposure to sunlight or obtain the vitamin through food sources. Cats, however, are unable to synthesize vitamin D and depend solely on dietary sources.

A study investigating the exposure of both hairless and nonhairless kittens to direct sunlight demonstrated this lack of endogenous production. When the kittens were placed on a diet deficient in vitamin D they showed the same rate of vitamin D decline as kittens receiving the same diet but housed indoors.

Research has since concluded that cats’ skin has a low concentration of the precursor 7-dehydrocholesterol, necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D. Additionally, synthesis is prevented by the high activity of the enzyme responsible for breaking down this precursor substrate and converting it into cholesterol.

Historically, cats obtained their vitamin D from the liver of prey, such as birds and rodents. Commercial cat diets are typically supplemented with vitamin D to ensure adequate intake.

Vitamin A

Just like vitamin D, vitamin A is also a fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin A is necessary for maintaining normal vision, immune function, as well as growth and development. As vitamin A is naturally abundant in animal tissue, cats have not evolved to synthesize vitamin A in the same way as herbivores and omnivores.

Plants produce β-carotene, a precursor for the synthesis of vitamin A by the body. Unlike omnivores and herbivores, cats appear to lack the enzyme necessary to convert β-carotene into retinal. It is assumed that cats have not evolved to synthesize vitamin A as meat proteins are low in carotenoids and the liver of prey is rich in vitamin A, so the conversion pathway would not be considered metabolically necessary or beneficial in terms of energy efficiency.

Niacin

Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that is essential for energy metabolism. Cats possess all the necessary enzymes and pathways for the production of niacin from the amino acid tryptophan.

Tryptophan can be metabolized to produce acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl CoA) and carbon dioxide or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD; the active form of niacin). In cats, the enzyme responsible for catalyzing the conversion of tryptophan to acetyl CoA and carbon dioxide has a high activity, so niacin is broken down faster than it is produced.

However, cats are well supplied with niacin from the NAD and NADP found in abundant concentrations in animal tissues. On average, cats require about 2.4 times the amount of niacin than dogs.

Arachidonic acid

Cats cannot make arachidonic acid and require a dietary source of the omega-6 fatty acid, especially during the demanding life stages of growth, gestation and lactation.

Arachidonic acid is found in abundant supply in animal tissues, especially organs. It is not present in plants, however omnivores and herbivores are able to synthesize arachidonic acid from linoleic acid, another type of omega-6 fatty acid. Arachidonic acid is a necessary component of cell membranes, and plays roles in cell signaling and inflammation. Read more…

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Therapeutic diets can be lifesavers for pets

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Pet owners have many choices when buying dog and cat food. Some are basic foods providing an economical choice that is nutritionally complete; others are premium or super-premium foods. This trend will continue as owners seek the best nutrition available for their pets.

Pet nutrition has come a long way. As a veterinarian, I see significantly fewer problems with urinary tract stones than when I first started in practice. Dry, flaky skin that was common years ago is less so now.

There also are therapeutic diets that require veterinary supervision. My second Bernese mountain dog, Vern, had abnormal kidney values that I noticed when he was neutered. The problem increased over the next few months, and I thought we were going to lose him. After a medical work-up that including a kidney biopsy, he was diagnosed with renal dysplasia.

We gave him medication that controlled his high blood pressure and started a special kidney diet with low total protein and a high-quality protein component. He lived longer than average for a Bernese mountain dog.

Special veterinary diets are also used for pets predisposed to bladder stones. These foods are formulated to help prevent and even dissolve some types of stones.

My cat Daisy vomited all the time. Her weight and blood chemistry were normal, but clearly something was wrong. After consultation with a feline specialist, we tried a high protein/​low carbohydrate diet designed for diabetic pets. It worked like a charm, and she lived a long happy life.

Diarrhea is a common complaint in pets, but it will usually self-correct in a few days. We always check a stool sample in these patients and sometimes treat for parasites. Often a special diet is prescribed for the short, or even long, term.

Chronic loose stool also can be a big problem. Before an involved medical work-up with endoscopy and biopsy, we try a therapeutic high-fiber diet. Diets that are very low in fat may be used for pets that are prone to pancreatitis.

A pet with a food allergy may benefit with a super purified, limited antigen diet. Changing the protein fraction may help control itching and intestinal distress. Older dogs or dogs that have seizures may benefit from new diets that are designed for improving brain health.

My current dog, Millie, began limping as she aged, so I started her on a new diet designed for joint health. It has worked so well that I have yet to give her any medication for pain.

High-calorie pudding-type diets can help pets that have a feeding tube or need supplemental feeding while recovering from illness. Weight loss foods are used for pets at unhealthy excessive weights. Used incorrectly, these diets can be problematic, but with veterinary supervision, they can be lifesavers.

While commercial food is appropriate for the majority of pets, therapeutic diets can be a tremendous benefit for those who have specific needs. read more…

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How Equine Diets Affect the Immune System in Horses?

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The role of diet in general health is fairly obvious; you eat well, you exercise enough, and hopefully your body has the fuel it needs to help protect you into a long life.

Christina Inserillo says, “The same basic principle, unsurprisingly, applies to animals. Horses, in particular, are known for their susceptibility to certain illnesses; things like tetanus, sleeping sickness, influenza, rhino-pneumonitis, West Nile Virus, rabies, strangles, and arthritis are unfortunately not as uncommon as we would like.”

However, it is thought that by supplementing the diet of healthy horses with the appropriate foods they need to source the nutrients required for a functioning immune system, you can help protect them in the long-term.

One student currently working towards her graduate degree in animal health has been looking into the subject as part of her studies. Now an expert in the area, Christina Inserillo has been riding horses for years and competed in many competitions. Her childhood love for the animals has led her on to her current path, where she hopes to make a significant positive impact in helping horses around the globe stay healthy.

While it’s less clear whether horses suffering from illness can make a recovery thanks to a good diet, science over the last three decades has allowed equine nutritionists to expand on their knowledge of how horses digest food and use it to stay healthy.

At the 15th Annual Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference in Hunt Valley, Maryland in April this year, one nutritionist presented on the topic. Lori Warren, PHd, PAS, who is an Equine Nutritionist at the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida, spoke at length about how food affects horses.

“The processes of digestion and immunity are interwoven,” said Warren. “Over 70% of immunity is associated with the digestive system.”

To simplify, she explained how the immune system works on a fundamental level. First, it has two main components: one is the innate immune system, and the other is the adaptive immune system.

The innate system provides the first line of defense in fighting pathogens (organisms which cause disease) and is kind of an “umbrella” or “catch-all” system; more of a jack-of-all-trades than a specialist. All of us are born with this innate system, and it continues to work – more or less – the same way for as long as we exist.

The adaptive system, on the other hand, is trained by its own experiences. It starts to store and recall information on pathogens it interacts with so that it can fight them faster the next time they’re encountered.

While it does do a lot of work on its own, it is possible to boost the adaptive system by using what we know as vaccinations. These can be a quick way to boost the immune system, but – of course – can only be used to protect against certain illnesses.

In this way, the innate and adaptive systems coordinate an effort to help protect a horse’s health.

In recent years, though, it has become particularly common for horse owners to purchase nutritional supplements in the hope that they’ll boost the immune systems of their pets. Whether or not these supplements are genuinely as effective as it would seem, it’s still unclear.

Warren herself has said that more research needs to be done on foods which treat digestive health, specifically on probiotics in horses.

The ambiguity in the topic stems from the fact that researchers are not yet able to properly analyze the immune system of horses to determine what effects the food they eat have. One possible solution to this is for them to compromise the health – or challenge the needs of – the immune system of healthy horses.

An alternative proposal is to test particularly nutritional foods and nutritional supplements on horses which may already have compromised health (which is often a consequence of stress caused during transport, weaning stress, or exposure to inflammatory agents).

However, as basic as their current understanding may be, it has been established that there are several nutrients which will – to some extent – benefit the health of equine animals. This list is relatively broad, and includes things like fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Researchers have also documented the results of fat and fiber in the immune systems of horses, and Omega-3 fatty acids have already exhibited positive effects, most notably when it comes to their anti-inflammatory properties with respect to osteoarthritis and inflammatory airway disease.

Similarly, functional fibers (found in probiotic-rich foods such as beet pulp and oat hulls) can help to battle pathogenic bacteria in the gut by assisting bacteria to produce significant volumes of volatile fatty acids. Read more…

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How Diet Affects #Horse Behavior

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Do you struggle with a horse that’s “feeling his oats”? You’re not alone. Equine nutritionist and Rutgers University equine extension specialist Carey Williams, PhD, says the question she most frequently hears involves a horse that’s hyper-reactive or hyperexcitable. “Is there anything I can do with his feed to calm him down?” they typically ask.

As it turns out, there’s a lot you can do with your horse’s feed to calm him, combat behavioral problems and stereotypies, and more. Much of it involves what you feed; some involves how you feed (management); and some involves what you do in conjunction with feeding (socialization, medical management, exercise).

Many factors contribute to your horse’s behavior: his instinct, genetics, environment, health, and comfort are chief among them. So what’s the basis for your particular horse’s problem? “You really need to know the horse’s natural behavior first to find out if anything else (besides diet changes) will work,” says Williams. read more…

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Diet tips for your pooches to save them from #dehydration

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Dogs are the best companions ever. They are like family and need extra care during certain months of the year. Just like, we human beings, even dogs need to be fed the right food during summer. One should keep in mind to give them the chilled and frozen food to keep them away from dehydration, heat stroke and other problems. So here is a list of food that can be given to your pet during hot sunny days.

Frozen Chicken broth

This is one dish that can make your dog feel better. It is natural for dogs to get dehydrated in summers and this will help them gain fluids and will make them feel cool in the stomach. One can also combine it with wet foods to add some extra protein.

Parsley

Parsley is one of the best foods for dogs. It helps in improving dog’s breath. Keep in mind to add a few tablespoons of parsley in the food every day. It acts as a source of potassium and calcium which play a vital role in improving your dog’s health.

Sweet Potatoes

One can give dogs sweet potatoes during summer.  All you need to do is bake it and mix it in the food.

There are some dogs who do not like the smell of it, so it is advisable to combine it with the meat. It provides a healthy-dose of beta-carotene which will improve the immune system.

Ginger root

It is one of the nutritious food for dogs. But just the ginger root can cause some irritation, so it is better to combine it with some watermelon juice and freeze it. Ginger soothes the stomach and also fights back the bacteria that can upset the stomach of the dogs.

It is a highly described food by the vets, if the dog is down with diarrhea. (article from here)

Equine Diet and Fat

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Fat is an energy powerhouse in the equine diet that packs twice the caloric punch of carbohydrates or protein and is the body’s most abundant energy source. Horses can consume and use fat from the diet, or they can store fat in their bodies for later use.

What is fat?

Fat belongs to a broad group of compounds called lipids, which are either glycerol-based (phospholipids and triglycerides) or non-glycerol based (cholesterol or sterols). Dietary fats are usually triglycerides, meaning they contain three long-chain fatty acids and one glycerol group.

Volatile fatty acids are short-chain fatty acids derived from triglycerides that the horse’s body can use for energy. They’re either liberated from dietary fat or are a byproduct of microbial fermentation in the hindgut.

Why is fat important in the horse’s diet?

Fat is required for the horse’s body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and dietary fat supplies the horse with essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and -6, which the horse’s body can’t produce. Fat also helps horses gain weight and is slow to digest, making the release of energy steadier over time.

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