Cat nutrition

The cat's nutritional needs and how our insect-based food meets this

Karin Lundgren avatar
Written by Karin Lundgren
Updated over a week ago

At petgood, we base all our recipes on the latest research and scientific recommendations regarding nutrition. There may be many questions about how an insect-based food can meet the cat's nutritional needs, and we therefore go into the cat's nutrition theory below and how our food is designed to meet these needs.

What defines the cat as a carnivore?

The cat is a carnivore. This means that it needs the majority of nutrients that are only found in animal foods. It also has a digestive system that is adapted to efficiently assimilate energy from protein and fat. There are several examples of nutrients that make the cat need animals:

  • Vitamin A is a vitamin that, among other things, is important for the nervous system and muscle function. Cats need active vitamin A directly in their diet, as they cannot convert vitamin A from plant-based sources in the body, as for example humans and dogs can.

  • Arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid for the cat, which is mainly found in animal sources. Dogs can obtain this fatty acid from plant-based sources, while cats need it directly from animal sources.

  • Taurine is an essential amino acid that is important for the heart, eyes and nervous system function. Taurine is only found in animal protein sources. Cats need taurine in their diet, unlike, for example, dogs and humans who can convert taurine from other amino acids themselves.

How do insects meet these needs?

Insects are animals. The larva of black soldier fly, which we use, is an animal protein source, rich in essential amino acids with high digestibility. They are also rich in minerals, such as magnesium and iron, and fatty acids. They contain animal fat, and therefore not only meet the cat's need for protein, but also the essential fatty acid arachidonic acid, and omega-3 and omega-6.

We will return further down to how our food is nutritionally composed to meet all the cat's nutritional needs.

Protein and protein sources in cat food

An important nutrient for dogs and cats, which must be met through the diet, is protein. Protein is involved in almost every function in the body; such as building muscles and cells, transport of hormones, chemical processes, and much more. Protein can also be used for energy, and cats, as carnivores, have a higher constant conversion of protein to energy than dogs, and therefore also a higher protein requirement.

Protein is made up of smaller components called amino acids. Different protein sources have different amino acid profiles. All animal species have amino acids that are essential for them, which means they need to get these amino acids through their diet. Cats have 11 essential amino acids. Traditional sources of protein in dog and cat food are, for example, pork, chicken, beef or fish, but protein is found in many foods, including vegetable ones, which is why all ingredients together contribute to the food's total amino acid profile and protein content.

Something that is important when it comes to protein are three factors:

  • That the animal gets a sufficient amount of protein

  • That the animal gets all the essential amino acids

  • That the protein source is digestible, that is to say that the animal's digestive system can assimilate it. The higher the digestibility, the more of the amino acids and protein the cat's body can absorb.

The recommended minimum level of protein in a cat food as determined by research is 25%. Minimum levels of individual amino acids also need to be achieved.

Carbohydrates and carbohydrate sources in cat food

Cats, like all other mammals, need glucose. Glucose is essential for life and contributes nutrition and energy to all cells of the body, and it is especially important that there is a constant supply of glucose for the brain, nervous system and red blood cell function. Cats can efficiently convert glucose in the body from fat and protein, but they can also absorb glucose from carbohydrates in the form of starch.

Can cats digest carbohydrates?

A common myth is that cats cannot absorb energy from carbohydrates or starch. Studies on cats' digestion have shown that they have a good ability to break down and assimilate starch from various vegetable sources (see reference 1-3). The carbohydrates in cat food are prepared through different processes in both wet and dry food, which increases the digestibility of the raw materials. When the need for glucose and energy is satisfied via carbohydrates in the feed, it has a protein-saving effect when the protein and its amino acids are used for other important functions in the body instead.

Do carbohydrates cause disease?

Carbohydrates are sometimes blamed for causing diabetes and obesity in cats. There is currently no scientific evidence that can draw any reliable connection between carbohydrates and the risk of developing diabetes in cats.

Diabetes is a multifactorial disease, but the single biggest risk factor for developing diabetes is obesity - 8 out of 10 cats diagnosed with diabetes are overweight. Carbohydrates have been investigated as to whether they can play a role in the risk of developing diabetes, but no connection has been established despite this having been investigated in several studies. Some examples are below and more can be found in the reference list at the bottom.

  • In the Netherlands, a study was conducted in 2007 to map the causes of diabetes. Staying indoors, overweight and low physical activity, and not the amount of dry food could be associated with diabetes, but carbohydrate intake was not found to be a risk factor. (4)

  • Another study compared a high-carbohydrate/low-protein diet to a low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet. The study was able to establish that obesity led to insulin resistance (which causes diabetes), but could not see any link between the content of protein or carbohydrates in the diets. (5)

  • In 2012, a Swedish study by Sallander et al compiled risk factors for diabetes in cats, and there you could see a lower proportion of dry food in the diet of cats that developed diabetes. In other words, the healthy cats in the control group ate a higher percentage of dry food than the cats that developed diabetes. (6)

But what about obesity, are carbohydrates a risk factor for it?

According to current research, no connection can be drawn between carbohydrates and an increased risk of obesity. Several studies have looked at the composition of feed, i.e. the distribution between protein, fat and carbohydrates, in order to be able to conclude whether higher levels of any nutrient lead to a higher risk of obesity. The nutrient you see gives a slightly higher risk of obesity is fat, not carbohydrates or protein.

Backus et al evaluate diets with different amounts of carbohydrates or fat in cats after castration. The cats were given free access to feed with either 4%, 27%, 45%, or 56% carbohydrates. The conclusion was that high levels of carbohydrates were not a cause of weight gain. Weight gain occurred in neutered cats due to increased feed intake, with high-fat diets contributing to higher stretch. This is believed to be because a higher fat content makes the feed more caloric, as fat contains more calories per gram than carbohydrates, and that fat in the feed is more easily converted to fat in the body. (7, 8)

However, it has been seen that cats that eat only dry food run a higher risk of becoming overweight (13). Since dry food contains a greater proportion of carbohydrates than wet food, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that it is due to the carbohydrates in the diet, but since this direct connection has not been made, it rather depends on feeding routines. Cats that eat only dry food are more often indoor cats, more inactive, neutered, and have free access to food or are fed more than they need, where this overconsumption puts them at risk of obesity.

There are advantages to feeding the cat partially or fully with wet food, as it is easier to dose and control the cat's calorie intake, and that the cat naturally takes in more liquid. We see wet food as an important complement to our dry food, and are working on launching an insect-based wet food for cats.

The bottom line is that both obesity and diabetes are multifactorial - and the most important thing you can do to prevent disease for your cat, regardless of what you feed it, is to keep it slim.

Is cereal bad for cats?

Cereals are often the subject of debate, but there is no evidence that certain carbohydrate sources are better or worse than others for healthy cats. Grain does not cause allergy, and allergy to grain is rarer than allergy to animal protein sources, both in dogs and cats. To be used as an energy source, on the contrary, cereals have more digestible starch, that is, which is converted into glucose and energy, than, for example, potatoes and legumes, which contain more fibre. Different types of carbohydrate sources are often used in feed as, in addition to starch, they also contribute other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein or fatty acids.

All dry feed needs to contain a certain proportion of carbohydrates and starch in order to physically hold together and be able to be formed into feed balls. There is simply no dry food without carbohydrates. Carbohydrate sources can be, for example, legumes, potatoes, vegetables, root vegetables or grains, and all dry foods contain these ingredients to some extent. Carbohydrate sources are not "filler", as their nutrients are digestible and absorbed by the dog or cat. The only nutrient that is not digestible in feed is dietary fiber. Dietary fibers instead fulfill other nutritional functions and are included for the cat's sense of satiety and because they provide healthy bowel movements, and favor the gut's good bacterial flora.

How our feed is nutritionally composed

FEDIAF is a European pet food organization that compiles research and publishes nutritional recommendations based on the latest conclusions of scientific studies. All our recipes are based on FEDIAF's latest nutritional recommendations for dogs and cats.

Our food is a complete food, which means that it meets all the cat's nutritional needs. It contains complete protein well above the minimum level, with all the cat's essential amino acids. The fat sources are natural fats from the insects, which, among other things, contain the cat's essential fatty acid arachidonic acid, and also omega-3 and omega-6 from olive oil and linseed oil.

The largest part of marketable energy in our feed comes from protein and fat, to meet cats' higher need for these nutrients compared to dogs. When looking at the ingredient and nutritional content of feed, it is therefore relevant to look at how much of the transferable energy, i.e. the calories, comes from different nutrients. Our feed is composed so that 70% of metabolizable energy (ME) comes from protein (40%) and fat (30%), and 30% from carbohydrates. The energy content is moderate and balanced, to prevent obesity and suit neutered cats. The feed contains both natural and added minerals and vitamins, like all dry feed. Our cat diet is supplemented with taurine, to ensure optimal levels of this very important essential amino acid for feline nutrition.

All ingredients are selected to contribute a healthy balance of nutrients and energy. Insects are the largest part of the feed. We chose oats and corn as a source of starch and thus energy. In addition to that, the corn also contributes with essential fatty acids and vitamin E, and the oats with protein and minerals, which is why we chose these particular ingredients. Oats are also a sustainable ingredient that is easy to grow in our northern European climate, unlike, for example, rice or soy.

Reference list

Comprehensive book with scientific references:
Canine and Feline Nutrition - A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals.

Nutritional recommendations from FEDIAF

More studies referred to in the article:

  1. Morris et al (1976) Carbohydrate digestion by the domestic cat.

  2. Kienzle E. Carbohydrate metabolism of the cat - 2. Digestion of starch. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr 1993;69:102–114.

  3. de-Oliveira LD, Carciofi AC, Oliveira MC, et al. Effects of six carbohydrate sources on cat diet digestibility and postprandial glucose and insulin response. J Anim Sci 2008;86:2237–2246.

  4. Slingerland LI, Fazilova VV, Plantinga EA, et al. Indoor confinement and physical inactivity rather than the proportion of dry food are risk factors in the development of feline type 2 diabetes mellitus. Vet J 2007.

  5. Hoenig M, Thomaseth K, Waldron M, et al. Insulin sensitivity, fat distribution, and adipocytokine response to different diets in lean and obese cats before and after weight loss. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2007;292:R227–234.

  6. Sallander et al 2012 Prevalence and risk factors for the development of diabetes mellitus in Swedish cats.

  7. Backus RC, Cave NJ, Keisler DH. Gonadectomy and high dietary fat but not high dietary carbohydrate induce gains in body weight and fat of domestic cats. Brit J Nutr 2007;98:641–650.

  8. Canine and Feline Nutrition - A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals.

  9. Nutritional Guidelines for Complete and Complementary Pet food for Cats and Dogs. FEDIAF.

  10. AAFCO methods for substantiating nutritional adequacy of dog and cat foods. AAFCO, Association of American Feed Control Officials.

  11. Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases of Small Animals. Sherry Lynn Sanderson.

More reading on cats and carbohydrates

Summary of current research from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association 2011: Kirk (2011) Cats and Carbohydrates - what is the impact? WSAVA

Literature studies covering the subject cats and carbohydrates:
Laflamme et al (2022) Evidence does not support the controversy regarding carbohydrates in feline diet

Did this answer your question?