Not many people (even cat enthusiasts) realize that domestic cats are some of the most efficient outdoor hunters around. Belying their loveable portly physique is a set of genetically-ingrained weapons designed for the quick and precise kill:
- A reflective ocular layer that allows them to see 6 times better in the dark than humans.
- 32 auditory muscles that guarantee very sharp hearing and superb balance.
- Flexible muscles and vertebrae that allow them to travel at 30 km per hour.
- The ability to retract their claws allows them to move stealthily.
- Carnassial teeth (molars) designed specifically to shear meat.
How a creature’s body is built can say a lot about its natural diet. By looking at their ‘aggressive anatomy’, cat owners might consider their pet’s primitive food as a novel way of thinking about their ideal diet and working toward better health.
It doesn’t take a genius or a doctorate in zoology to figure out that there is a remarkable similarity between domestic cats and the large wild cats that are known for their deadliness (e.g., lions, tigers, leopards, etc). Indeed, heaps of scientific evidence conclude that the house cat’s evolutionary ancestor is a close relative of the once fierce and now well-protected wild cats.
Despite living alongside human civilization for the last 10,000 years, feline pets today behave exactly the same as their bigger, untamed cousins when wandering outdoors. In fact, a cat doesn’t even need to become feral to become the apex predator of its neighborhood.
In 2013, the BBC documentary film The Secret Life of Cats featured a typical house cat named Missy. Despite being a well-fed indoor pet, Missy managed to accumulate an impressive (or disturbing) kill rate.
In a single month, she caught 5 rabbits, 17 shrews, 11 mice, and 7 birds—technically, one body per day with a surplus of 9 victims left over. Missy is a perfect example of a cat with a more primal hunger that can’t be satisfied solely by conventional cat food.
There shouldn’t be any doubt that domestic cats are rightfully categorized as ‘obligate carnivores’. In other words, they are only able to obtain nutrients required to live through eating meat. Despite the fact that modern house felines are fed commercial cat food, the instinct to hunt their prey is a deeply-ingrained impulse acquired from their evolutionary ancestors.
Going Feral Diet?
The term Paleo Diet describes a nutrition principle that (in theory) is aimed to meet the demands of the human body according to its purest biological design. People who subscribe to this diet operate under the notion that they are eating the same healthy food that sustained the robust prehistoric human.
Ultimately, this means consuming only whole foods and lean proteins.
The same line of thinking applies for those who are inclined to believe that feeding cats manufactured commercial food on a daily basis is unnatural and therefore unsafe. Just like its human counterpart, the Feral Diet means feeding cats the same food on which their evolutionary ancestors subsisted.
Fortunately, in this case, their huge protected cousins provide a very useful reference. So, what do wild cats eat?
The only main difference between the common ideal food source of a feral domestic cat and a lion is their size.
Wild cats hunt and kill huge prey (e.g. zebra) as a team. As an individual, they’ll only go after something relatively less than half their size such as:
- small birds
- small rodents
- small reptiles
In terms of general similarities, another point worth noting is that both domestic cats and their large cousins prefer to consume their whole prey.
In other words, the ideal feral diet consists of a fresh kill. A more realistic alternative pet owners can provide is raw meat.
By eating the entire mouse, with bones, fur, and organs, the cat receives the benefit of all these nutrients (even the vitamins and minerals from the mouse’s stomach contents). The fur even provides beneficial roughage to aid digestion and move “fur balls” out of the digestive tract.
Proponents of this approach to feline nutrition have claimed a number of important advantages. Here are some of the stated benefits of feeding raw meat to domestic cats:
- Improved dental health
- Increased energy
- Healthier body weight/mass
- Finer coat (less shedding)
- Improved kidney health
- Reduced stool volume and odor
- Improved temperament
- Reduced hunger pangs/cravings
There can be little doubt that cats profit from consuming fresh meat. However, one potentially overlooked aspect of this theory concerns the fact that they prefer to devour their prey completely. One can’t help but wonder: can cats eat bones?
If cooked, bones can become brittle and cause serious injuries throughout the entire digestive system when these fragments break into sharp splinters.
Raw bones provide a similar nutritional value to that of meat. However, if your cat is overweight you should restrict the amount of fatty bone marrow it consumes.
Unfortunately, shifting from the usual dry, processed cat food to raw meat is not as easy as it seems. Cat owners need to wean their feline companion’s dependence on kibble by slowly replacing it with fresh morsels.
This progressive swap in terms of the ratio between dry food and fresh meat will eventually pay off.
Along with this, serious considerations in terms of hygiene must not be overlooked. Raw meat can easily become a hotbed of parasites when less than meticulously stored.
One must be able to secure the approval of the attending vet physician (as well as follow all suggestions for supplementing the diet) prior to implementing this bold approach to meal planning.
Safe Simulated Alternatives
Considering the benefits and realistic trials involving the Feral Diet, not every cat owner will be willing to take such a huge leap. Some might believe this lifestyle change to be too overwhelming to implement, especially with the possible constraints in terms of time and resources.
The question stands: must you always feed cats what they would eat in the wild?
For those who don’t think that feeding their cat raw meat is a viable option yet, you can pretty much opt for a diet that does not deviate from mainstream recommendations. However, it can help to make some slight modifications despite maintaining a customary diet.
Experts advise cat owners to replace their typical dry cat food with a wet canned variety. Increased water content and reduced carbohydrates go a long way in terms of preventing ubiquitous progressive conditions like chronic kidney disease (CKD), diabetes, and feline obesity.
But even if owners are having a hard time abandoning dry cat food entirely, the most viable alternative is to carefully choose a product that offers the right set of nutrients. According to experts, the ideal diet of wild cats comprises the following dietary requirements:
- 52% calories from crude protein
- 46% calories from crude fats
- 2% calories from carbohydrates