Not many people (especially cat enthusiasts) would realize that domestic cats can be the most efficient outdoor hunters around. Belying their loveable portly physique is a set of genetically-inherent weapons designed for the quick and precise kill:
- Reflective ocular layer allows them to see 6 times better at dark than humans.
- 32 auditory muscles guarantee a very sharp hearing and superb balance.
- Flexible muscles and vertebrae allow them to travel at 30 km per hour.
- The ability to retract their claws allows them to move stealthily.
How a creature’s body is built can say a lot about its natural diet. By looking at their seemingly ‘aggressive anatomy’, cat owners might consider their pet’s ideal (primitive) diet as a novelty approach to 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 famous wild cats that are known for their deadliness (e.g. lions, tigers, leopards, etc). And indeed, heaps of scientific evidence concludes that the house cat’s evolutionary ancestor is a close relative of the once fierce but now protected wild cats.
Despite living with human civilization for the last 10,000 years, the feline pets today will behave exactly the same way as their bigger untamed cousins when wandering outdoors. In fact, cats do not even need to become feral to become an apex predator in its neighborhood.
In 2013, a BBC documentary film The Secret Life of Cats features 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 and a surplus of 9 more victims. Missy is a perfect example of a cat with a ‘more primal’ type of hunger that can’t be satisfied by the conventional cat food.
There should not be any doubt that domestic cats are rightfully categorized as ‘obligate carnivores’. Despite the fact that modern house felines are being 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 beings.
Ultimately, this means consuming whole foods and lean proteins.
The same line of understanding applies for those who are inclined to believe that feeding cats a manufactured commercial food on a daily basis is unnatural, and therefore unsafe. Just like its human counterpart, feral diet means feeding the same food source that their evolutionary ancestors subsisted.
Fortunately, in this case, their huge protected cousins provide a very useful reference. Yet one can’t help but ask: what do wild cats eat?
The only main difference between the common ideal food source of a feral domestic cat and a lion is the 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 the general similarities, another point worth noting is that both domestic cats and their large cousins prefer to consume the whole prey.
In other words, their ideal feral diet consists of a fresh kill. The nearest (more realistic) alternative pet owners can provide is raw meat.
Proponents of this approach to feline nutrition have also 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 doubts that cats may profit from consuming fresh meat. However, the 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, the bones can become brittle and cause serious injuries in any area throughout the entire digestive system when these fragments decide to break into sharp splinters.
Feeding them raw bones can bring the same nutritional value found in meat. However, strict adherence to curbing the cat’s obesity means reducing the amount of fatty bone marrow.
Unfortunately, shifting from the usual dry (processed) cat food to raw meat is not as easy as it seems. Cat owners need to wean off their feline companion’s dependence on kibbles by slowly replacing it with fresh morsels.
The progressive swap in terms of the ratio between dry food and fresh meat will eventually pay off.
More importantly, serious considerations in terms of hygiene must not be overlooked. After all, raw meat can easily become a hotbed of parasites in a less-than-meticulous preparation.
One must be able to secure the approval of the attending vet physician (as well as apply to other suggestions for supplementing the diet) prior to planning a meal based on this bold approach.
Safe Simulated Alternatives
Considering the benefits and realistic trials involving feral diet, not every cat owner is willing to take such a huge leap of faith. Some would 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 it be always what cats would eat in the wild?
For those who don’t think that feeding their cat raw meat is a viable option yet, they can pretty much opt for a diet that does not deviate from a more familiar reality. However, it is crucial to make the slightest modifications despite the intention of remaining within the customary realm.
Experts would advice cat owners to replace the 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 numbers. 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