Meat is the central ingredient in pet food. Cats evolved eating it, as did wolves — the modern dog’s ancestor. Although cats and dogs are both able to obtain all of the nutrients they need from meat, each species possesses key metabolic differences that greatly impact their nutritional requirements.
How so? Let’s take a look at these differences in more detail.
The Original Diet of Cats
As obligate carnivores, cats evolved as predatory animals, with their food sources being mice, rats, rabbits, lizards and insects. In the wild, the only way for felines to obtain all of the nutrients they need is to consume another animal.
For the carnivorous cat, the following are among those key nutrients that are only or mostly found in meat:
In all cases, cats lack the enzymatic ability to synthesize these essential nutrients, leaving meat as their only source.
Can Cats Go Plant-Based?
However, it’s important to understand that — like all animals — cats require specific nutrients rather than specific ingredients in order to survive and thrive. While meat is the only source of complete nutrition for cats living in the wild, it is not the only source of complete nutrition for cats being fed a commercial diet. Indeed, recent research suggests that cats fed plant-based diets properly supplemented with animal-free, synthetic essential nutrients are just as healthy as cats fed meat-based diets.
Man’s Best Table Scrapper
Unlike cats, dogs diverged from their carnivorous ancestors more than 13,000 years ago. During this time, dogs co-existed alongside humans, eating the table scraps of their omnivorous human companions, and evolving metabolic traits that allowed them to survive on not only meat but also plant matter. Over a period of 10,000 years, dogs went from requiring meat to being capable of obtaining all of the nutrients they need from either a meat or a plant-based diet.
A Tale of Two Different Metabolisms
Dogs are unique from cats in many ways, but in terms of nutritional requirements, it’s their metabolism — and their body’s ability to synthesize certain key nutrients from precursor molecules found in plants — that sets them apart. For example, in the case of vitamin A, dogs are able to synthesize this vitamin from a precursor molecule called carotene — a compound that is found in abundance in many vegetables, and gives carrots their orange color.
In contrast, cats lack the ability to convert carotene to vitamin A and therefore need to obtain this nutrient from their diet. Metabolically speaking, dogs are much more similar to humans than they are to cats.
The Desire for Meat
Although today’s domestic dogs do not need meat, many pet parents feel more comfortable feeding their canine a diet that includes at least some meat, as it’s an ingredient that their wolf ancestors thrived on. Regardless of whether dogs need meat (they don’t), most dogs still love the taste and will choose the flesh of a rabbit over a head of cabbage any day. The majority of pet parents choose to feed their cats and dogs meat, creating a huge demand and market for meat-based pet food.
Making a Better Meat
Like most experts, when it comes to feeding our pets, Because, Animals recognizes both the nutritional value and sensory satisfaction that meat brings. For this reason we’re not making a meat alternative – we’re making 100% meat by an alternative means.
Want to everything there is to possibly know about our cultured meat? Check out our white paper, Cultured Meat: The Future of Pet Food authored by our CEO and co-founder, Shannon Falconer, PhD.