In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the source of protein in pet food, whether from an animal or plant, or from muscle meat or by-product. Equally important to consider, however is the amount of protein in your pet’s diet.
Recent studies have explored the diets of dogs’ and cats’ wild relatives in order to gather clues about our pets’ natural nutritional needs. In addition to strong DNA similarities between our pets and their wild relatives, their ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring has provided strong evidence for their close relation. Because of their similarity to our domestic pets, wild species can provide helpful insight to dogs’ and cats’ dietary needs.
Your cat’s closest wild relatives are the European, Near Eastern and Central Asian wildcats as well as the more distantly-related sand cat. The diet of wildcats is almost exclusively live prey, from small rodents and rabbits to birds, reptiles and frogs. A non-invasive study recently performed in the UK determined that domestic cats’ preference for protein, fat and carbohydrates closely matches that of wildcats. Other studies have explored the nutritional content of a prey diet, compared to typical domestic cat food kibble, revealing that natural prey diets tend to provide more necessary calories in the form of protein.
The dog’s closest wild counterparts are the gray wolf, red wolf and coyote. The diets of wolves and coyotes are varied and more diverse than you might think. Although these animals like to hunt mammals like rabbits, deer and elk, many studies have shown that they eat large quantities of foods like pine seeds, crickets, and various grasses, oftentimes during seasons when hunting larger prey may be difficult. Because of these variations, a direct link between the diets of wolves and domestic dogs cannot be easily made. With this in mind, a group in the UK performed a study similar to the one mentioned before, in which researchers discovered that given the choice, domestic dogs prefer food with more protein and fat and fewer carbohydrates than the amount found in typical dog kibble in North America.
This important research emphasizes the importance of checking your pet’s food label for higher protein content. More protein could be a better match for his evolutionary needs and his natural preferences. Keep in mind, however that most of our “couch potato” pets don’t have the same physical demands of their wild relatives, so all food should be fed according to package directions or as advised by your veterinarian. Also, be aware that kidney and liver disease can be exacerbated by a high protein diet, so ask your vet for a dietary recommendation if your pet suffers from one of these conditions.
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