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Nutrition Nuggets
 
 
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Is High Protein All Good for Kittens?

November 02, 2012 / (2) comments

Conventional wisdom these days seems to support feeding cats high protein/low carbohydrate foods. Cats are carnivores, after all. Studies have shown that these types of diets are certainly beneficial for certain health conditions (e.g., diabetes mellitus), but I tend to be wary of blanket statements like, "all cats should be fed a high protein/low carbohydrate food."

Now, before the howls of protest get too loud, let me clarify. I’m talking about diets that provide a whole lot more protein than the National Research Council’s recommended allowances of 22.5% for growing kittens and 20.0% for adult cats. Many commercially available cat foods now contain 40% or more protein on a dry matter basis.

Could all that protein potentially be a problem? A paper published in August answers "perhaps," at least with regards to the microbes that live in the gastrointestinal system (microbiome) and have a huge impact on an individual’s health.

A University of Illinois press release described the research.

One month before mating, eight domestic shorthair female cats were randomly assigned to one of two dry diets: high-protein [52.88%], low-carbohydrate (HPLC); or moderate-protein [34.34%], moderate-carbohydrate (MPMC). When the kittens were born, they were housed with their mothers until they were 8 weeks old, weaned, and then fed the same diets as their mothers.

Twelve of the kittens became part of the study. The researchers took fecal samples at weaning and at 4 and 8 weeks after weaning. They extracted bacterial DNA and used bioinformatics techniques to estimate total bacterial diversity.

The researchers found important differences between the two groups in microbiome composition. As they had expected, levels of proteolytic bacteria (which break down protein) were higher for kittens on the HPLC diet and levels of saccharolytic bacteria (which break down carbohydrates) were higher for kittens on the MPMC diet.

They also looked at relationships between the diets and physiology. The kittens fed the MPMC diet had high levels of bifidobacteria, which was linked to higher blood ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite and thus may be linked to weight gain.

At the same time, the bifidobacteria may promote better gastrointestinal health. Low levels in humans have been linked to inflammatory bowel disease.

Other bacteria found at higher levels in the MPMC kittens, including lactobacilli, are also linked to gut health. The researchers found a positive relationship between lactobacilli, blood cholesterol, and blood leptin levels. Leptin is the signal that tells the body to stop eating. Hence, lactobacilli may be linked to cholesterol metabolism, appetite, and body weight regulation.

Although kittens fed the HPLC diet had lower levels of some health-promoting bacteria, including Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Megasphaera, all the animals were healthy throughout the study.

The argument that mice are high protein/low carbohydrate and therefore cat food should be so also makes sense on its surface, but the lifestyle of a typical domestic cat (mine is currently snoring away on her pillow) is so different from their wild predecessors that it may not be in their best interests to feed them in the same way. This research certainly doesn’t indicate that high protein/low carbohydrate diets are bad for cats, just that the situation is probably more complicated than we’d like … as always.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Ronen / via Shutterstock

 

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Comments  2

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  • Study Results
    11/02/2012 07:25am

    I'm glad that studies like this are being done. However this is such a small sample.

    I hope that the kitties in this study are followed for many years to see if there are any long-term differences.

  • Kittens need MEAT!
    11/03/2012 09:37am

    Whatever the percentage of protein, for kitties that protein should be MEAT, not corn, not wheat, not dairy.

 



ABOUT NUTRITION NUGGETS

JENNIFER COATES, DVM

Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

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