Cats are important parts of the household for millions of families, and have unique nutritional needs that help to support their body systems and fuel long and healthy lives.

We explore the nutrients required in a complete and balanced cat food recipe, as well as other important nutrients, and the role they play in your cat’s well-being, from whisker to paw.

Want to learn more about dogs? Click here to learn more about canine nutrition from nose to tail.

Veterinary nutritionists have identified a diverse range of essential vitamins that may be provided through food ingredients and supplemental form in a pet food recipe. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body’s fatty tissue and liver. Some of the main functions of these vitamins include:

Source: National Research Council. “Vitamins.” Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2006. 193-245. Print.

Many of these vitamins are critical to the process of converting fats, proteins and carbohydrates into energy for cats, known as energy metabolism, while also supporting other specific cellular functions.

Source: National Research Council. “Vitamins.” Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2006. 193-245. Print.

Essential minerals for cats can be divided into two separate categories based on their dietary requirements and concentrations in the body. The largest amounts are of the macrominerals, while the trace minerals are required in very small amounts. Minerals are present in nearly all food ingredients, but are sometimes added via specialized ingredients to be sure your pet is provided with the proper balance. Some cat food labels will include “ash” in the Guaranteed Analysis, which reflects the sum of all the minerals in the food.

Some of the main functions of these minerals include:

Source: National Research Council. “Minerals.” Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2006. 145-192. Print.

Proteins, made up of amino acids, serve a range of important functions for cats. While there are 20 amino acids present in proteins, 10 of these are considered essential (needed daily) for adult cats.1 Growing kittens need not only the essential amino acids, but also non-essential ones for necessary weight gain.2 Both kittens and adult cats need more of certain specific amino acids than dogs.

Without the proper levels of each of the essential amino acids, the synthesis of all proteins is impaired. Cats are extremely sensitive to the lack of the amino acid arginine, which is thought to be related to cats being carnivores.3 They also require more phenylalanine and tyrosine than dogs in order to maintain the black color in their coats.4 Various protein sources deliver the amino acids that help a cat develop and maintain its muscles, blood, organs, enzymes, antibodies, hormones, skin and coat.

The amino acids below are required in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) profile, while taurine is also required for cats. A cat cannot make sufficient taurine by his or herself, making it an essential daily nutrient in their diet. Taurine deficiency leads to eye degeneration and heart problems.

1 – National Research Council. “Protein and Amino Acids.” Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2006. 111-144. Print.
2 – J Nutrition 109(4):718-23 (1979) QR Rogers, JG Morris
3 – Science 199:431-432 (1978) JG Morris, QR Rogers
4 – J Nutrition 132:2037-2042 (2002) PJB Anderson, QR Rogers, JG Morris

Fats are the major energy source for cats. They are made up of fatty acids, including essential fatty acids (EFAs), which cannot be made in enough quantity by the body and must be obtained from food. The EFAs for cats are slightly different than for dogs. While both cats and dogs need the fatty acid called linoleic acid (an Omega-6 fatty acid), cats also require the slightly more complex fatty acid called arachidonic acid (also an Omega-6 fatty acid). Two other fatty acids, both classified as Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA), are required for the growth of kittens. Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids must be balanced for overall health.

1 – National Research Council. “Fat and Fatty Acids.” Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2006. 81-110. Print.
2 – J Nutrition 109(4):718-23 (1979) QR Rogers, JG Morris

While carbohydrates are not categorized as essential nutrients in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrient profiles, they have important roles in cat nutrition and function of the body. Cats are able to utilize carbohydrates, whether as starch or as the various fiber sources. Digestible carbohydrates can support your cat’s health by providing a readily available energy source.

Source: National Research Council. “Carbohydrates and Fiber.” Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2006. 49-80. Print.