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News Article

Dogs and cats make different food choices


When offered foods with similar palatability, dogs and cats choose different macronutrient compositions

A study of the nutritional preferences of cats and dogs has been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Researchers at Oregon State University and Hill’s Pet Nutrition monitored 17 healthy adult dogs and 27 cats over 28 days and used four types of food that were designed to taste the same; with flavour out of the equation, the animals could make macronutrient choices based only on what their bodies were telling them they needed.

“Previous studies have shown that if you don’t balance palatability between foods, cats do in fact prefer to eat very high levels of protein and dogs want to eat a lot of fat,” said Jean Hall, a professor in the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University. “When you balance palatability, both dogs and cats prefer significantly different macronutrient content than what they would choose based on taste.”

The animals studied by Hall and her collaborators had four food choices: high-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-protein and balanced foods. Each day, dogs had an hour to eat all they wanted up to a predetermined caloric intake.

The cats in the study were likewise not allowed to overeat, though even if given unlimited access to food that tastes how they like it, cats tend to eat in a weight-maintenance way by adjusting their intake based on the food’s energy density. In the study, cats had 24-hour food access to the point of hitting their caloric threshold.

Food container placement for both dogs and cats was changed daily to guard against “bowl position bias” affecting the results.

The researchers found the cats on average chose to get 43 percent of their calories from carbs and 30 percent from protein.

Dogs went for 41 percent fat and 36 percent carbs.

Not a single dog or cat chose to get the highest percentage of its calories from protein.

Within the aggregate cat findings were trends correlating with age and lean body mass. Younger cats with less lean body mass tended more strongly toward protein consumption than younger cats with more lean body mass; younger cats in general wanted protein more than older cats.

On the dog side of the study, high-protein foods were the least popular among younger animals with less fat body mass; dogs with greater fat body mass had the strongest preference for getting calories from protein.

“Because the choice of macronutrients was influenced in both dogs and cats by age and either lean body mass or fat body mass, that suggests a physiological basis for what they chose to eat,” Hall said.

The research also involved determining the diets’ effect on selected metabolites of each macronutrient class. Hall found the older cats’ blood had much lower levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that’s important for the brain, heart and eyes, than the younger cats.

“None of the foods had ingredient sources of DHA or EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid], another long-chain omega-3, but cats are able to synthesize DHA by elongating and desaturating fatty acids,” Hall said. “The older cats, though, are a lot less efficient at that.”

In older cats, concentrations of sulfated microbial catabolic products – protein-breakdown leftovers, that in humans are connected to cardiovascular and kidney disease – were significantly higher.

“Just like with older people, older cats may have a different gut microbiome than younger cats, which would mean different microbial metabolic activities,” Hall said.

If a younger cat gets more protein than it can use, it can safely deal with and dispose of the excess a lot better than an older cat can.

Article: When fed foods with similar palatability, healthy adult dogs and cats choose different macronutrient compositions by Jean A. Hall, Jodi C. Vondran, Melissa A. Vanchina and Dennis E. Jewell, published in Journal of Experimental Biology, online 17 May 2018, doi: 10.1242/jeb.173450

Article details

  • Date
  • 12 June 2018
  • Source
  • Oregon State University
  • Subject(s)
  • Animal nutrition