So far, we have already discussed how cats are unique in their metabolism and utilization of proteins. This month, we will discuss how felines are just as equally unique in their lack of metabolism and utilization of carbohydrates.
Cats have several developmental adaptations that prevent them from utilizing carbohydrates and starches. Starting in the mouth, cats do not have taste receptors for “sweet”. They also do not produce salivary amylase, the enzyme that is responsible for the initiation of carbohydrate digestion. Further along the digestive tract, cats have low activity of intestinal and pancreatic enzymes needed to break down carbohydrates in the small intestine. The liver of cats is also designed for the metabolism of proteins instead of carbohydrates. They have minimal activity of the enzymes needed to break down and store sugars for later use. They also lack the ability to increase the amount of these enzymes after ingestion of a high sugar meal.
This all means that cats have limited ability to rapidly lower their blood sugar after a high-sugar meal. In addition, excess starch in their diet (that is not used for energy) is stored as fat. Cats on a natural diet do not experience large fluctuations in blood sugar after eating a meal. This is because with a protein-based diet glucose is released steadily over a long period of time.
Although cats cannot utilize carbohydrates and starches, this does not mean they are benign. High amounts of carbohydrates in their diet decreases protein digestibility due to a variety of factors, including increased passage rate (food moves through the intestinal tract faster than normal). Increased carbohydrates in their diet also cause a reduction in fecal pH. This is caused by incomplete carbohydrate fermentation in the small intestines which leads to increased microbial fermentation in the colon and increased production of organic acids. What this means for kitties is that the normal intestinal (good) bacterias’ ability to survive in the intestinal tract is diminished and digestion is affected. This can lead to flatulence, diarrhea, cramping, and vomiting. Over time, all this can lead to diabetes, inflammatory bowl disease, food intolerance, frequent vomiting, and other such diseases.
As stated in previous newsletters, providing good protein is key to keeping a healthy, happy kitty! Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell whether a particular food is right for your cat. If you ever have any questions, just give Dr. Jenny a call at 406-728-0022!
Speaking of food, we here at Cats On Broadway want to wish you and your families a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday! =^_^=