Are carbohydrates suitable for cats?

The use of carbohydrates in cat food is controversial. While some consider it a good source of energy, others believe that carbohydrates are responsible for the increase in feline obesity and diabetes . In any case, what we agree on is that cats digest carbohydrates less efficiently than other animals .

Cats are carnivores, so most of their digestive enzymes are intended to digest protein rather than carbohydrates. However, cats can tolerate some forms of carbohydrates better than others. For example, most cats can digest cooked starches, but sucrose can not .

Although you should avoid high carbohydrate cat foods , you should not try to eliminate carbohydrates from your cat’s diet entirely – they can have some health benefits, and even feral cats consume them in small amounts.

If you want to control or reduce your cat’s carbohydrate intake, this article tells you how to do it safely.

Article content

  • Problems with feeding cats with carbohydrates
    • Cut down on protein
    • Diarrhea, vomiting, bloating and flatulence
    • Causes diabetes mellitus
    • They can cause obesity
  • Are carbohydrates necessary for your cat’s diet?
  • Can Cats Digest Carbohydrates?
    • Types of good and bad carbohydrates cats can eat
  • How much carbohydrates can cats digest?
  • Is my cat allergic to carbohydrates?
  • Do Carbohydrates Cause Diabetes in Cats?
  • Do carbohydrates cause obesity in cats?
  • How to manage carbohydrates in a cat’s diet
    • Check your cat food labels
    • Wet food
    • Don’t feed him leftovers
    • Provides fiber
    • The pregnancy

Problems with feeding cats with carbohydrates

To understand why there is so much controversy around this topic, here are some of the problems that carbohydrate eating creates:

1. Cut down on protein

Carbohydrates are often used to “fill” cat food, particularly kibble. Although the protein content of cat food should not be below 25% , domestic cats still consume much less protein (and relatively more carbohydrates) than cats that live in the wild.

Some research suggests that a high-carbohydrate diet can even interfere with protein absorption.

2. Diarrhea, vomiting, bloating and flatulence

Certain types of carbohydrates are very difficult for a cat to digest. Other types of carbohydrates are easier on the cat’s stomach, but can still cause mild symptoms, such as flatulence and bloating.

3. Causes diabetes mellitus

Carbohydrate-rich cat food can cause increased feline diabetes .

4. They can cause obesity

House cats eat a lot of carbohydrates, this is compounded by the fact that many house cats get little exercise, so they don’t burn excess calories.

If carbohydrates are responsible for the above health problems, it is easy to understand why pet owners are concerned about feeding conventional cat food to their cats.

Are carbohydrates necessary for your cat’s diet?

According to the nutritional guidelines, there are no minimum carbohydrate requirements for cats. Cats have evolved towards a high protein diet , which is why they obtain energy from amino acids in animal meat.

Cats that live in the wild consume small amounts of carbohydrates by eating insects and small amounts of vegetation.

Also, their prey has a small amount of carbohydrates in their stomachs. Prey contains between 1 and 8% carbohydrates, so even the wildest cats consume carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates can aid digestion if added to pet food properly. For example, certain complex carbohydrates are rich in fiber   and can help support the cat’s digestive system.

Also, when a cat is pregnant , she can benefit from a relatively high carbohydrate diet as protein cannot be absorbed as efficiently.

So, although cats generally do not “need” carbohydrates for their development, it is natural that they consume small amounts of carbohydrates. Therefore, it is not advisable to eliminate this macronutrient completely.

Can Cats Digest Carbohydrates?

It can be said that cats digest carbohydrates less efficiently than other animals. This is because they do not have the digestive enzymes necessary to digest carbohydrates. For example:

  • Cats have low levels of amylasein the pancreas – amylase helps break down carbohydrates.
  • The pancreatic tissue of a cat has low maltaseactivity : Malts break down maltose into glucose (sugar).
  • There is little or no lactase or sucrase activityin the cat’s pancreatic tissue: lactase is the enzyme required to process lactose, and sucrose is the enzyme that processes sucrose.
  • Maltase, isomaltoseand sucrase enzymes present in the small intestine have little activity.

As you can see, cats can digest carbohydrates, but they are not very efficient at doing so. 

Types of good and bad carbohydrates cats can eat

Most cats can tolerate starches (polysaccharides) very well . Starches are complex carbohydrates, and they can be digested differently than simple sugars. Among the (cooked) starches that cats can digest very well:

  • Beer rice.
  • Green peas.
  • Lentils

To achieve a healthy and balanced diet, starch must be balanced with other macronutrients such as protein and fat.

There are carbohydrates that are very difficult for cats to digest. For example, cats cannot tolerate sucrose. Sucrose is broken down with the enzyme sucrase. Cats have sucrase enzymes in the small intestine, but their activity is very low. Some cats react poorly to small amounts of sucrose, while others can tolerate slightly higher amounts.

Research shows that if cats consume more than 7 g of glucose per kg of their weight (or if more than 36% of the food contains sucrose), the side effects are likely to be significant: bloating, flatulence, lethargy and diarrhea.

Fortunately, sucrose is rarely added to cat food (at least not in a significant amount). The type of carbohydrate used in conventional cat food is easier for cats to digest.

Sometimes cats eat too much sucrose. This can happen if they eat leftovers or sweets, such as:

  • Chocolate
  • Oriental sweet sauces and some pasta sauces.
  • Cake crumbs.
  • Flavored drinks.

How much carbohydrates can cats digest?

Most cats can consume starches in moderation. If too much carbohydrate is consumed, it can pass through the small intestine (undigested) and into the colon, where it will ferment.

If carbohydrates ferment in the colon, this will alter the microbial environment and can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Bacterial overgrowth leading to more serious illness.

So how much carbohydrate is tolerable for a cat? There is no consensus, but it seems advisable that the carbohydrate content in cat food should not exceed 55% (there should also be a minimum of 25% protein and 20% fat). Research suggests that a better range would be between 15% and 35% carbohydrates.

This would better resemble a cat’s natural diet. So if you are concerned about the risks associated with a high carbohydrate diet, try buying cat food that contains less than 55% carbohydrates in its content.


Is my cat allergic to carbohydrates?

Although most cats can digest (cooked) starches, some may be intolerant or allergic to certain cereals, grains, or vegetables.

Allergy symptoms are:

  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Inflamed or itchy skin.
  • Crying eyes.

Switching to a hypoallergenic cat food usually helps, as these foods do not include common carbohydrate allergens (such as corn).

In some cases, food allergies are to blame for inflammatory bowel disease.

Do Carbohydrates Cause Diabetes in Cats?

The diabetes mellitus is one of the most common metabolic disorders in cats. Some scientists believe that carbohydrates are directly responsible for causing diabetes in cats.

According to this theory, carbohydrates increase the cat’s blood sugar, and it takes a long time for the cat to remove sugar from the blood (because cats lack the liver enzymes necessary to process glucose effectively).

This puts so much pressure on the pancreas that it will have to keep producing enough insulin to cope with the high blood sugar levels. Over time, this leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Most veterinarians and specialists agree that there is not enough evidence to show that eating carbohydrates causes diabetes in cats.

However, it is widely accepted that carbohydrate-rich foods may play an indirect role in causing diabetes because eating carbohydrate-rich foods can lead to obesity (a significant risk factor for diabetes).

Therefore, a low carbohydrate diet can help control diabetes by allowing weight control .

Do carbohydrates cause obesity in cats?

Feline obesity is a very common problem, and high-carbohydrate cat foods seem likely to be to blame. However, other factors can also play a role. For example:

  • The high fat content of some cat foods.
  • Palatability:The palatability of food has improved in recent years, making cats more likely to overeat.
  • Grazing: Providing your cat with small amounts of food throughout the day is a good thing because it recreates its natural feeding behavior. However, if you don’t control the amount of food that you are making available, your cat could start to overeat.
  • Inactivity: Cats that spend all their time indoors will eat a high amount of calories, but will burn very few by being almost inactive .

While cutting down on carbohydrate-rich foods can help prevent feline obesity , it’s also important to consider how often you are feeding your cat and whether you are meeting her physical and emotional needs.

How to manage carbohydrates in a cat’s diet

Carbohydrates are not “toxic” to cats, but should be eaten in moderation . To ensure your cat is consuming a healthy amount of carbohydrates, consider the following tips:

Check your cat food labels

Look for products that contain less than 30% carbohydrates and certainly less than 40%.

Wet food

If your cat eats a lot of dry food, try substituting it for wet food, as it generally contains less starch.

If you increase wet food and decrease dry food, be sure to give it the correct amount of calories throughout the day.

Don’t feed him leftovers

Do not give your cat leftovers or “treats”, as they may contain sucrose (which is highly indigestible for cats). This includes the obvious sweets like cakes and cookies, but also sauces.

Provides fiber

Cat food that contains fibrous starch (like beet pulp) can be very beneficial to your cat’s digestive system.

The pregnancy

If you are caring for a pregnant cat, she will need to consume many more calories per day (up to 800 kcal). Feeding her a cat food that is relatively high in carbohydrates (i.e. 30-45%) can be a good way to meet her energy needs.




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