A Hunter and Carnivore
Cats have evolved to have the physical and behavioral characteristics that make them specialized hunters of rodents and other small prey. They are developed to be predators, and are motivated to hunt by the sight and sound of prey. In order to be a successful hunter, the cat will search its hunting range at times when its main prey are active and vulnerable, which is usually at dawn and dusk. The cat is an obligate carnivore, unable to survive or thrive without nutritional nutrients found in meat, such as taurine.
Cats are also prey. As predator and prey animals, they have unique reactions to unfamiliar environments and stimulation. They have evolved the ability to hide disease. This can make health care challenging to the veterinarian.
Take Home Messages
- Cats cannot be vegetarians. Owners need to understand that being a carnivore means that cats have unique and very special dietary needs.
- The dietary requirements of cats are difficult to achieve properly with home-prepared diets, and feeding high quality commercial foods offers the best and safest option to meet their needs.
- Cats that are neutered require approximately 33% less calories than un-neutered cats. Caloric needs are also based on activity levels. Obesity is related to inactivity in cats, feeding larger amounts than needed and not addressing individual needs of the cat.
- Kittens who are encouraged to play roughly or to attack hands and feet in play may continue this as adults, which can be painful or even dangerous as they grow and become stronger.
- Cats are naturally active at dusk and early in the morning (when they often wake up owners for interaction or food). Cats should not be fed as soon as the client wakes up because this will reinforce the behavior of the cat waking the owner.
- Cats are hunters and may hunt even when provided sufficient food. Cats may sometimes bring prey indoors.
- Cats need an opportunity/outlet for play that enables them to express hunting behaviors. Behaviors that are seen as aggressive may actually be an expression of prey-play behaviors.
- Owners should understand the value of an enriched environment that encourages “working play” and puzzles. These activities help mimic behaviors that would be utilized in daily hunts and are necessary to maintain healthy behaviors that allow them to live with us.