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Are Cats Omnivores? Facts & FAQ

cat eating
Image Credit: Capri23auto, Pixabay
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

Cats are described as being obligate carnivores, which means that they must eat meat to meet their nutritional needs. The majority of a cat’s protein should come from meat sources. What’s more, cats can only get certain nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin B12 from meat.

In contrast, animals like dogs are known as omnivores, which means that they eat all food types. It also means that they can get their nutritional requirements from one particular type of food. Dogs can survive on plant nutrients, although owners do have to take care to ensure that they meet all of their dog’s nutritional requirements when doing so.

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What Is an Omnivore?

An omnivore is an animal that can eat either animal or plant. In most cases, they will have a diet that consists of both of these food types. Some omnivores are hunters that will kill and eat prey, while others are scavengers or opportunists that will eat dead animals that they find.

Although omnivores do eat plants, they are not usually capable of digesting all plants or plant types and may not derive any biological benefit from eating certain types of fruits or vegetables.

Humans are omnivores, and so too are animals including raccoons, foxes, badgers, and bears.

What Is a Carnivore?

A carnivore is a meat-eater. Their sole source of food is animals that they usually hunt, kill, and eat. A carnivore’s only source of plants, fruits, and vegetables is from the stomach of their prey, which makes up a minuscule amount of their overall diet. They do not eat fruit and vegetables from the ground or trees, and all carnivores get some vitamins and minerals solely from the meat that they eat and cannot get these nutritional ingredients from anywhere else.

The domestic cat is one example of a carnivore. Other examples include badgers and big cat species.

cat eating tuna on a plate
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

What Cats Eat in The Wild

The exact diet of a wild cat would depend on its place of origin, but cats are carnivores and would solely eat meat. Their size dictates that they would usually eat rodents like mice and rats, as well as rabbits and birds. Some cats would eat lizards or snakes and they may eat small chickens if available.

Interestingly, it would be very rare for a cat to eat fish, despite us feeding commercial foods that are loaded with salmon, tuna, and other fish types.

In the wild, cats would eat virtually the whole carcass of a dead animal. This means that they would eat the bones and organs, as well as the meat. Bones are a good source of calcium for a cat, and this is why raw food companies include ground bones in their food. However, you need to ensure that ground bones do not make up too large a portion of their diet. Consider that rodents are 10% bone at the most.

It is a myth that cats eat fish. Apart from a very limited number of species, they would not eat fish in the wild. In fact, because fish lacks thiamine, feeding too much fish too regularly could cause your cat to become very ill.

Can a Cat Be a Vegetarian?

There is some debate over this. Some owners feed their cats a vegetarian diet, but the side of science firmly comes down on the side of cats being carnivores so they should be fed meat if they are to be healthy and satisfied.

Cats need much higher levels of protein than other animals, but they require very few if any carbohydrates. They also require large amounts of taurine. Taurine is only found in animal proteins, while the high protein level that a cat needs cannot be met with a vegetarian diet.

cat and vegetables
Image Credit: Patrik Kraus, Shutterstock

Meat-Based Essentials

In fact, cats can become very ill if they are not fed meat. In particular, they can become deficient in the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Taurine – Taurine is an essential amino acid. Essential, in this case, means that it must come from diet because the cat is biologically unable to produce the acid itself. Taurine helps your cat maintain good vision, ensures that its heart functions properly, and it aids in digestion. It is vital to fetal development in pregnant cats and it prevents illnesses because it supports the immune system. Taurine is only found in animal-based proteins and is not found in plants, fruit, or vegetables.
  • Arachidonic Acid – Although arachidonic acid performs many roles in cats, it is especially important during reproduction. Deficient cats have reduced reproductive performance and while this can be found in some vegetable oils, the levels of the acid needed are only viably found in meat sources.
  • Vitamin A – Vitamin A is very important. It enables cats to see at night, supports the immune system to prevent your cat from picking up illnesses, and it works as an antioxidant so it can also work towards preventing some cancers and long-term illnesses.
  • Vitamin B12Vitamin B12 is also important for your cat’s immune system. It keeps the brain functioning well, especially in old age, and it is required for the healthy operation of the digestive system and digestive tract.

What Happens If a Cat Doesn’t Eat Meat?

Cats are carnivores and they need to eat meat to receive some essential vitamins and minerals. Taurine, in particular, is prevalent in meat but not found in any other source, and a vegetarian diet would mean that a cat would be deficient in this important amino acid. Initially, a cat’s coat and skin might start to suffer. They would become lethargic and be more susceptible to contracting illnesses and other diseases. Over time, the cat would become emaciated and it could prove fatal.

Image Credit: lonsdale_007, Shutterstock

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Cats are carnivores, which means that they not only eat meat but that they get essential vitamins, minerals, protein, and amino acids, from meat-based sources that they cannot get from plant sources. A cat can become seriously ill if it is not fed meat, and a vegetarian diet is not considered appropriate for domestic cats.

Featured Image: Capri23auto, Pixabay

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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