Understanding Common Ingredients and Nutrients in Cat Food

Do you know what’s in your cat’s food? And more importantly, do you know how those nutrients affect your cat’s health, including their muscles, skin, coat and nails, digestion, bone growth and so much more?

As the old adage goes, “You are what you eat,” so it stands to reason that by feeding your cat high-quality ingredients, their overall health will be positively impacted.

So, what’s in your cat’s food? Simply put, cat food nutrients are divided into four subcategories: protein, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins and minerals. Learn more about each of these — and how they can affect your cat’s health.


Protein in Cat Food

Protein is best known for supplying amino acids, or protein subunits, to build hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.

Common cat food protein sources include meat, chicken, fish and some plant ingredients like corn gluten and soybean meal.

Cats and kittens are true carnivores and need essential amino acids. One of these, taurine, is not found in plant protein sources such as soybean meal — which means your cat needs a protein source from meat to stay healthy.


Carbohydrates in Cat Food

Carbohydrates (also known as starches [sugars]) and fibers provide energy and bulk, respectively. Plants and grains like wheat and corn are common carbohydrate sources.

Starches are made up of various types of sugar, such as glucose or fructose. Through digestion, cats can easily convert sugar into usable energy.

Fiber provides bulk to move food through your cat’s gastrointestinal tract, aiding in healthy digestion. Some types of fiber, such as vegetable gums and beet pulp, are fermented by bacteria in your cat’s intestines, creating short-chain fatty acids that serve as an important source of energy for the cells lining your cat’s intestinal tract.


Fat in Cat Food

Though it sometimes gets a bad rap, fat fulfills many vital bodily functions. Fat helps your cat maintain their body temperature, control inflammation and more. It is the primary form of stored energy in the body, providing twice as much energy as carbohydrates or proteins.

Fats are found in meats, fish and plant oils, such as flax and vegetable oils.

Fats also provide omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important fat subunits. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for skin and coat maintenance and proper membrane structure. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to affect coat quality and skin health.


Nutrition tip: All IAMS™ dry foods contain an optimal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids to help support a healthy skin and coat.


Vitamins and Minerals in Cat Food

Vitamins are responsible for promoting bone growth, blood clotting, energy production and oxidant protection in your cat.

Vitamins A, D, E and K require fat for absorption into the body, while vitamins such as the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C need water to be absorbed into the body.

Minerals provide skeletal support and aid in nerve transmission and muscle contractions.

Feeding your cat a high-quality, nutritionally complete diet is crucial. When choosing a cat food, make sure to read the label and look for optimal sources of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and vitamins and minerals. These building blocks will help ensure your cat lives a long and healthy life.


  • Is Your Cat a Picky Eater? Try These Cat Feeding Tips!
    Is Your Cat a Picky Eater? Try These Cat Feeding Tips!
    Is Your Cat a Picky Eater? Try These Cat Feeding Tips!

    Cats are known for being a bit choosey about what they will and won’t do. And a little pickiness is fine when it comes to picking out toys and napping spots! But if your cat is or becomes extra-selective about what they’ll eat, it’s time to pay attention and perhaps talk to your vet. You and your vet know your cat best, so it’s always worth checking in if you think your cat isn’t eating enough and want their professional advice.


    Start by paying close attention to what your cat is eating and how they behave. This information will help you, your household and your vet work together to make sure your cat is living and eating well.


    Feeding Tips for the Truly Finicky Cat 

    Pay Attention to All the Cat Treats 

    Is your cat begging for table scraps or holding out on eating until you offer treats? Extras like these can be very disruptive to your cat’s appetite and diet. Think about them like snacks or desserts for you — tasty cravings that are easy to fill up on. A small portion may not seem like much, but it can make a big different for a cat-sized digestive system!


    Try dialing back how much you treat your cat to tasty extras and see if their interest in the food bowl starts to return. Remember, it’s generally all right for cats to skip a few meals, but if they haven’t eaten for 24-36 hours it’s time to call the vet (even if they’ve continued drinking water).


    Review Your Cat’s Food Routine 

    Humans often crave variety in their meals, but for cats, routine is king. It’s not likely they’d avoid their regular food out of boredom with it, but if you’ve recently changed the kind of food, the number of feedings or the times you feed your cat, they may be avoiding eating as a response.


    It's a good idea to change your cat’s diet gradually (unless your vet advises otherwise). Pickiness can often be resolved by helping your cat adjust and get comfortable with their updated diet!


    Help Your Cat Relax While Feeding 

    If your cat starts eating less, you may want to look for factors that could be causing stress. Seemingly unrelated changes to their environment can shift your cat’s stress levels enough to impact their interest in food. Has another animal or person joined or left the household? Has your cat been adapting to new surroundings due to a move or renovation? As the stress of that change begins to subside, your cat will probably go back to a normal diet.


    Talk to your vet about good ideas for reducing your cat’s stress levels and share any concerns you have about their diet then too. You’re both on the same team, so work together to help your cat feel better!

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