Study: Cats opt for healthy food over flavor

No junk food junky felines

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Do cats know what’s best for them nutritionally? Apparently they do, researchers believe.

Given the choice, domesticated cats instinctively seek the healthiest foods instead of consuming something that simply tastes better, according to a study published June 15 in Royal Society Open Science.

Cats can and do navigate among competing foods to choose the best available mix of fats, protein and carbohydrates, the study found.

The study tested the hypothesis that how much “protein and fat ingested by cats would not be different when they were allowed to select from combinations of three foods that varied not only in protein-to-fat composition but also with different added flavors [or] aromas.”

Are survival instincts or other reasons involved? That brainteaser has yet to be solved.

“It is likely that they have metabolic pathways that are best met through regulating their intake of protein and fat to a particular ratio,” said study lead Adrian K. Hewson-Hughes, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England.

Flavors of different “attractiveness” were added to steamed, pulverized chicken. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, fish flavor was the cats’ top choice, followed by rabbit and then orange.

“Cats have taste receptors on their tongues, which will provide an initial signal about whether a food tastes nice or tastes unpleasant,” Hew-son-Hughes said. “The cats in our study initially selected food based on flavor preferences.”

By study’s end, the cats veered toward the highest protein choices, despite the food having been treated with the least-tasty flavor option, orange.

The study exposed the role of balance, Hewson-Hughes said.

“After learning about the nutritional composition of the foods, cats selected foods to reach a particular target balance of protein and fat intake, regardless of added flavors,” he stated.

Originally published in the August 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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