It Seems That Cats Are Very Into Nutrition

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Photo: Gandee Vasan

Cats can be finicky little creatures, refusing at random — or so it seems — to eat the food you purchased for them. If they would bother to seek employment to purchase their own food, this would be a nonissue. But as is, it’s annoying when they turn up their (cute) noses at even the fanciest of feasts you’ve bought for them.

But there is, as it happens, some logic to their pickiness. In a study published online last week in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers found that neither smell, nor taste, nor texture makes much of a difference in terms of whether or not a cat will eat a particular food. What matters most, according to their research, is nutrition.

The researchers, who are from the U.K. and Australia, gave cats different flavors of foods over the course of several weeks, some of which seemed very cat-friendly (rabbit, fish) and one of which did not (orange!). At first, the animals went for the rabbit- and fish-flavored foods. But that changed over time. “Cats initially selected food based on flavor preferences, but after ‘learning’ (due to prior exposure) about the nutritional composition of the foods, cats selected foods to reach a particular target balance of protein and fat regardless of added flavors,” Adrian Hewson-Hughes, who led the study, told the Discovery News site Seeker, which initially spotted this study. As the study wore on, the cats gravitated to foods with a very particular protein-to-fat ratio, even when that food was flavored a not-typically-cat-friendly orange.

More specifically, their preferred protein-to-fat ratio appeared to be something like 1 to 0.4, which means that 50 percent of their energy is derived from the fat, and 50 percent from the protein. They’ll eat treats, too, of course, for some short-term fun, but over the long haul, they seem to naturally drift toward this nutritional setup.

Just how the cats divine a food’s nutritional makeup in this way, on the other hand, is a question for another study. Still, if cats are this attuned to their nutritional needs, one can only assume that they are quietly judging those of us who maybe pay a little less attention to our own.