Carnivorous mammals: nutrient digestibility and energy evaluation

Zoo Biol. 2010 Nov-Dec;29(6):687-704. doi: 10.1002/zoo.20302.


Estimating the energy content is the first step in diet formulation, as it determines the amount of food eaten and hence the concentration of nutrients required to meet the animal's requirements. Additionally, being able to estimate the energy content of a diet empirically known to maintain body condition in an animal will facilitate an estimation of maintenance energy requirements. We collated data on nutrient composition of diets fed to captive wild canids, felids, hyenids, mustelids, pinnipeds, and ursids and the digestibility coefficients from the literature (45 species, 74 publications) to test whether differences in protein and fat digestibility could be detected between species groups, and whether approaches suggested for the estimation of dietary metabolizable energy (ME) content in domestic carnivores (NRC [2006] Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.) can be applied to wild carnivores as well. Regressions of digestible protein or fat content vs. the crude protein (CP) or fat content indicated no relevant differences in the digestive physiology between the carnivore groups. For diets based on raw meat, fish, or whole prey, applying the calculation of ME using "Atwater factors" (16.7 kJ/g CP; 16.7 kJ/g nitrogen-free extracts; 37.7 kJ/g crude fat) provided estimates that compared well to experimental results. This study suggests that ME estimation in such diets is feasible without additional digestion trials. For comparative nutrition research, the study implicates that highly digestible diets typically fed in zoos offer little potential to elucidate differences between species or carnivore groups, but research on diets with higher proportions of difficult-to-digest components (fiber, connective tissues) is lacking.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Zoo*
  • Carnivora / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Species Specificity