Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy?

Vet Sci. 2017 Nov 15;4(4):55. doi: 10.3390/vetsci4040055.


The domestic cat's wild ancestors are obligate carnivores that consume prey containing only minimal amounts of carbohydrates. Evolutionary events adapted the cat's metabolism and physiology to this diet strictly composed of animal tissues and led to unique digestive and metabolic peculiarities of carbohydrate metabolism. The domestic cat still closely resembles its wild ancestor. Although the carnivore connection of domestic cats is well recognised, little is known about the precise nutrient profile to which the digestive physiology and metabolism of the cat have adapted throughout evolution. Moreover, studies show that domestic cats balance macronutrient intake by selecting low-carbohydrate foods. The fact that cats evolved consuming low-carbohydrate prey has led to speculations that high-carbohydrate diets could be detrimental for a cat's health. More specifically, it has been suggested that excess carbohydrates could lead to feline obesity and diabetes mellitus. Additionally, the chances for remission of diabetes mellitus are higher in cats that consume a low-carbohydrate diet. This literature review will summarise current carbohydrate knowledge pertaining to digestion, absorption and metabolism of carbohydrates, food selection and macronutrient balancing in healthy, obese and diabetic cats, as well as the role of carbohydrates in prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes mellitus.

Keywords: carbohydrates; carnivore; diabetes mellitus; feline; glucose metabolism; hyperglycaemia; macronutrient selection; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review