What is the evolutionary programme of nutrition for cats?

Updated: Jan 24



I have previously written about the evolutionary programme of nutrition for dogs and because cats mustn't be forgotten, here is the version for cats.

You may recall from reading the dog version that one of the central keys of optimising your dog's nutrition is by following something called "the evolutionary programme of nutrition".

The evolutionary programme of nutrition is not a phrase that I can take credit for creating. Australian vet, Dr Ian Billinghurst, refers to this phrase in his book 'Pointing the Bone at Cancer in Dogs Cats & Humans'.

Some of you may have heard of the phrase 'wild diet' or 'species appropriate diet' or 'biologically appropriate diet'. The evolutionary programme of nutrition or the evolutionary diet centres around the same principles and in this article I'm going to discuss what an evolutionary programme for cats consists of.

The evolutionary programme of nutrition requires that we go back in time to examine what our companion animals have eaten over the last few million years.

The relevance of going back in time is to identify which foods have shaped their genome, which then tells us what foods we should be feeding our companion animals today.

The greatest weight should be assigned to the dietary environment that has prevailed for the longest period of time. But, we must not forget the more recent dietary environments as they are relevant too.

Looking at the cat, genetic studies indicate that the domestic cat lineage (Felis catus) together with the leopard cat lineage diverged from a common ancestor in North America about 6.2 million years ago. The domestic cat lineage is then believed to have split off from the leopard cat lineage about 3.4 million years ago. For evolutionary purposes then, we go back to the cat's ancestors, right back to the wild cats of 3.4 million years ago. (You can read on for a breakdown of each relevant period or just check out the pretty timeline below which displays it in a much more visually pleasing way).


Wild cats

Wild cats hunted and killed other animals. They ate whole carcasses of other mammals plus insects and reptiles. Their water needs were met from their food intake. They had some competition with humans for birds and small mammals.

Semi-domesticity

In 7000BC to 3000BC, cats started to associate with humans. They fed on vermin around and within villages, eating the whole animal - the skin, flesh, bones, blood, organs and gut contents. It is believed that during 4000BC and 3000BC, cats were confined for sacrificial purposes. Their diet during this time is unknown.

Domesticity

The mainstream view is that cats were domesticated in Ancient Egypt between 3000BC and 500BC. At this time, they still lived as obligate carnivores. Their diet consisted of mainly rodents - the skin, flesh, bones, blood, organs and gut contents. Physically and mentally they remained as obligate carnivores as well. The Egyptians worshipped their cats, to the point that they even had a cat goddess (Bastet) and they mummified their beloved feline companions for journeying to their next life, along with mummified mice!


But the cat's domesticity is now believed to have occurred much earlier than Ancient Egypt. The view now is that cats lived among the people of Mesopotamia over 100,000 years ago and were domesticated around 12,000BC.

Domestic cat in a domestic setting, sometime after 1500BC, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

The modern cat

From about 500BC, cats made their way from Ancient Egypt to China, finally arriving in Europe and Britain from about 100AD. By this stage, cats were kept as pets. They continued to feed on rodents but also started to eat raw animal-based foods that humans ate.

Fake industrial pet food

Finally we have the fake industrial pet food era. This era began in the mid nineteenth century, about the 1930s, during the great depression. This era of only 40 to 150 years saw the introduction of processed foods for both humans and companion animals alike. There was an almost disappearance of raw animal flesh, replaced by dried and canned foods with little to no relevance to the evolutionary diet of the feline. For example, these diets saw cats eating more carbohydrates than they had ever eaten throughout their long history.

The diet fed throughout the fake industrial pet food era has had no impact on the genetic dietary requirements of cats.

So what is the evolutionary programme of nutrition for cats?

Basically, the evolutionary programme of nutrition for cats consists of the following formula (plus healthy food-based supplements) -

  • 80-85% raw meat and raw meaty bones

  • 10% organ meat

  • 5% vegetables

Would you like help with putting together a tailored diet plan for your cat that is based on the evolutionary programme of nutrition? Book a free chat with me here to find out more.