The Cat Digestive System: Anatomy and Functions
A cat’s digestive system is similar to humans and dogs in that it regulates the absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes. However, because cats are strictly carnivores, it's important to understand that there are differences in their dietary needs. Continue reading to learn about your cat’s gastrointestinal tract and what you can do to keep it healthy!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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What is the Digestive System?
The digestive system consists of every organ involved in:
- Absorption of nutrients
- Motility (movement through the digestive tract)
- Elimination (of feces)
The parts of the body involved in digestion from start to finish are as follows:
What does it mean to digest food?
The purpose of digestion is to obtain nutrients, fluid, and electrolytes from the food we consume. This process is the same for cats. Digestion starts with the mouth. When a cat starts chewing, enzymes in the saliva immediately start breaking down the food, and thus begins the process of digestion. After the cat swallows, the food then travels down the esophagus into the stomach, where it’s further digested. Nutrients are absorbed as the ingesta travels through the intestines. Finally, the waste product is excreted from the body.
How do I keep my cat’s GI tract healthy?
Cats are different from dogs and humans in that they are strict carnivores and need a higher protein diet. In the wild, cats eat 55% protein, 45% fat, and only 1-2% carbohydrates. In addition, cats cannot produce certain amino acids (taurine, arginine, methionine, cysteine) and nutrients (vitamin B/niacin and vitamin D) in their own bodies, and therefore must consume them. These are found in meat, and without consuming them, cats will start to break down their own body muscle to try to obtain them.
Canned/wet food helps to provide hydration for a species that doesn’t tend to be big drinkers and is often preferred over dry food for this reason. Also, dry kibble often has a higher amount of carbohydrates and a lower amount of protein than wet food. Although cats often love fish, some studies suggest it may lead to thyroid disease, so it’s advised by many vets not to feed your cats a strictly fish-based diet.
Discuss diet options for your cat with your vet, and click on the links below to see our articles on feeding cats:
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