Does the Bengal require a special diet?
This is a question that I get asked all the time. The answer is… no! No special diet is necessary. But a little further explanation is usually required. You see, a Bengal has the same basic dietary needs as any other domestic cat… it also has the same needs as a lion, and a tiger, and an asian leopard cat. ALL cats have the same nutritional needs, big or small, wild or not. Our domestication of cats has not changed the fact that they are obligate carnivores. In fact, we domesticated them primarily for the purpose of hunting pests. Meat and the nutrients found only in meat are essential for survival. This is something that, sadly, so many cat owners do not understand.
The “lion in your living room”
Yes, they are adorable and we share our lives and homes with them, but we should not ignore the fact that cats are born hunters, killing machines that need meat to survive:
- Their entire makeup is that of a predator: senses designed to track prey, excellent night vision, retractible claws, extreme power for their size, and teeth that are shaped for the tearing of flesh.
- Their digestive system is specialized to handle raw meat: it has shorter segments than dogs or humans since its diet of protein and fat are highly digestible.
- Their nutritional requirements clearly show their need for meat: Unlike omnivores, cats constantly burn protein for energy. Omnivores will only burn protein when it is plentiful in their diet. If the cat does not have enough protein, it will be forced to deconstruct its own body’s proteins for energy to live. Death from protein starvation can be very rapid in cats.
- Cats have specific needs that only come from meat: Cats require arachidonic acid, which is only found in meat. Cats cannot make Vitamin A from plants, they must receive it from animals. Cats require taurine, which is present in meat but not plants.
The list goes on and on… the point is, cats are designed to eat meat and meat alone! So, what should we be feeding our cats?
Please, Not Dry Food!
But it’s so convenient, it says “complete and balanced,” and they seem to like it! What’s the problem?
Just think about kibble for a minute. It’s not fresh. It is heavily processed, which can alter and destroy nutrients. It sits on cupboards for weeks or months before it is consumed, where it can easily become rancid. But the primary problems are these:
1. Dry food is dangerously nutritionally imbalanced.
In short, there are too many carbs and not enough protein, or the wrong kind of proteins (plant-based instead of animal-based). Cats cannot metabolize the proteins of fruits or vegetables the way that humans or dogs can, but plant-based protein is cheaper than animal protein, so pet food companies will pack plants into the food and attempt to supplement the food artificially. People have caught onto the fact that they shouldn’t be feeding their cats grains, and look for “grain-free” food, but many companies have responded by using potatoes, peas and other vegetables instead. These are not only the wrong kind of proteins, but they are high in carbohydrates. In the wild, only 1-2% of the cat’s diet consist of carbohydrates. Dry food is typically 35-50% carbohydrates or more. Cats have no dietary need for carbohydrates. This kind of diet is unnatural and detrimental to their health.
2. Dry food does not have enough moisture.
Water within the food is absolutely essential to a cat’s diet because they do not have a strong thirst drive. Nature intends that their moisture comes from their prey, which is 70-75% water. Dry food is 5-10% water. Feeding a strictly dry diet will result in chronic dehydration. A cat that eats dry food and drinks from a water bowl still only consumes half the amount of water as a cat on a wet food diet. This can cause serious kidney and bladder issues.
The Gold Standard of Cat Food
Feeding your cat any kind of canned food is going to be much better than dry food because of water content and the fact that the proteins will be sourced more from animals, less from plants. However, you still must carefully examine the ingredient list and composition of Protein/Fat/Carbs to determine if it is a healthy diet choice or not. The most natural, fresh, and healthy choice is a raw diet.
Very simply put, a carnivore is designed to eat raw meat. You will not find a leopard hunting a potato or a lion cooking his dinner over a fire. The number one concern people have with a raw food diet is that it can cause “food poisoning” or bacteria overgrowth like it would in humans. There are a few things to be noted about this reasoning:
- The digestive system of a cat is short and works quickly (food transit time is 12-16 hours vs 35-55 hours in a human). This is so that they can process raw meat quickly, without a danger of bacteria overload (bacteria takes time to multiply). There is not a concern for big cats in the wild, or for feral cats hunting in fields, so it doesn’t make sense to worry about it with cats in your home.
- A properly handled chunk of whole meat cuts is likely to contain less bacteria than commercial dry foods.
Yes, you must practice common sense safety precautions any time you handle raw meat, but it certainly can be done, and your cat will benefit greatly from it!
I’d like to feed my cat raw! Where do I start?
There are a few places you can source raw diets:
- Buy online from a reputable company. (Darwin’s is one example)
- Check your local pet store to see if they carry brands (such as RadCat) of frozen raw food.
- Make it yourself at home.
Sources and further reading:
- Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life by Elizabeth M. Hodgkins