A Feline Feast: What do cats eat in the wild?
Domestic cats have a very simple and basic diet. Sure, we may feed our moggies the best premium kitty food we can find, we are most likely feeding them the same thing day in day out, on the same schedule each day. This is a vastly different picture to the feeding habits of cats who live in the wild, so let’s take a look at what and how wild cats eat.
The steak or the salad?
We all know that all animals fall into the categories of carnivore, herbivore and omnivore. Either meat eaters, those who only eat plants and vegetation or those who feed off of both. Cats fall under the sub-category of obligate carnivores. This means that it is biologically essential that they eat meat in order to survive. This is true for all cats, wild and domestic. Dogs, in comparison, are omnivores – they can live on vegetation alone but their diets usually contain meat of some sort.
There are some nutritional substances that cats do not need to find in their prey, for example cats produce sufficient Vitamin C within their liver that means they do not have to source it in the edibles available to them. However, there are various nutritional substances that cats cannot produce within their bodies and can only be found in the tissues of the animals they prey on. These include Vitamin A, Arginine and Taurine etc. These such nutrients are vital to a cat’s physical wellbeing – for example the Amino Acid Taurine is so essential, that without it a cat will lose its ability to see.
Cats essentially ‘borrow’ the nutrients other smaller animals have made in their own bodies, and for this reason, cats will eat the entire body of its prey from top to toe. They consume every part of the animal (feathers/fur, flesh, blood, bones, organs etc) because each part will contain different nutrients that cats need and can’t produce on their own.
So, we have looked at the nutritional reasons behind a cat’s carnivorous behaviours, but what do cats eat in the wild?
When you ask anyone “What do cats eat in the wild?” the most likely answer will of course be mice. Whereas this stereotype is of course correct and the cats most common prey is small rodents such as mice or rats, there are also many other animals the cat will hunt for.
Small mammals such as, shrews, rabbits, squirrels and moles.
Small birds or flying mammals such as, robins, sparrows and bats.
Small reptiles and insects such as, lizards and snakes.
Getting a full picture of what cats eat in the wild, means looking at the many factors that surround what prey is available to them.
Obviously, depending on where in the world the wild cats live, the prey available to them will vary. Local wildlife survives in different ways all over the world and so animals that are native to different locations will also need different types of food to survive, will have different ways of hunting and different terrain to hunt on. A wild cat in Australia will feed differently to a wild cat in Brazil for example.
The season that the cat is hunting in will greatly affect what prey is available to them. Many animals small and large either hibernate or move habitat entirely depending on the season so wild cats will find hunting at different times of the year harder and more varied than at others.
In different locations the wild cat will fall into different social structures. In areas where there are much larger and more dominant animals around, the wild cat will be lower down the food chain and will have less advantage over the prey around them. Whereas, in areas where cats are one of the primary dominant animals, they will have the pick of prey in their area.
The sex of the cat determines a lot of its defining characteristics, and hunting and eating is one such characteristic affected by sex. Female cats are better hunters than males, unless the male cat has a mate. This is all about sourcing and providing food for the potential litter. Female cats must be able to hunt food so that when they are pregnant or have a young litter they can pass on or provide all the vital nutrients the little ones need. Similarly, the male cat with a mate will be more inclined to hunt better as they will be focused on providing food for their mate and litter. So, females, being better hunters, will have a wider variety of prey available to them.
Should we replicate the ‘wild diet’ for our beloved pets?
There are a lot of people out there researching the ‘natural’ wild cat diet and looking at how best we can replicate that for our own felines at home, this is largely down to the fact that a large majority of feline health problems that are diagnosed today are a result of the diet we feed the domestic cats in our care.
It is not just about what we feed out pets but how as well. Studies show that wild cats will hunt and feed several times throughout the day and night, with rest periods in between. In most common households we feed our domestic pets 1-2 times a day usually in the morning and at night. These feeding patterns differ hugely and affect both the wild cats and the domestic cat’s health and wellbeing differently.
Some people will say that changing your pet cat’s feeding schedule and buying the most natural, well rounded cat food possible is enough to give them better eating habits and health. However, others will argue that we should be feeding our cats a raw diet of meat still containing skin and bones to best replicate what their wild feline family members would be eating. If you plan on doing this there is a lot to know, but some basic pointers are:
- Always make sure the portions of raw meat are clean and sourced from a butchers or similar, domestic cats will be much more susceptible from outside diseases than wild cats used to catching and eating their own prey, and you don’t want your cat to take ill.
- Only feed bones that are small enough for cats to chew easily on, these include bones such as chicken wing or ribs.
- You should not attempt to cook the bones you are feeding to your cat. Cooking bones makes them more brittle and they can break apart leaving sharp splinters when the cat is eating them. This could cause internal bleeding or blockages in the digestive track.