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February 23, 2022

Do Cats Need Carbohydrates?

  • Cat Health
  • Nutrition
  • Carbohydrates
  • Cat
Ragdoll cat sitting on wood table beside bowl and GO! SOLUTIONS CARNIVORE Salmon + Cod Recipe kibble bag

Although carbohydrates are not considered essential nutrients in cat diets, and are often mistaken as “filler” ingredients, they are important in providing a readily available, highly digestible, source of energy. This energy can help fuel your furry friend’s laps around the house.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are an important category of ingredients which contain fiber, starches, and any essential nutrients. Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that make up your pet’s diet. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down to glucose, the preferred source of energy for certain body cells, tissues, and organs.

Why Are Carbohydrates Important?

Carbohydrates are not considered essential nutrients in the diets of cats and are often considered “filler” ingredients. However, carbohydrates perform many important functions in cats. Since carbohydrates are a highly digestible and readily available source of energy, more of the protein from your cat’s diet can be used for producing and maintaining body tissue, rather than energy production.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be classified as simple or complex. The chemical structure and how quickly the body can digest it, determines whether the carbohydrate is considered complex or simple. Complex carbohydrates are important sources of essential nutrients. Because they are more complex, it takes longer for the body to break them down and therefore they are less likely to cause quick spikes in blood sugar. Simple carbohydrates are easily digested and absorbed, contributing to the energy density.

Carbohydrates in Cat Food

All cat foods contain a balance of the three macronutrients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Decreasing the amount of carbohydrate in a food will increase the fat and/or protein content. As a result, including carbohydrates in pet foods provides more flexibility to create recipes with different nutrient values. This could be useful when formulating diets for pets requiring specific mineral levels due to a health condition, or for animals requiring less fat or protein in the diet.

Dietary fiber is a unique type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by a cat’s enzymes. However, just because it can’t be broken down and absorbed doesn’t it mean it doesn’t have many potential benefits.

Just like in humans, fiber can help with weight management and digestive health.
Taylor RichardsMSc Student - Companion Animal Nutrition

The carbohydrate content of a diet, specifically the starch content, helps determine the shape, density, and texture of the kibble. Mouth feel and structure of food play a major role in determining the palatability of a kibble, which is extremely important, especially for our picky cats.

Grains are a common source of complex carbohydrates in cat foods.

Examples of grains include:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Wheat

There are also many great non-grain, complex carbohydrate sources for your cat.

Non-grain carbohydrate sources include:

  • Pulses (peas, lentils, beans, chickpeas)
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tapioca

If you are interested in providing your cat with a healthy grain-filled diet, our Go! Solutions Skin + Coat Care recipes maybe a purr-fect option!

So, the next time you are playing with your cat, think about all the carbohydrates providing them with ENERGY!


Author icon

Taylor Richards

PhD Student - Companion Animal Nutrition

Taylor received her BSc in Honours Animal Biology, with a minor in Nutrition and Nutraceuticals, at the University of Guelph. She is currently completing her PhD in Companion Animal Nutrition in the Department of Animal Biosciences, also at the University of Guelph.