Grain-Free Cat Food: It’s the Quantity That Counts!

Grains in cat food – at first you are taken aback. As predators, cats are carnivores and feed on small prey in the wild. The natural cat diet consists of almost one hundred percent animal components. The plant components, which the cat cannot do without, are ingested not only by selectively nibbling on grass and plants but above all through the contents of the prey’s stomach. On this occasion, in addition to plant fibers, very small amounts of grain or seeds naturally enter the cat’s stomach.

While pet cats show a keen interest in processed foods like cheese, few cats would consider tucking into a slice of stale whole wheat bread. Seeds, including grains, are simply not part of a cat’s diet. Most house tigers don’t mind a certain amount of grain, others react with symptoms, for example to the gluten.

What is gluten actually?

You have probably heard the term gluten many times. Gluten-free foods have been taking up more and more space on supermarket shelves in recent years. This can give the impression that gluten itself is something harmful. This is not the case: gluten is a combination of different proteins that occur naturally in many types of grain. Among other things, they play an important role in the processing of foods such as bread. However, gluten cannot be easily metabolized by every organism. Sometimes it acts as an allergen and can cause allergies (as an autoimmune disease) or inflammation of the lining of the small intestine (as a food intolerance) in humans and animals. Damage to the mucous membranes results in further digestive problems. The medical term for this is celiac disease.

Why is there a grain in some cat food at all?

If a cat was fed exclusively on muscle meat, this could damage its kidney function over time. A certain amount of vegetarian ingredients must therefore be added to the canned food, for example in the form of roughage. A proportion of vegetable components must therefore also be taken into account when BARFing cats. In some types of cat food, grain is used as roughage and as a satiation supplement – in nature, the bones and fur of the prey, the indigestible components, would take on this function. In industrial feed production, grain additives are found in both dry and wet food variants and cat snacks. Wheat is usually used, as well as barley, oats, or rye. However, cereals are not required as dietary fiber in the cat’s diet.

Cereals in cat food are not generally harmful because not every type contains gluten. Rice or corn, for example, are very filling types of grain that do not contain any allergens but are valuable sources of potassium, magnesium, iron, and a number of other important trace elements for the cat. In large quantities, however, consumption can be problematic due to the energy content. So it always depends on the quantity and type of grain. The method used to pretreat the grain also plays an important role.

With proper processing, a cat can digest grain without major problems. This has to do with the food-technical breakdown of the starches contained. A common process in the production of dry cat food is so-called extrusion, in which the ingredients are briefly heated to 100 °C and steam is added. This breaks down the starch in the grain and makes it easier for the cat to digest. The alternative is cold pressing in a drum process without the use of heat. The starch in the grain components remains unbroken.

Is it better if the cat food is grain-free?

Even the teeth of the cat indicate that the velvet paw is not a grain eater: it lacks strong, flat molars. The cat’s digestive tract is designed to consume low-carbohydrate but high-protein food. Gluten is a protein of plant origin. However, just like people with celiac disease, cats occasionally develop allergies or food intolerance to grains.

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