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Idiosyncratic nutrient requirements of cats appear to be diet-induced evolutionary adaptations*

  • James G Morris (a1)

Cats have obligatory requirements for dietary nutrients that are not essential for other mammals. The present review relates these idiosyncratic nutritional requirements to activities of enzymes involved in the metabolic pathways of these nutrients. The high protein requirement of cats is a consequence of the lack of regulation of the aminotransferases of dispensable N metabolism and of the urea cycle enzymes. The dietary requirements for taurine and arginine are consequences of low activities of two enzymes in the pathways of synthesis that have a negative multiplicative effect on the rate of synthesis. Cats have obligatory dietary requirements for vitamin D and niacin which are the result of high activities of enzymes that catabolise precursors of these vitamins to other compounds. The dietary requirement for pre-formed vitamin A appears to result from deletion of enzymes required for cleavage and oxidation of carotenoids. The n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) requirements have not been defined but low activities of desaturase enzymes indicate that cats may have a dietary need for pre-formed PUFA in addition to those needed by other animals to maintain normal plasma concentrations. The nutrient requirements of domestic cats support the thesis that their idiosyncratic requirements arose from evolutionary pressures arising from a rigorous diet of animal tissue. These pressures may have favoured energy conservation through deletion of redundant enzymes and modification of enzyme activities to result in metabolites more suited to the cat's metabolism. However, this retrospective viewpoint allows only recognition of association rather than cause and effect.

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Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Dr James G. Morris, fax +1 530 752 4698, email
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A preliminary presentation of some of the material in the present review was made as Morris (2001).

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