Skip to main content Accessibility help

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.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Idiosyncratic nutrient requirements of cats appear to be diet-induced evolutionary adaptations*
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Idiosyncratic nutrient requirements of cats appear to be diet-induced evolutionary adaptations*
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Idiosyncratic nutrient requirements of cats appear to be diet-induced evolutionary adaptations*
      Available formats
Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Dr James G. Morris, fax +1 530 752 4698, email
Hide All

A preliminary presentation of some of the material in the present review was made as Morris (2001).

Hide All
Alexis, MN & Papaparaskeva-Papoutsoglou, E (1986) Aminotransferase activity in the liver and white muscle of Mugil capito fed diets containing different levels of protein and carbohydrate. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 83B, 245249.
Anderson, HL, Benevenga, NJ & Harper, AE (1968) Associations among food and protein intake, serine dehydratase, and plasma amino acids. American Journal of Physiology 214, 10081013.
Anderson, PJB, Rogers, QR & Morris, JG (2002) Cats require higher dietary phenylalanine or tyrosine for melanin in hair than growth. In Journal of Nutrition 132 (In the Press).
Arai, T, Kawaue, T, Abe, M, Kuramoto, E, Kamakami, E, Sako, T & Washizu, T (1998) Comparison of glucokinase activities in the peripheral leukocytes between dogs and cats. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 120, 5356.
Baker, DH & Speer, VC (1983) Protein-amino acid nutrition of nonruminant animals with emphasis on the pig: past, present and future. Journal of Animal Science 57, Suppl. 2, 248299.
Ballard, FJ (1965) Glucose utilization in the mammalian liver. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 14, 437443.
Bauer, JE (1997) Fatty acid metabolism in domestic cats (Felis catus) and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatas). Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 56, 10131024.
Biourge, V, Groff, JM, Fisher, C, Bee, D, Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1994) Nitrogen balance, plasma free amino acid concentrations and urinary orotic acid excretion during long-term fasting in cats. Journal of Nutrition 124, 10941103.
Carey, GP, Kime, Z, Rogers, QR, Morris, JG, Hargrove, D, Buffington, CA & Brusilow, SW (1987) An arginine-deficient diet in humans does not evoke hyperammonaemia or orotic aciduria. Journal of Nutrition 117, 17341739.
Chandra, M, Singh, B, Soni, GL & Ahuja, SP (1984) Renal and biochemical changes produced in broilers by high-protein, high-calcium, urea-containing, and vitamin A-deficient diets. Avian Diseases 28, 111.
Chen, HY, Lewis, AJ, Miller, PS & Yen, JT (1999) The effect of excess protein on growth performance and protein metabolism of finishing barrows and gilts. Journal of Animal Science 77, 32383247.
Costello, MJ, Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1980) Effect of dietary arginine level on urinary orotate and citrate excretion in growing kittens. In Journal of Nutrition 110 12041208.
Coulson, RA & Hernandez, T (1983) Alligator Metabolism. Studies on Chemical Reactions In Vivo. Oxford: UK: Pergamon Press.
Cowey, CB, Cooke, DJ, Matty, AJ & Adron, JW (1981) Effects of quantity and quality of dietary protein on certain enzyme activities of rainbow trout. Journal of Nutrition 111, 336345.
Crane, RK & Sols, A (1955) Animal tissue hexokinases. Methods in Enzymology 1, 277286.
Czuba, B & Vessey, DA (1981) Identification of a unique mammalian species of cholyl-CoA: amino acid N-acyltransferase. Biochimica Biophysica Acta 665, 612614.
Das, TK & Waterlow, JC (1974) The rate of adaptation of the urea cycle enzymes, aminotransferases and glutamic dehydrogenase to changes in dietary protein. British Journal of Nutrition 32, 353373.
Da Silva, AC, Fried, R & De Angelis, RC (1952) The domestic cat as a laboratory animal for experimental nutrition studies. Journal of Nutrition 46, 399409.
Davis, PK & Wu, G (1998) Compartmentation and kinetics of urea cycle enzymes in porcine enterocytes. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 119, 527537.
Drochner, W & Müller-Schlösser, S (1980) Digestibility and tolerance of various sugars in cats. In Nutrition of the Dog and Cats. pp. 101111 [Anderson, RS editor] Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Drotman, RB & Freedland, RA (1972) Citrulline metabolism in the perfused rat liver. American Journal of Physiology 222, 973975.
Edmonds, MS & Baker, DL (1987) Effects of fasting on tissue amino acid concentrations and urea-cycle enzymatic activities in young pigs. Journal of Animal Science 65, 15381552.
Edmonds, MS, Lowry, KR & Baker, DH (1987) Urea cycle metabolism: effects of supplemental ornithine or citrulline on performance, tissue amino acid concentrations and enzymatic activity in young pigs fed arginine-deficient diets. Journal of Animal Science 65, 706716.
Featherston, WR & Freedland, RA (1973) Influence of dietary protein and carbohydrate levels on liver enzyme activities in quail. Journal of Nutrition 103, 625634.
Featherston, WR, Rogers, QR & Freedland, RA (1973) Relative importance of kidney and liver in synthesis of arginine by the rat. American Journal of Physiology 224, 127129.
Freedland, RA (1964) Urea cycle adaptations in intact and adrenalectomized rats. Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine 116, 692696.
Freytag, TL (2001) Vitamin Ametabolism and toxicity in the domestic cat. PhD Thesis, University of California, Davis.
Gershoff, SN, Andrus, SB, Hegsted, DM & Lentini, EA (1957) Vitamin A deficiency in cats. Laboratory Investigation 6, 227240.
Hankes, LV, Henderson, LM, Brickson, WL & Elvehjem, CA (1948) Effect of amino acids on growth of rats on niacin-tryptophan deficient rations. Journal of Biological Chemistry 174, 873881.
Harper, AE (1965) Effect of variations in protein intake on enzymes of amino acid metabolism. In Canadian Journal of Biochemistry 43. pp 15891603.
Hayes, KC, Carey, RE & Schmidt, SJ (1975) Retinal degeneration associated with taurine deficiency in the cat. Science 188, 949951.
Hendriks, WH, Moughan, PJ & Tarttelin, MF (1997) Urinary excretion of endogenous nitrogen metabolites in adult domestic cats using a protein-free diet and the regression technique. Journal of Nutrition 127, 623639.
Hickman, MA, Bruss, ML, Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1992) Dietary protein source (soybean vs. casein) and taurine status affect kinetics of the enterohepatic circulation of taurocholic acid in cats. Journal of Nutrition 122, 10191028.
Hommes, FA (1993) Inborn errors of fructose metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 58, Suppl., 788S795S.
Horwitt, MK, Harvey, CC, Rothwell, WS, Cutler, JL & Haffron, D (1956) Tryptophan-niacin relationships in man. In Journal of Nutrition 60 Suppl. 1.
How, KL, Hazewinkel, HAW & Mol, JA (1994) Dietary dependence of cat and dog due to inadequate cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D. General Comparative Endocrinology 96, 1218.
Ikeda, MH, Tsuji, H, Nakamura, S, Ichiyama, A, Nishizuki, Y & Hayaishi, O (1965) Studies on the biosynthesis of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotides. II. Role of picolinic carboxylase in the biosynthesis of NAD from tryptophan in mammals. Journal of Biological Chemistry 240, 13951401.
Ito, S, Wakamatsu, K & Ozeki, H (1993) Spectrophotometric assay of eumelanin in tissue samples. Analytical Biochemistry 215, 273277.
Johnson, WE & O'Brien, SJ (1997) Phylogenetic reconstruction of the Felidae using 16S RNA and NADH-5 mitochondrial genes. Journal of Molecular Evolution 44, Suppl. 1, S98S116.
Kaplan, JH & Pitot, HC (1970) Enzymatic and metabolic regulation in animals. Physiological Reviews 36, 164254.
Kase, BF & Bjorkhem, I (1989) Peroxisomal bile acid-CoA: amino-acid N-acyltransferase in rat liver. Journal of Biological Chemistry 264, 92209223.
Kettelhut, IC, Foss, MC & Migliorini, RH (1980) Glucose homeostasis in a carnivorous animal (cat) and in rats fed a high-protein diet. American Journal of Physiology 239, R115R121.
Kienzle, E (1993 a) Carbohydrate metabolism of the cat 1. Activity of amylase in the gastrointestinal tract of the cat. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 69, 92101.
Kienzle, E (1993 b) Carbohydrate metabolism of the cat 2. Digestion of starch. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 69, 102114.
Koutsos, EA, Smith, S, Woods, LW & Klasing, KC (2001) Adult cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) metabolically adapt to high protein diets. Journal of Nutrition 131, 20142020.
Krebs, HA (1972) Some aspects of the regulation of fuel supply in omnivorous animals. Advances in Enzyme Regulation 10, 397420.
Leklem, JE, Woodford, J & Brown, RR (1969) Comparative tryptophan metabolism in cats and rats. Differences in adaptation of tryptophan oxygenase and in vivo metabolism of tryptophan, kynurenine and hydroxykynurenine. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 31, 95109.
MacDonald, ML, Rogers, QR & Morris, JG (1983) Role of linoleate as an essential fatty acid for the cat independent of arachidonate synthesis. Journal of Nutrition 113, 14221433.
MacDonald, ML, Rogers, QR, Morris, JG & Cupps, PT (1984) Effects of linoleate and arachidonate deficiencies on reproduction and spermatogenesis in the cat. Journal of Nutrition 114, 719726.
McLean, JG & Monger, EA (1989) Factors determining the essential fatty acid requirements of the cat. In Nutrition of the Dog and Cat, Waltham Symposium no. 7: pp. 329342 [Burger, IH & Rivers, JPW editors]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Migliorini, RH, Lindner, C, Moura, JL & Veiga, JA (1973) Gluconeogenesis in a carnivorous bird (black vulture). American Journal of Physiology 225, 13891392.
Morris, JG (1999) Ineffective vitamin D synthesis in cats is reversed by an inhibitor of 7-dehydrocholosterol-Δ7-reductase. Journal of Nutrition 129, 903908.
Morris, JG (2001) Unique nutrient requirements of cats appear to be diet-induced evolutionary adaptations. Recent Advances in Animal Nutrition in Australia 13, 187194.
Morris, JG, Earle, KE & Anderson, PA (1999) Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D in growing kittens is related to dietary intake of cholecalciferol. Journal of Nutrition 129, 909912.
Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1978 a) Ammonia intoxication in the near-adult cat as a result of a dietary deficiency of arginine. Science 199, 431432.
Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1978 b) Arginine: an essential amino acid for the cat. Journal of Nutrition 108, 19441953.
Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1982) Metabolic basis for some of the nutritional peculiarities of the cat. Journal of Small Animal Practice 23, 599613.
Morris, JG, Rogers, QR, Kim, SW & Backus, RC (1994) Dietary taurine requirement of cats is determined by microbial degradation of taurine in the gut. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 359, 5970.
Morris, JG, Rogers, QR, Winterrowd, DL & Kamikawa, EM (1979) The utilization of ornithine and citrulline by the growing kitten. Journal of Nutrition 109, 724729.
Morris, JG, Trudell, J & Pencovic, T (1977) Carbohydrate digestion by the domestic cat (Felis catus). British Journal of Nutrition 37, 365373.
Morris, JG, Yu, S & Rogers, QR (2002) Red hair in black cats is reversed by addition of tyrosine to the diet. Journal of Nutrition. 132 (In the Press).
Murphy, WJ, Sun, S, Chen, Z, Yuhki, N, Hirshmann, D, Menotti-Raymond, M & O'Brien, SJ (2000) A radiation hybrid map of the cat genome: implications of comparative mapping. Genome Research 10, 691702.
Myers, MR & Klasing, KC (1999) Low glucokinase activity and high rates of gluconeogenesis contribute to hyperglycemia in barn owls (Tyto alba) after a glucose challenge. Journal of Nutrition 129, 18961904.
National Research Council. (1986) Nutrient Requirements of Cats. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
O'Brien, SJ, Menotti-Raymond, M, Murphy, WJ, Nash, WG, Weinburg, J, Stanyon, R, Copeland, NG, Jenkins, NA, Womack, JE & Marshall Graves, JA (1999) The promise of comparative genomics in mammals. Science 286, 458481.
O'Brien, SJ & Yuhki, N (1999) Comparative genome organization of the major histocompatibility complex: lessons from the Felidae. Immunological Reviews 167, 133144.
Ozeki, H, Wakamatsu, K, Ito, S & Ishguro, I (1997) Chemical characterization of eumelanins with special emphasis on 5, 6 dihydroxyindole-2-carboxylic acid content and molecular size. Analytical Chemistry 248, 149157.
Park, T, Rogers, QR & Morris, JG (1999) High dietary protein and taurine increase cysteine desulfhydration in kittens. Journal of Nutrition 129, 22252230.
Pawlosky, R, Barnes, A & Salem, N Jr (1994) Essential fatty acid metabolism in the feline: relationship between liver and brain production of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Journal of Lipids Research 35, 20322040.
Pawlosky, RJ, Denkins, Y, Ward, G & Salem, N Jr (1997) Retinal and brain accretion of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in developing felines: the effects of corn oil-based maternal diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 65, 465472.
Pawlosky, RJ & Salem, N Jr (1996) Is dietary arachidonic acid necessary for feline reproduction?. Journal of Nutrition 126, 1081S1085S.
Payne, E & Laws, L (1976) The efficacy of protein supplementation in overcoming urea toxicity in sheep. British Journal of Nutrition 35, 4754.
Payne, E & Laws, L (1978) Tissue enzyme levels as indices of protein status in sheep. British Journal of Nutrition 39, 441449.
Payne, E & Morris, JG (1969) The effect of protein content of the diet on the rate of urea formation in sheep liver. Biochemical Journal 113, 659662.
Pecon Slattery, J & O'Brien, SJ (1998) Patterns of Y and X chromosome DNA sequences divergence during feline radiation. Genetics 148, 12451255.
Pion, PD, Kittleson, MD, Rogers, QR & Morris, JG (1987) Myocardial failure in cats associated with low plasma taurine: a reversible cardiomyopathy. Science 237, 764768.
Quam, DD, Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1987) Histidine requirement of kittens for growth, haematopoiesis and prevention of cataracts. British Journal of Nutrition 58, 521532.
Rivers, JPW, Sinclair, AJ & Crawford, MA (1975) Inability of the cat to desaturate essential fatty acids. Nature 259, 171173.
Rogers, QR & Morris, JG (1979) Essentiality of amino acids for the growing kitten. Journal of Nutrition 109, 718723.
Rogers, QR & Morris, JG (1980) Why does the cat require a high protein diet? In Nutrition of the Dog and Cat. pp. 4566 [Anderson, RS editor] Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Rogers, QR, Morris, JG & Freedland, RA (1977) Lack of hepatic enzymatic adaptation to low and high levels of dietary protein in the adult cat. Enzyme 22, 348356.
Rogers, QR & Phang, JM (1985) Deficiency of pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthase in the intestinal mucosa of the cat. Journal of Nutrition 115, 146150.
Rosebrough, RW, Steele, NC & McMurtry, JP (1983) Effect of protein level and supplemental lysine on growth and urea cycle enzyme activity in the pig. Growth 47, 348360.
Schimke, RT (1962) Adaptive characteristics of urea cycle enzymes in the rat. Journal of Biological Chemistry 237, 149168.
Schimke, RT (1963) Studies on factors affecting the levels of urea cycle enzymes in rat liver. Journal of Biological Chemistry 238, 10121018.
Scott, ML (1986) Nutrition of Humans and Selected Animal Species. p. 225. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Scott, PP, Graves, JP & Scott, MG (1964) Nutritional blindness in the cat. Experimental Eye Research 3, 357364.
Seawright, AA, English, PB & Gartner, RJW (1970) Hypervitaminosis A of the cat. Advances in Veterinary Science and Comparative Medicine 14, 127.
Sih, TR, Morris, JG & Hickman, MA (2001) Cats tolerate chronic ingestion of high levels of cholecalciferol. In American Journal of Veterinary Research 62. pp 15001506.
Sinclair, AJ, McLean, JG & Monger, EA (1979) Metabolism of linoleic acid in the cat. Lipids 14, 932936.
Stephen, JML & Waterlow, JC (1968) Effect of malnutrition on activity of two enzymes concerned with amino acid metabolism in human liver. In Lancet. pp 118119.
Stipanuk, MH, Bagley, PJ, Hou, Y-C, Bella, DL, Banks, MF & Hirschberger, LL (1994) Hepatic regulation of cysteine utilization for taurine synthesis. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 359, 7989.
Stoll, B, Burrin, DG, Henry, J, Yu, H, Jahoor, F & Reeds, PJ (1999) Substrate oxidation by the portal drained viscera of fed piglets. American Journal of Physiology 277, E168E175.
Sturman, JA, Palackal, T, Lmaki, H, Moretz, RC, French, J & Wisniewski, HM (1987) Nutritional taurine deficiency and feline pregnancy and outcome. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 217, 113124.
Sudadolnik, RJ, Stevens, CO, Dechner, RH, Henderson, LM & Hankes, LV (1957) Species variation in the metabolism of 3-hydroxyanthranilate to pyridinecarboxylic acids. Journal of Biological Chemistry 228, 973982.
Ureta, T (1982) The comparative isoenzymology of vertebrate hexokinases. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 71, 549555.
Vessey, D (1978) The biochemical basis for the conjugation of bile salts with either glycine or taurine. Biochemical Journal 174, 621626.
Vessey, DA (1979) The co-purification and common identity of cholylCoA:glycine-and cholyl CoA:taurine-N-acyltransferase activities of bovine liver. Journal of Biological Chemistry 254, 20592063.
Washizu, T, Tanaka, A, Sako, T, Washizu, M & Arai, T (1999) Comparison of the activities of enzymes related to glycolysis and gluconeogenesis in the liver of dogs and cats. Research in Veterinary Science 67, 203204.
Wakabayashi, Y, Henslee, JG & Jones, ME (1983) Pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthesis from glutamate by rat intestinal mucosa. Subcellular localization and temperature stability. Journal of Biological Chemistry 258, 38733882.
Wakabayashi, Y & Jones, ME (1983) Pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthesis from glutamate by rat intestinal mucosa. Journal of Biological Chemistry 258, 38653872.
Williams, JM, Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (1987) Phenylalanine requirement of kittens and sparing effect of tyrosine. Journal of Nutrition 117, 11021107.
Windmueller, HG (1980) Enterohepatic aspects of glutamine metabolism. In Glutamine: Metabolism, Enzymology and Regulation. chapter 13: pp. 235237 [Mora, J & Palacios, R editors]. New York: Academic Press.
Windmueller, HG & Spaeth, AE (1974) Uptake and metabolism of plasma glutamine by the small intestine. Journal of Biological Chemistry 249, 50705079.
Windmueller, HG & Spaeth, AE (1975) Intestinal metabolism of glutamine and glutamate from the lumen as compared with glutamine from blood. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics 171, 662672.
Wu, G, Davis, PK, Flynn, NE, Knabe, DA & Davidson, JT (1997) Endogenous synthesis of arginine plays an important role in maintaining arginine homeostasis in post weaning growing pigs. Journal of Nutrition 127, 23422349.
Wu, G, Flynn, NE, Yan, W & Barstow, DG Jr (1995) Glutamine metabolism in chick enterocytes: absence of pyrroline-5-carboxylase synthase and citrulline synthesis. Biochemical Journal 306, 717721.
Wyss, A, Wirtz, G, Woggon, W, Brugger, R, Wyss, M, Friedlein, A, Bachmann, H & Hunziker, W (2000) Cloning and expression of beta, beta-carotene 15,15'-dioxygenase. Biochemistry Biophysics Research Communications 271, 334336.
Wyss, A, Wirtz, GM, Woggon, WD, Brugger, R, Wyss, M, Friedlein, A, Riss, G, Bachmann, H & Hunziker, W (2001) Expression pattern and localization of beta, beta-carotene 15,15'-dioxygenase in different tissues. Biochemical Journal 354, 521529.
Yu, S, Morris, JG & Rogers, QR (2001) Effect of low levels of dietary tyrosine on the hair colour of cats. Journal of Small Animal Practice 42, 176180.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Nutrition Research Reviews
  • ISSN: 0954-4224
  • EISSN: 1475-2700
  • URL: /core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed