How do cats digest food?


Cats are often referred to as fussy when it comes to their food -  did you know they develop their preferences for certain textures early in life as kittens? Taste is also not a primary driver for your cat or kitten, and cats relatively have very few taste buds! Rather the texture of the diet and the smell are important in keeping your cat interested in their meal. Beyond their palate, their digestive system is imperative in ensuring they receive the vital nutrients from their food. 

After your cat has swallowed their food, it passes through their oesophagus into their stomach. Digestive enzymes are immediately released which begin to break down the food, as it then passes into the small intestine. The small intestine might be called ‘small’, but it provides a large surface area to allow the nutrients from the food to be absorbed by the body. The small intestine is also associated with a rich network of blood vessels, that help transport these nutrients to various parts of the body to be used. Finally, the large intestine absorbs water from the ingested food, and transports the remaining waste to its final destination, back to the outside world.  Did you know, it can take your cat’s food around 12-24 hours to travel through their entire digestive system? 

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In order for the digestive process to work efficiently, the food needs to be highly digestible. This is for two main reasons, 1) more nutrients are able to be absorbed by your cat’s digestive system, and 2) undigested nutrients can ferment in the large intestine and disturb the microflora balance in your cat’s intestines, ultimately resulting in diarrhoea, malnutrition, and other potential health issues. 

Why is digestion different for kittens?

Kittens are born with immature digestive systems. At birth, they can only digest milk from their mother. The queen’s unique milk composition is exclusively designed for kittens. And when kittens can’t be fed by their mum, replacement milk with a formula very close to that of a queen’s milk should be used.

Over time, other digestive enzymes begin to increase in their digestive tracts, enabling them to start digesting solid food. At the time of weaning, usually beginning at 4 weeks of age, a kitten’s digestive capacity is not yet fully developed. The slow introduction of solid foods, in combination with their mother's milk, helps them transition slowly to having a diet that is comprised of 100% solid foods by about 8 weeks of age. Ensuring we support this weaning process with a high-quality diet is key to helping reduce tummy upsets such as diarrhoea, and helps support growth.

It is always recommended to feed a high-quality kitten diet that is appropriate for your kitten’s age to help support their digestive system, and growth as best as possible. 

How can nutrition help?

To help support a kitten’s developing digestive system and to ensure they receive all the critical nutrients from their diet to support growth, it is imperative to provide them with a quality kitten diet. Kitten diets differ from adult diets as they contain specific nutrients uniquely required by kittens. The nutrients are highly digestible, providing more nutrients to be absorbed by their immature digestive tract. Targeted nutrients for gut health such as prebiotics, can also assist by boosting the good digestive microflora and help your kitten grow into a healthy cat, free from digestive upsets. 

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