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Healthy Pets

Your Pet’s Nutrition Needs Compared to Yours

What kind of nutrition does your cat or dog really need to stay healthy?
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WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Your kitty probably loves a lot of the same foods you do and is happy to eat a small square of cheese when offered. Your dog may relish just about anything you’re willing to share. It's so easy to please our pets with food -- but is it good nutrition?

Pet nutrition needs are not the same as ours, but many of us are clueless about what exactly they are. This primer on dog and cat nutrition will fill you in on what your pet needs to stay healthy and fit.

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Consider these facts:

  • Small, low-activity dogs need only about 185 to 370 calories daily, while a large pooch between 67 to 88 pounds may need between 1,000 to 2,000 calories, depending on activity level and gender. Yet many of our dogs get far more food than they need. More than one-third of U.S. dogs over 1 year old are overweight. 
  • A healthy 10-pound kitty needs just 220 to 350 calories a day -- about the number in a few ounces of cheese. No wonder the weight stats are about as bad for cats as dogs. At least one-quarter of U.S. felines are considered overweight or obese.

Here’s how vet experts break down the nutrition needs for dogs and cats to stay lean and healthy.

Cat Nutrition: The Meat of the Matter

Next time you look at your cat snoozing in a sunbeam, think tiger. Pound for pound, cats need twice the protein humans and dogs do. And the building blocks of good cat nutrition can be summarized in one word: Meat.

About 17% to 21% of adult human calories should come from protein. We can get it from meat, but also through beans, legumes, and dairy sources. Cats need double that amount of protein for good nutrition and it must come from meat or fish.

Why? Cats are “obligate carnivores,” which means they need to eat animal protein to obtain all the amino acids they need in their diet, according to Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, a veterinarian with a special interest in felines. The vital amino acid cats can't get from any source other than animal protein is taurine.

Taurine is critical for a cat's normal heart, eye, and reproductive function, but cats can't make it from other amino acids, as most mammals can. A meat-rich diet not only provides cats the taurine they need. It also gives them vitamin A -- a nutrient they're unable to convert from beta-carotene, says Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, professor of medicine and nutrition in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee.

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