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The Hunter & The Wild Feline Diet
In order to understand the basics of the domestic cat's diet, it helps to have some knowledge of the diet of the cat's wild predecessors, the European Wild Cat and the African Wild Cat. For millions of years, these ancient predators have thrived on a diet of mice, voles, young rabbits and occasionally, birds and reptiles. We 'modern' day companions would do well to keep this ancient diet in focus, as we endeavor to duplicate the nutritional content of the original feline feast.
During the agricultural revolution phase of human development, the cat became an invaluable ally in maintaining some control over the constant battle with mice. Grain storage attracted these little vermin in their millions, and cats were understandably attracted to what amounted to easy pickings. Starting in the middle east, and eventually spreading throughout Europe, and the rest of the world, the cat has become highly esteemed for its role as a pest control tool. Present day farms in most parts of the world still enjoy the company of working cats. This has transpired as a natural evolution with the human race, but it must be recognized that it accompanies a very high price to the natural environment in many countries, where the predatory cat has hunted native species of birds and animals to the point of extinction. Cats are now found in every part of the human-inhabited world, and as much as they are esteemed, they are also reviled for their proficient killing instincts.
If we are to serve our companion cats well, (as they have come to expect!) we must become educated with regard to the food that will enhance their lives into old age. The diet of the predatory carnivore is, obviously, meat.
Feline Hunting Behavior
The feline is the perfect predator. It behaves as a snake, stalking its prey in silence, stealthy and still. It is patient. Using its highly evolved senses of sight, smell, and sound, it uses any available cover to disguise its presence. It moves forward on its target, in short interrupted spurts, followed by frozen pauses. It crouches low, gathering the momentum it needs to spring, and with a swift burst, it pounces, grabs the prey with short, sharp front claws, and delivers a killing bite to the back of the neck. If the prey happens to be a short distance away, the cat will make a quick, short dash before the final pounce. If the prey appears to be too far distant, the cat will likely lose interest, as it is not a marathon runner like the wolf.
The cat is blessed with a very fine sense of binocular vision, in which it is able to calculate the distance between itself and its prey. It will sometimes sway its head from side to side in order to ascertain this distance, before it makes the final killing pounce. This is a survival mechanism which enables the cat to fine tune its hunting talents, and ensure an accurate final blow. As the cat is getting ready for the pounce, its tail may twitch. The tail is primarily a balancing organ, and the slight movement just before the final strike, is a sign that the cat is getting ready to make its power move.
When the cat has finally caught its prey, it will sometimes appear to play with it. There are a variety of reasons for this behavior, and 'playing' is not one of them. If the cat has a litter of kittens, she may take the half-dead victim back to the kittens, in order to teach them the finer elements of the kill. Or, if she is not hungry, she may simply be delaying the final kill, as the hunting urge is so strong, it is not satisfied with one short, sharp pounce. Or she may have the need to expend some of the adrenalin that is coursing through her system as a result of the hunt. If she has caught a larger rodent such as a rat, she may simply be displaying a fear of being bitten, as she swipes again and again, before she takes the final bite.
Feline Hunting Anatomy
Feline eyes are placed forward on the head, as opposed to the eyes of plant-eating mammals, which are located on the side of the face, in order to locate predatory attack. This frontal vision is especially important for a hunter, which must be able to judge distances with great accuracy. The cat has great visual acuity, even in very dim light, which makes it an effective nocturnal hunter. It is sometimes assumed that cats can see in total darkness, which is not the case. In very dark conditions, the cat must rely on sound, smell and the sensitivity of its impressive whiskers.
Feline ears are extremely sensitive, to the point of being uncomfortable in a noisy home or around loud machinery or noisy music. These specialized ears are the perfect attribute to this perfect hunter. They can hear sounds about five times the cycles per second of human beings, and this give them a great advantage when stalking small prey such as mice. The sounds that a mouse makes corresponds to the vibratory level that a cat can hear.
The whiskers of the cat are very sensitive to touch. In fact, they are so sensitive that they can detect solid obstacles in the dark without even coming into contact with them. They have the ability to sense air currents around these solid objects, thereby avoiding collisions. Because the cat is a nocturnal predator, it relies on these whiskers in order to make a clean kill. A cat with healthy whiskers will be able, within a split second, to sense the nape of the victim's neck, and plunge its teeth into this part of the body. On the other hand, a cat with damaged whiskers lacks this sensitivity, and can make a clean kill only in the light, where it relies on sight to find the vulnerable neck. In the dark, the cat with damaged whiskers can make a kill but it will be more likely to bite down on the wrong part of the body. Since the cat is by nature predominantly a nocturnal hunter, its whiskers are clearly crucial to its survival.
The hairs of the whiskers are at least twice the thickness of other hairs, and they are embedded in the upper lip to a depth that is three times the depth of other hairs on the body. The base of the whiskers are supplied with a mass of nerve endings which transmit information to the brain about any contact they make or changes in air pressure. The whiskers move forward when the cat is inquisitive or hunting, and they move backward when the cat is threatened, and trying to avoid contact.
Feline claws are powerful weapons, and one of the cat's greatest allies in attacking its prey. They are razor sharp, and can be protracted as needed. They do not wear down to a blunt end, as they do in the case of dogs, but rather, they stay sharp for the lifetime of the animal. The claws of the cat come with claw-sheaths, which have the consistency of finger nails, and which are discarded at internals, revealing new thorn-sharp claws underneath. When a cat appears to be sharpening its claws on the favorite furniture, it is not actually sharpening its claws, but rather discarding the old sheaths. It is also marking the favorite furniture with scent glands, found on the front paws.
*One note here with regard to feline claws and the practice of de-clawing. In our opinion this practice is cruel and unnecessary. It is a very painful procedure, and should be avoided at all costs. It puts the cat at risk in terms of defense, and escape. . It is also psychologically damaging The de-clawed cat is a crippled, mutilated cat, and not excuse can justify the operation. Many veterinary clinics refuse to perform the operation, and rightly so.*
Feline teeth are specifically designed for the perfect predator. The cat has a total of 30 teeth: 12 incisors, 4 canines, 10 premolars and 4 molars. The two upper and two lower canines are used for stabbing and holding prey, and more specifically they are the weapons of the kill, as they slip down between the vertebrae and sever the spinal cord. The premolars are tearing implements, used to shear the prey into pieces small enough to swallow. The teeth of the cat are not designed for chewing, as for example a dry kibble meal. These fine, pointed teeth are delicate enough to fracture in the process of chewing dry foods.