Gluten Intolerance in Cats

by Susan Leisure, Demand Media
    Gluten is a cheap coagulant; it makes cat food ingredients stick together.

    Gluten is a cheap coagulant; it makes cat food ingredients stick together.

    Your domesticated cat is like a lion: He eats meat. The feline is not designed to eat gluten. Ktties can develop intolerances or allergies to this sticky ingredient of many cat foods. Learn what's up with gluten and choose a food with no gluten in it.

    Kitty Is a Carnivore

    Cats are true carnivores. They must have high levels of meat proteins not just to thrive but to survive. As with other carnivores, cats' teeth are designed to tear, not to chew. Their digestive systems have short structure and specific enzymes for digesting meat and fat. Your feline friend does not have a long intestine like yours, which is necessary for breaking down the tough cellular walls of veggies, grains and other nonprotein nutrients. From a biological perspective, gluten is not natural to a cat's diet. Your kitty can't process gluten and gets no nutritional value from it.

    Why Gluten Is in Cat Food

    Gluten is the starchy, sticky stuff that's a byproduct of processing grains like wheat or corn. It contains protein but not the healthy meat protein that cats need. Gluten serves two main functions in cat food. First, the sticky gluten helps the food bind together into kibble pieces during the processing and hold together in the bag. Second, it boosts the overall protein content of the food. But since cats can't process the gluten, your cat isn't getting as much protein as the label suggests.

    Gluten Intolerance or Allergies in Cats

    Many cats can eat gluten without issue, even though their bodies aren't designed to eat gluten or grains of any kind. After they swallow it, their digestive system churns it around and passes it. But for some cats, gluten can cause a variety of health issues. The most common symptom of intolerance to gluten is digestive trouble such as diarrhea or vomiting. In the long run, some kitties may develop asthma, severe irritable bowel syndrome or allergic skin reactions in response to the gluten. Veterinarian Karen Becker, in her discussion of byproducts in pet food, suggests avoiding cat foods with any kind of gluten since the filler has no nutritional value and is hard to digest.

    Tainted Gluten

    In 2007, dogs and cats across the United States died from eating pet food that contained melamine-tainted gluten -- over 60 million bags of dog and cat food were recalled because of it. The gluten ingredients, sourced from China, had melamine mixed in to raise nitrogen levels and produce a falsely high protein content reading.

    About the Author

    Susan Leisure is the director of an animal welfare organization and owner of a holistic pet supply store in Atlanta, Georgia. She has a master's degree from Emory University, and is currently completing a degree in clinical pet nutrition.

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