Are Cats Carnivores? The Surprising Truth About Feline Diets

Red meat and white meat refer to the types of muscle fibers and myoglobin content found in different animal proteins. Myoglobin is the protein responsible for the red color of meat. Red meats like beef and pork contain more myoglobin than white meats like chicken and fish (The difference between red and white meat). The higher myoglobin content in red meat is what gives it the red color, whereas white meat has less myoglobin and appears lighter in color. This distinction between red and white meat is important when considering the nutritional profile, culinary uses, and cultural perceptions of different animal proteins.

Muscle Fiber Types

The two main types of muscle fibers in mammals are slow-twitch (type I) and fast-twitch (type II). Slow-twitch fibers contract slowly and are more resistant to fatigue. They rely on aerobic metabolism and are rich in mitochondria and myoglobin, giving them a red color. Fast-twitch fibers contract quickly and fatigue more rapidly. They depend on anaerobic glycolysis for energy and have less myoglobin, giving them a white color (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8160342/).

Slow-twitch fibers are good for endurance activities like long-distance running, while fast-twitch fibers are better for short bursts of strength like sprinting. The proportions of each fiber type can vary depending on factors like genetics, age, and exercise training. In general, muscles used for posture and endurance tend to have more slow-twitch fibers, while muscles for powerful movements have more fast-twitch fibers.

Myoglobin Content

Myoglobin is a protein found in muscle tissue that contains iron and is responsible for the red color of meat. Myoglobin helps store and transport oxygen in muscle cells (Hemoglobin and Myoglobin Content of Meat). The amount of myoglobin present in a muscle determines the color intensity of meat, with a higher myoglobin concentration leading to a darker red color.

The muscles of animals that are more active, like cats, generally contain higher levels of myoglobin. This gives their meat a darker red color compared to less active animals with lower myoglobin content (Characteristics of Meat-pH, Tenderness…). Since cats are active hunters with muscle fibers adapted for sprinting and pouncing, their muscle tissue has a particularly high myoglobin concentration. This results in the characteristically dark red color of cat meat.

Cats as Carnivores

Unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to acquire certain nutrients required for good health [1]. Specifically, they have high requirements for protein, certain amino acids like taurine and arginine, and fatty acids they can only get from animal fat sources.

This is because cats evolved as desert predators that hunted and ate small rodents and birds. Over time, their bodies adapted in ways that make them dependent on nutrients only found in meat [2]. For example, cats cannot synthesize enough taurine on their own and must get it from their diet. Taurine is essential for eye and heart health.

While cats can utilize some plant material for energy, they lack the metabolic pathways to extract certain vitamins like vitamin A from plants. This makes meat the ideal food for meeting cats’ nutritional requirements.

Cat Muscle Composition

Studies have shown that cat muscles contain a high proportion of fast-twitch fibers compared to slow-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers contract faster and more powerfully, but fatigue quicker, while slow-twitch fibers contract slower but are more resistant to fatigue.

Research conducted by Elsworth C. Hess in 1982 analyzed muscle fiber types in cats. The study found that fast-twitch fibers made up approximately 90% of the fiber composition in leg muscles such as the soleus, plantaris, gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior. The remaining 10% were slow-twitch oxidative fibers [1].

The predominance of fast-twitch glycolytic fibers allows cats to generate quick and powerful movements to capture prey. However, these muscles fatigue faster, which is why cats make short intense bursts of activity rather than prolonged exertion when hunting.

cat muscles have high proportion of fast-twitch fibers

Overall, the high proportion of fast-twitch fibers in cats reflects their biology as ambush predators that rely on speed and acceleration.

Cat Meat Color

The color of cat meat depends on a few key factors. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their natural diet consists almost entirely of meat. As a result, their muscles contain a high concentration of myoglobin, the protein responsible for the red color in meat.

Specifically, cat muscle is made up of a high proportion of type II muscle fibers. These fast-twitch fibers have more myoglobin and appear darker in color than type I slow-twitch fibers. The dark meat in chicken, turkey, and other meat contains more type II fibers, while the lighter meat contains more type I fibers.

When raw, cat meat tends to be a deep red or pinkish color throughout due to the high myoglobin content. Once cooked, the meat will turn more of a light pink or white color depending on the cooking method. Some descriptions of cooked cat meat compare it to pale chicken or veal in appearance.

Culturally, the color of cat meat has taken on some significance. The phrase “the color of cat’s meat” has been used in literature to describe bruising or unhealthy skin tone in humans (see https://instruct.uwo.ca/kinesiology/378/files/essays/lookup.htm). Overall, the color of cat meat reflects the high proportion of myoglobin-rich muscle fibers inherent in an obligate carnivore’s body composition.

Nutritional Profile

Cats, like all carnivores, have muscle meat composed mainly of Type II glycolytic fibers. These fibers contain more myoglobin than the Type I oxidative fibers found in other sources of meat like beef, chicken or pork. Myoglobin is an iron- and oxygen-binding protein which gives muscles their red color. As a result, cat meat appears much darker and redder compared to the white meat of poultry or even the red meat of cattle or pigs. The higher myoglobin content also indicates a higher iron content. Overall, cat meat is classified as red meat based on its myoglobin profile.

Nutritionally, cat meat is quite similar to other red meats like beef or lamb. It has high protein, moderate fat, and contains important vitamins and minerals like niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. Compared to beef, cat meat may have slightly lower fat content. However, it provides more iron and amino acids like taurine. Taurine is especially high in cat muscle meat compared to other meats because felines naturally require and synthesize taurine, unlike humans who must obtain it from diet.
cat meat has nutritional profile similar to beef

So while strange to Western palates, cat meat offers nutritional benefits on par with traditional red meats.

Culinary Uses

While cat meat consumption is taboo and illegal in many parts of the world, some cultures do include cat meat as part of their cuisine. In parts of China, Vietnam, Switzerland and Peru, cat meat is seen as an edible source of protein and prepared in various dishes.

Most often, cat meat is stewed or made into sausages and thought to have a slightly sweeter taste than other meats like pork or beef. Some traditional preparations include:

  • Cat stew (毛腿湯) – A Chinese stew made with cat meat and vegetables
  • Roasted cat (烤貓) – Cat meat roasted over an open flame or oven in China
  • Cat curry – Spicy curried cat dishes found in parts of Switzerland and Peru
  • cat meat used in some asian cuisines

When preparing cat for consumption, it is typically boiled, braised, stewed or roasted in order to tenderize the meat. Some advocates of cat meat believe longer cooking times are required compared to other meats due to cat’s constant state of alertness and tense muscles.

While not commonly consumed in most cultures, cat meat has had a small niche as a food source in certain regions of the world. However, the practice remains highly controversial and forbidden in many places due to moral and ethical opposition.

Cultural Perceptions

The consumption of cat meat varies widely between different cultures and countries. In some parts of the world such as East Asia, cat meat is considered a delicacy and consumed regularly. However, in other areas including Western countries, eating cat meat is considered taboo and faces strong cultural opposition.

For instance, according to a 2010 blog post on Gherkins & Tomatoes, eating cat meat provokes outrage in countries like the United States where cats are viewed solely as pets and companions [1]. Surveys suggest less than 4% of Americans would willingly eat cat meat. However, in Vietnam, cat meat called “little tiger” is served in restaurants as a popular delicacy.

This cultural divide is evident on forums like Reddit, where many express disgust at the notion of eating cats, while others argue it is no different than consuming other types of meat [2]. Much of the taboo stems from the sentimental value and emotional bond humans form with cats as beloved pets.

Overall, cat meat remains a niche food product globally, but is primarily consumed in certain Asian countries where cultural attitudes differ. However, the practice faces increasing opposition from animal welfare advocates concerned about unregulated cat meat trades.

Conclusion

Cat meat is considered white meat, despite cats being obligate carnivores. The reason for this categorization lies in the muscle fiber composition and myoglobin content of feline muscles. Cats have a higher proportion of fast-twitch glycolytic fibers that are pale in color due to low myoglobin levels. Though cat meat appears darker than typical white meats, it contains less myoglobin than true red meats like beef. Nutritionally, cat meat is lean and high in protein like chicken or fish. While some cultures consider cat meat taboo, others have incorporated it into traditional cuisines as a white meat. Ultimately, based on its physiological qualities and nutritional profile, cat meat is classified as white meat despite cats’ carnivorous diet. The pale color and low myoglobin levels in feline muscles make their meat similar to poultry, putting cat squarely in the white meat category.
cat meat classified as white meat based on composition

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