Researchers believe cats are able to discern the food that is best for them nutritionally. As reported by Pet Sitters International and originally published in the August 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News, studies show that domesticated cats instinctively seek the healthiest food options instead of consuming something that just tastes better when given the choice. According to the study, cats are able to navigate among competing foods to select the best mix of fats, protein and carbohydrates.

The hypothesis tested by the study was that cats would not ingest different amounts of fat and protein when allowed to choose from three food combinations that varied both in protein-to-fat composition and in flavor/aroma. The cats in the study disproved the hypothesis and although some of the researches suspect the reasoning is due to survival instincts, the exact answer is unknown. The study was conducted at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England. Senior research scientist and study lead Adrian K. Hewson-Hughes, Ph.D. stated, “It is likely that they have metabolic pathways that are best met through regulating their intake of protein and fat to a particular ratio. Cats have taste receptors on their tongues, which will provide an initial signal about whether a food tastes nice or tastes unpleasant.”

Flavors of different “attractiveness” were added to chicken. The cats’ top three choices were fish, rabbit and orange. Although Hewson-Hughes said, “The cats in our study initially selected food based on flavor preferences.” by the study’s conclusion, the cats veered toward the highest protein choices even in cases in which the food had been treated with the least-tasty flavor option, orange. Additionally, he pointed out that the study exposed the role of balance further stating, “After learning about the nutritional composition of the foods, cats selected foods to reach a particular target balance of protein and fat intake, regardless of added flavors.”