Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 181, Issue 1, pp 1–17 | Cite as

Hypercarnivory and the brain: protein requirements of cats reconsidered



The domestic hypercarnivores cat and mink have a higher protein requirement than other domestic mammals. This has been attributed to adaptation to a hypercarnivorous diet and subsequent loss of the ability to downregulate amino acid catabolism. A quantitative analysis of brain glucose requirements reveals that in cats on their natural diet, a significant proportion of protein must be diverted into gluconeogenesis to supply the brain. According to the model presented here, the high protein requirement of the domestic cat is the result of routing of amino acids into gluconeogenesis to supply the needs of the brain and other glucose-requiring tissues, resulting in oxidation of amino acid in excess of the rate predicted for a non-hypercarnivorous mammal of the same size. Thus, cats and other small hypercarnivores do not have a high protein requirement per se, but a high endogenous glucose demand that is met by obligatory amino acid-based gluconeogenesis. It is predicted that for hypercarnivorous mammals with the same degree of encephalisation, endogenous nitrogen losses increase with decreasing metabolic mass as a result of the allometric relationships of brain mass and brain metabolic rate with body mass, possibly imposing a lower limit for body mass in hypercarnivorous mammals.


Hypercarnivores Allometry Brain metabolism 



Much of the work on an earlier draft of this paper was done while I was a fellow at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and I thank J. Seidensticker for his encouragement and support of this endeavour. I also wish to thank S. Lumpkin and M. Power for commenting on an earlier version of the manuscript, and J. Noordhof and in particular O. Oftedal for critical discussions of the subject matter. I also thank my anonymous reviewers, D. Millward and especially G. Lobley for their time and constructive comments. This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation-Office of Polar Programs No. 0538592.


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© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA
  2. 2.Gateway Antarctica, University of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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