Flavor enhancers, also known in the pet food industry as "palatants," are additions to cat food, treats and supplements to make them taste palatable to cats. Palatants are typically whole-ingredient systems that are designed to make a particular type of food, medication or treat that is foreign to a cat seems more desirable. Flavor enhancers can aid sick, overweight and outright finicky cats with achieving a healthier diet overall.
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Originally, flavor enhancers for cats were made of proteins that were added to dry cat food to provide the sensation of eating meat. These days they are available as liquids and powders. Flavor enhancers can be meat- or vegetable-based, with meat-based palatants coming from many kinds of animals and animal parts. In addition to meat or vegetable bases, flavor enhancers for cats can also contain sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate, or MSG.
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Very sick cats often experience a dramatic loss in appetite, or require a particular diet that is unlike one to which they've been accustomed. To avoid starvation or extreme weight loss, sick cats have new food sprinkled with flavor enhancers to stimulate the appetite and taste more familiar. On the opposite side of the spectrum, often very overweight cats are required to switch their fatty dry food for leaner canned food. To avoid them turning up their noses at the canned food and dropping weight too quickly, flavor enhancers persuade them to eat the new wet food.
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While flavor enhancers can have a positive effect on overweight or sick cats, there is some disagreement on the need for palatants in normal, healthy cats. Flavor enhancers contain no nutritional benefit, although recently flavor enhancers have been adding helpful digestive probiotics. In addition, palatants have been accused of masking unhealthy or nutritionally void ingredients, and can rank among preservatives and artificial colors in a list of unwanted cat food elements.
Research and design of flavor enhancers for cats has come a long way, and new palatants are being designed that not only provide beneficial aid to cats, but also satisfy human psychological needs as well, as recent studies show that a cat food's appeal to its owner is almost as important as the appeal to the cat. Flavor enhancers are being developed to attract owners and cats on multiple levels: smell, texture and health benefits, as well as taste.