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Nutrient-specific compensatory feeding in a mammalian carnivore, the mink, Neovison vison.

ABSTRACT

Balancing of macronutrient intake has only recently been demonstrated in predators. In particular, the ability to regulate carbohydrate intake is little studied in obligate carnivores, as carbohydrate is present at very low concentrations in prey animal tissue. In the present study, we determined whether American mink (Neovison vison) would compensate for dietary nutritional imbalances by foraging for complementary macronutrients (protein, lipid and carbohydrate) when subsequently given a dietary choice. We used three food pairings, within which two macronutrients differed relative to each other (high v. low concentration), while the third was kept at a constant level. The mink were first restricted to a single nutritionally imbalanced food for 7 d and then given a free choice to feed from the same food or a nutritionally complementary food for three consecutive days. When restricted to nutritionally imbalanced foods, the mink were willing to overingest protein only to a certain level ('ceiling'). When subsequently given a choice, the mink compensated for the period of nutritional imbalance by selecting the nutritionally complementary food in the food choice pairing. Notably, this rebalancing occurred for all the three macronutrients, including carbohydrate, which is particularly interesting as carbohydrate is not a major macronutrient for obligate carnivores in nature. However, there was also a ceiling to carbohydrate intake, as has been demonstrated previously in domestic cats. The results of the present study show that mink regulate their intake of all the three macronutrients within limits imposed by ceilings on protein and carbohydrate intake and that they will compensate for a period of nutritional imbalance by subsequently selecting nutritionally complementary foods.