Nutrition in Animals

The nutritional requirements of most animals are relatively extensive and complex compared with the simple requirements of plants. The nutrients used by animals include carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, proteins, minerals, and vitamins.

  • Carbohydrates are the basic source of energy for all animals. Animals obtain their carbohydrates from the external environment (compared with plants, which synthesize carbohydrates by photosynthesis). About one-half to two-thirds of the total calories every animal consumes daily are from carbohydrates. Glucose is the carbohydrate most often used as an energy source. This monosaccharide is metabolized during cellular respiration and part of the energy is used to synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Other useful carbohydrates are maltose, lactose, sucrose, and starch.
  • Lipids are used to form cellular and organelle membranes, the sheaths surrounding nerve fibers, and certain hormones. One type of lipid, the fats, are extremely useful energy sources.
  • Nucleic acids are used for the construction of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), ribonucleic acid (RNA), and ATP. Animals obtain their nucleic acids from plant and animal tissues, especially from cells that contain nuclei. During digestion, the nucleic acids are broken down into nucleotides, which are absorbed into the cells.
  • Proteins form the framework of the animal body. Proteins are essential components of the cytoplasm, membranes, and organelles. They are also the major components of muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and they are the essential substances of enzymes. Proteins are composed of 20 kinds of amino acids. Although many amino acids can be synthesized, many others must be supplied in the diet. During digestion, proteins are broken down into their constituent amino acids, which are absorbed into the body.
  • Among the minerals required by animals are phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Animals usually obtain these minerals when they consume plants. Vitamins are organic compounds essential in trace amounts to the health of animals. Vitamins can be water soluble or fat soluble. Water-soluble vitamins must be consumed frequently, while fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver in fat droplets. Among the many essential vitamins are vitamin A for good vision, vitamin B for substances used in cellular respiration (FAD, NAD, and coenzyme A), and vitamin D to assist calcium absorption in the body.

Animals obtain their nutrients through a broad variety of feeding patterns. Many animal species, such as sponges, feed on small particles of food that enter their pores. Other aquatic organisms, such as sea cucumbers, wave their tentacles about and trap food on their sticky surfaces. Mollusks, such as clams and oysters, feed by filtering materials through a layer of mucus in their gills. Other animal species, such as certain arthropods, feed exclusively on fluids.

Some animals feed on food masses, and they usually have organs for seizing, chewing, and consuming food. Herbivores are animals that eat plants, while carnivores are animals that eat other animals. Omnivores, which consume both plants and animals, are typified by humans.