How many cats’ illnesses can be attributed to their diet. Most people may not even notice that their feline is unhealthy until it is too late. It is much more difficult to notice the signs of issues in felines, many which could possibly have been addressed by simply changing their diet.
What you feed your cat(s) can very possibly help them avoid or minimize the severity of serious, painful, and costly illnesses Diseases ‘brew’ long before being noticed; that is why the statement “but my cat is healthy/fine on their food” is often believed to be true until it is too late.
KEY building blocks needed for a Cat
- What a cat eats is very important
- Cats inherently have a low thirst drive.
- Prevention is the best policy – don’t wait until you see major warning signs as it may be too late.
What you feed is important
A cat’s nutritional needs have not changed, but the pet food industry has. As the pet food industry has grown, so has the use of ingredients that may not be needed or healthy for your cat.
Cats need meat to be healthy. Cats are obligate carnivores. Humans and dogs can get some of what their basic nutrition requires from plant protein, cats cannot do this. Taurine is one of the most important amino acids that is present in meat but is missing from plants. A deficiency in Taurine might cause blindness and heart problems in cats. Cost is the primary reason that pet food companies use so much plant based proteins (grains).
READING the LABEL
It can be very confusing when you read a label. Looking at the list of ingredients also does not tell you how much or the quality of each ingredient is in the food. The top 5 ingredients can often make up 90% of what is in the diet. You want to look for a muscle meat such as “chicken” turkey” as the first ingredient, not “chicken by-products” or “chicken by-product meal,” or “chicken broth” or “liver”. By-products can include feet, intestines, feathers, egg shells, etc. and can be less nutritious than meat. It is safe to assume that there are different grades of protein and if your food is inexpensive, it does not contain high quality ingredients. However, just because a food is expensive does not mean that the ingredients are high quality. It is important to do your research (on the internet, your local independent pet stores, ask friends…). The % nutrient values on the bag are also misleading. You cannot compare protein percentages (%) from a dry bag of food versus a canned food. This is not an apples to apples comparison. Canned food contains moisture so if you were to remove the moisture it would be equivalent or possibly higher than your pet’s food since many canned foods do not contain a lot of grains.
CARBOHYDRATES – why they are bad for cats
Obligate carnivores are designed to eat meat – not grains – and they need to consume water with their food. You would never see a wild cat chasing down a grain stock or eating from the vegetable garden. I tried once to give my cat some cooked broccoli and he looked at me and I could see him saying, “really, you expect me to eat that, did you forget I am a cat?”. In the wild, your cat would be eating a high protein, high-moisture content, meat-based diet, with a moderate level of fats and a very small amount of carbohydrates. It is not surprising that we have an epidemic of overweight cats with medical issues . A cat’s lack of a salivary enzyme called amylase is dangerous because it is needed to be able to process carbohydrates. The inclusion of carbohydrates is primarily due to costs, they are cheaper ingredients than meat.
Some pet food companies continue to use preservatives such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin in many of their products. Those preservatives are no longer used in human products as there have been concerns of being linked to health issues. Many pet companies no longer use them. Most pet food companies that focus on high quality ingredients utilize natural preservatives. Other things to avoid are food dye. Food dyes are used to make the food more appealing to their human companions and are not healthy for their pets. In addition, beware of some fat sources, what your pet food is sprayed with after it is cooked, glutens and sugars. You have to wonder/question how healthy it is if they have to add all these processed items to make the food more palatable to your cat.
WATER, WATER, WATER
Water is extremely important to overall health. Cats have a very low thirst and in the wild, typically get most of their moisture from what they eat. Since many cats eat a dry diet, it is not surprising that there are a large number of cats that suffer from serious medical conditions. A cat’s lack of a strong thirst drive can lead to chronic dehydration. Adding canned food or feeding a diet of canned or raw helps them get more of the much needed moisture. Cats also do not like to drink from still water because in the wild this would possibly mean that it was stagnant. Consider adding a fountain; the flowing water typically encourages cats to drink more water.
Always consult first with your vet before changing your cat’s diet but here are some common cat health issues that can possibly be helped by a diet change. Prevention is key.
• Diabetes: Diabetes is a very serious, and difficult to manage, disease that is not uncommon in cats. Many diabetic cats may reduce significantly the need for insulin by a dietary change. You should move to a less processed (more natural) diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in moisture.
- Kidney Disease (CKD – formerly called “CRF”): Chronic kidney disease is probably the leading cause of death in cats. What is concerning is that chronic dehydration may play a big role. If your cat is primarily on a dry diet, the chances of being dehydrated is much higher and can increase their risk of CKD. Is it important to increase moisture, which can be achieved by moving to a canned or raw diet, and also to use high quality food. It makes sense that the kidney does not have to work as hard to process human grade USDA chicken versus a low quality protein or by-product.
People who feed dry food to their cats often say, “but my cat drinks a lot of water”. It is likely that your cat only consumes 1/2 the amount of water compared to a cat that only eats. Another contributing factor to these conditions can be stress. The urinary tract needs water flowing through it to be healthy, think of it constantly flushing out impurities in the body. To treat the issue, vets will often prescribe antibiotics which can address the symptoms associated with the problem, but the negative consequence may be that antibiotics can wreak havoc on the cat’s body and can also promote bacterial resistance to the antibiotics. The water content of the diet is easy to control – feed canned food with added water. The stress issue is another issue that is often hard to detect. Any sudden changes in diet can stress your cat. You should look to do it slowly.
•Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): IBD can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation in the cat. Sometimes it can manifest itself with a sudden weight loss as the only sign. Feeding a high quality, easy to digest, moisture rich diet is important. You can also look to add some unsweetened canned pumpkin to their diet. Since cats can be very finicky in diet, make sure to add just a small dab and mix with their food and slowly increase it over time.
- Obesity: Obesity is an extremely common and very serious health problem in cats. For instance, overweight cats are more likely to develop diabetes than cats that are not overweight. A cat is designed to thrive on a high protein, moderate fat diet with little to no carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are typically stored as fat. Have you ever noticed that many cats (and a lot of dogs) do not lose weight on a low fat diet. Low fat diets are loaded with carbohydrates. Lower calories may result in some weight loss but typically it is offset by your pet’s metabolism’s tendency to store the fat. A low fat diet can also lead to them being hungry all the time. The reason for this is that their bodies do not get sufficient protein, so pet owners will over feed, thus defeating the purpose of the low fat diet.
• Feline Asthma/Allergic Airway Disease: Many cats have had their respiratory symptoms (coughing/difficulty breathing) reduced significantly once they were placed on a grain-free canned food diet, or a meat-based home-prepared diet. We are not sure why, however, moving to a less processed, more natural diet does make good sense for many reasons.
Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition
Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, www.catinfo.org
Caring for Cats: Food and Nutrition – Wet vs. Dry Food, http://www.cathealth.com/food-wet-dry.htm
Nadine Joli-Coeur is the owner of Natural Pawz and a Texas Dogs & Cats featured monthly columnist for pet nutrition.
About Natural Pawz:
With 7 stores in the greater-Houston area, Natural Pawz continues to set the standard in the market for 100%-natural pet food, treats and holistic health solutions supplies, all of which are sourced from the USA and Canada. The Natural Pawz team can help navigate you through choosing the healthiest food for your companion cats and dogs, while showing you how easy and affordable it is to provide the proper nutrition to your beloved animal. Natural Pawz is not like traditional boutiques or national retailers. We are a locally owned natural pet food store that also carries a wide variety of wellness products, collars and leads, bedding and special rewards for your cat and dog. Each location is managed and staffed by a team of customer-friendly knowledgeable associates that are involved in the community and truly get to know you and your animal. Natural Pawz has been voted Best Pet Supply Store in Houston in Click2Houston’s Best of Houston for two consecutive years and was voted as “Best Pet Services, Supplies or Boutique” by the Houston Press, Fort Bend Herald, Woodlands Online and, most recently, named “Best Pet Product Company” in H-Texas Magazine’s Best of the Best list.