Feeding our cats is one of the most basic things that we do as caretakers to support the well being of our furry family members. It’s also one of the things we here at Corvallis Cat Care are passionate about. We have seen what happens when cats do not get appropriate nutrition (diabetes, urinary tract problems, allergies, and more) and prefer not to treat these problems if we an instead spend some time educating our fellow cat care givers on how to feed their cats to support wellness and avoid health issues.
I’m passionate about food, and this is definitely something that I try to talk about with every client who sees me for a new kitten or new cat visit, or any time that the diet is less than ideal or appears to be causing health problems. What follows is just a short overview of what to feed and what not to feed your cat under ideal circumstances. To read the cat food manifesto and how to transition kibble addicts off of dry food, visit Dr. Peirson’s excellent page, catinfo.org.
So what should we feed our cats anyway? Surely “Cat Chow” should be ok. Cats love it and the picture looks great, right Wouldn’t it be great if this existed?
Actually, kibble (dry cat food) that is loaded with grains and other carbohydrates is not usually a good choice for our feline friends.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For a start cats are desert animals and don’t tend to drink very well on their own. Desert animals tend to get their hydration primarily from the foods they eat. For a cat this would be small prey animals like mice. When we replace their natural hydrated diet with completely dehydrated foods they have to drink to not only hydrate and soften the food enough to be digestable, but also to meet their own hydration needs. Because cats often have issues related to their urinary tract (such as inflammation, kidney issues, etc), we want to keep them well hydrated.
Well, what about the mouse flavored Friskies? To start with it doesn’t exist yet (that I’m aware…). Also, the reason that a food like Friskies is not a great choice is the same as the second reason that dry food is not ideal. Carbs. Grains. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that unlike dogs who will eat vegetation and who evolved to consume our trash (often including cooked leftovers of grains or carbs), cats are evolved to eat a diet that consists nearly 100% of whole prey. This does include the digestive organs and whatever the mouse or bird had eaten over the last day, but those vegetable materials would be fairly well “pre-processed” by the prey before entering the cat. One study showed that whole mice are only 3% carbs! That is ideal for a cat. 3%. Any dry food needs some kind of carbohydrate to make it stick together, and many foods like Friskies use wheat and corn glutens as a cheap way to drive their protein percentages up. I think you can figure out by now that I’m going to tell you that protein for a carnivore should come from, you guessed it, meat!
While I have seen and personally used high quality kibble successfully to support health in kibble addicted cats, it isn’t ideal, and I prefer that the food have absolutely no grains at all. In my experience cats frequently cannot tolerate grains the way we process them and often have inflammatory reactions to them.
So, great, that rules out about half of the cat food section at Petco, and pretty much all of the veterinary diets out there. So you’re probably asking yourself, “What the heck am I supposed to feed then?”
Cats need meat. So the idea of feeding a cat for optimal health, generally speaking, is to feed a diet that is as close to their natural whole prey diet as possible. We domesticated dogs to be hunting buddies and eat our leftovers. Cats domesticated themselves when we started farming and attracting large numbers of “vermin”. It was only recently that we really started to support them, before that domesticated cats hung around for the barn mice and enjoyed a few pets now and then if it suited them.
When it comes to ideal I have two recommendations. Canned food and raw food. Canned food is an excellent start, and great for cats who have weaker digestion and cannot process raw foods. Look for foods that are all or mostly meat. If there are other food ingredients than meat, make sure they are not carbohydrates. Pumpkin and kale are ok, potatoes and rice are less than ideal. Some of my favorite canned foods are like the 95% By Nature pictured at the right. They are all meat with a small amount of vitamin/mineral supplement added to make up for the fact that no bones or vegetable matter is included.
This cat is making the best of a mouse-free house.
There’s always raw food as well. This is a little less convenient that canned food and does come with some precautions. Obviously hygiene is very important with raw food, especially if you have small children. Treat raw pet food the same way you would treat raw meat in your kitchen. Keep it frozen until you thaw it for consumption. Thaw in the refrigerator and serve it immediately after warming to room temperature. Any uneaten food should be discarded and bowls should be washed after each meal.
The other consideration with raw food is that, as we’ve touched on before, cats are whole prey eaters. So unless you’re ordering whole frozen mice for your cat, they will need more than just muscle meat like the cat in the photo is enjoying. They also need bones or supplement for calcium, and vegetable matter for a variety of vitamins and minerals. Don’t forget the organ meat! Heart has high concentrations of taurine and liver is full of trace minerals. The easiest way to go is to order pre-prepared raw food like Darwin’s (contact us for ordering info), or something from Animal Crackers pet shop like Rad Cat or Nature’s Variety. These are convenient frozen ways to give your cat a raw meat diet and make sure they still get everything they need.
Keep in mind, of course, that we don’t live in a perfect world and can’t always offer exactly ideal. Even if you can’t do a diet that is 100% following my recommendations, the more you can incorporate these ideas the better off your cat will be. If you have any particular concerns, come in and see us! We all love to talk about diet and work with you to get your cat on the healthiest diet you can manage that they will cooperate with! I also practice Chinese food medicine where we can use dietary changes as a way of specifically treating health issues.
Give us a call if you have any questions or want to come in to chat about diet or any other cat health issues!
-Dr. Erika Raines, DVM, CVA, CVSMT