Your Cat is a Carnivore.
This means that your cat was built by Mother Nature to get her nutritional needs met by the consumption of other animals, derives very little nutritional benefit from plant-bases sources, and ideally should have minimal or no grains in her diet. In her natural environment, your cat would be eating a high-protein, moderate-fat diet with only about four to nine percent of her diet consisting of carbohydrates. Dry foods contain somewhere around 35 to 50 percent carbohydrates. This is not what Mother Nature intended for our carnivore friends.
Diet is the Brick and Mortar of Health: What You Decide to Feed Your Cat Matters.
Putting a little thought into your decision on what you feed your furry friend can pay very big dividends over her lifetime and very possibly help her avoid serious, painful and costly illnesses such as kidney disease, bladder stones, cystitis, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and fatty liver disease.
Learn How to Read a Pet Food Ingredient Label.
Not all cat foods are created equal and not all proteins are created equal. Always keep in mind that your cat is a carnivore! This means she has a better shot at good health by consuming animal-based proteins (meat) instead of plant-based proteins (grains). Remember that quality meat is the best first ingredient in a food and that meat byproducts and grains supply a less bioavailable form of protein for your cat.
Don’t just look at the front label on cat food–look at the ingredient list supplied by the manufacturer. If the first ingredient is meat, the label should say so. If the first ingredient is a “byproduct” (unrendered parts of an animal left over after slaughter) remember this can include heads, feet, intestines, feathers, and egg shells. Even worse is a food that lists grain – like corn, corn gluten meal, or rice – as a first ingredient. The main ingredient in a carnivore’s diet shouldn’t be grain.
Look for real meat as the first ingredient, but also pay attention to all the carbohydrate/grain sources in the food. Bear in mind that pet food labels can be deceptive. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, and so manufacturers often split up all of the individual carbohydrate components so that each grain is a lesser weight than the meat product. But if you add up all the grain products in many dry foods, you are left with a large number of grain-based carbohydrates relative to the small amount of actual meat in the food. For more information on understanding labels, visit the FDA’s website on interpreting pet food labels.
Dry Food Is Convenient But It’s Less Than Ideal for a Carnivore.
WATER is absolutely vital to your cat’s health. Cats on a dry food diet are often chronically dehydrated. This can lead to many health problems. The natural prey of a wild cat contains between 65 and 75 percent water. Dry food averages 10 percent and canned food averages 78 percent -you can see that a canned diet is much better for meeting your cat’s water needs than dry food. Since cats do not have a strong thirst drive compared to other mammals, it is critical that they get plenty of moisture with their food.
Do not be confused by the listing of the protein percentages on dry food compared to canned. At first glance, it would appear that the dry food has a higher amount of protein than the canned food -but this is not true on a dry matter basis which is the accurate way to compare the two foods. Most canned foods, when figured on a dry matter basis, have more protein than the dry food. And remember, the percentage numbers do not tell the whole story. The majority of protein in the canned food is meat-based. The majority of the protein in the dry food is plant-based and is therefore less bioavailable to your cat.
DRY food?! Don’t even show me.
At a bare minimum, use as little dry food as possible, and try to feed a quality canned diet that contains meat -preferably human-grade- as its first ingredient.
If You Want to Prepare a Homemade Diet – Good for You – But Do it Right.
A home-prepared diet can be the absolute best thing you do for your cat. It can also be the worst. If you’re going to do it, follow an approved recipe carefully every time, use safe meat handling procedures to protect yourself, and never forget that calcium is not a “supplement” – it’s an essential component of a home prepared diet.
Use extreme caution if you choose to buy pre-ground raw pet food (as opposed to making it yourself using your own grinder). Pre-ground meat has had more surface area exposed to more air for longer periods of time, leading potentially to bacterial overgrowth. Also, do your homework to find out whether the company making the food uses quality meat and follows sound hygiene practices.
If you’re willing to follow a tested and balanced recipe, I can point you toward some good information on selecting ingredients and preparing the food. There is also a company in Canada called The Raw Meat Cat Food Company hat sells a product that is a dry ingredient base for making raw cat food, and this can be an excellent way to get started. They supply the necessary calcium source and other elements of the diet and you supply the meat, organs, and water. The company’s “cat nutrition 101” page offers a succinct description of a sensible way to think about feeding cats.
Switching a cat to a home-prepared diet can take patience. It’s usually best to make the transition to a new diet slowly, adding small amounts of the new food to the food they’re accustomed to and then gradually changing the ratio. This is particularly true with older cats or cats with extremely sensitive digestive systems. You may have to bribe the cat by adding a familiar flavor to the new food. Cats that are accustomed to an all-dry diet can be very stubborn. A few tricks include: grinding up the dry food in a clean coffee mill and sprinkling it on the new food; adding in a small amount of juice from a can of tuna; or adding something flavorful like crumbled dehydrated meat treats to the top of the new food to increase her interest. It can also be a good idea to add probiotics to the diet at first. If you’d like more information on how to prepare a homemade diet, visit www.catnutrition.org, www.catinfo.org, or purchase a copy of Michelle Bernard’s book, Raising Cats Naturally.
by Eunyoung Lee and Eunsoo Lee