By Kim Everson, DVM
“You are what you eat” the old saying goes. Taken literally we can get a little carried away. After all, I am not a 5’5″ chunk of string cheese (much to my husband’s disappointment). Of course, we all know it means our bodies will be healthier if we fuel them with health food rather than junk food.
Rather than take out a second mortgage on your home to buy that premium bag of dry cat food, please take a moment to read about a “revolutionary” approach to feeding felines. An approach that may reverse feline diabetes, reduce the incidence of urinary crystals and kidney disease, decrease food-related vomiting and allergies, and keep your cat lean and playful into old age.
The answer to your cat’s prayers (even if he doesn’t know it yet) is canned cat food. When I said this was a “revolutionary” approach I was being ironic. Canned cat food more closely mimics the diet felines evolved to eat–mice.
A mouse is a high protein, high moisture, low carbohydrate meal. Dry cat chow is a low protein (or mostly plant-based protein), low moisture, and through-the-roof-high carbohydrate meal. Eating an exclusive diet of dry cat kibble leaves the modern cat morbidly obese and chronically dehydrated. Obesity leads to diabetes, cancer, arthritis, skin problems, and more. Chronic dehydration assaults the kidneys, and triggers bladder diseases ranging from infection to crystals/stones to sterile cystitis. Poor quality or species-inappropriate proteins are claimed to trigger skin allergies and gastrointestinal inflammation (“puking cats”). Quality of life suffers as cats put up with discomfort on these many levels. Is it unlikely that some of this angst shows up as “bad” behavior?
I do not believe dry cat food is evil personified. However, kibble is just not perfect nutrition for the mighty feline hunter. It is a myth that dry cat food helps keep a cat’s teeth clean. If you ate nothing but granola, never brushed your teeth and never visited a dentist…I shudder at the thought.
You may argue that canned food gives your cat the runs or makes him puke (this is usually a temporary problem during transition). Or worse that he doesn’t like to eat it at all. Unfortunately, switching from highly-addictive carb-rich dry food to high-protein wet food is not always a simple task. Is it always easy to put down the bag of nachos and pick up a stalk of celery instead? Dry cat food is coated in a highly appetizing animal digest that makes kibble as tasty to most kitties as fast food is to most Americans (hmmm, is there a correlation?) It can take months to convince some cats that canned food is…well, the cat’s meow. It took eight months and untold patience on his caregiver’s part before my diabetic patient Tucker relinquished his dry food in favor of the canned variety. Lo and behold his diabetes improved practically overnight! Dr. Lisa Pierson, DVM’s handout “Transitioning Feline Dry Food Addicts to Canned Food” is an amazing how-to manual on teaching cats to love canned diets.
Ounce for ounce canned food is more expensive than dry kibble. For those cat owners who spare no expense, it may be a small thing to re-allocate the money spent on the premium dry food to cans instead. For those of us who operate on a tighter budget, we can certainly compromise. Is it affordable and practical for you to feed one moist meal a day? Even just several canned food meals a week can improve the overall health, activity and attitude of your feline friend.
Some tasty tidbits:
1) Normal cat poop is not voluminous and stinky. Cats that eat quality animal-protein moist foods exclusively pass smaller, firmer, less odorous stools. If you’ve even seen coyote or raccoon scat in the woods, you’ll understand what a predator’s waste should look like — including your cat’s.
2) Cats did not evolve eating fish. They evolved eating rodents and birds. While most cats like the taste of fishy cat foods, try not to feed fish varieties exclusively. I haven’t seen “mouse” or “sparrow” flavored canned foods in the pet store yet, so you will have to stick to “beef” and “chicken” for now. (Yes, there are frozen raw food diets out there that more closely mimic a cat’s wild diet…more on this later.)
3) If your cat gets on board with you and eats nothing but canned food from here on out, make sure it is “complete and balanced”. Canned foods labeled “for intermittent or supplemental feeding only” are missing essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids — fine as a snack, not for a lifetime.
4) Wet food diets do present very real challenges in the mechanics of feeding. We have become so used to shoveling dry food into our cats’ bowls that it seems like the natural thing to do. It takes more thought and care to keep moist food fresh and appetizing. One suggestion is to freeze several meals and put out two meals each day–one meal warmed to “mouse body” temperature and the second left frozen to thaw throughout the day.
5) A mouse is approximately 30 calories. Cool factoid, huh? The average wild cat eats 7-10 mice per day, which is the equivalent of 210-300 calories. And they burn a lot of calories actually catching, killing and eating that mouse! (Oh yes, cats that eat wild meals like mice should be dewormed regularly…just because something is all natural does not mean it is completely without negative side effects.) Check to see how many calories are in a single 8 ounce cup of your cat food…