As predators go, it’s pretty hard to beat the cat family. Designed to thrive on meat, cats have perfected their bodies, both inside and out, as “obligate carnivores”. Now, a debate about the right type of diet has many pet owners, and veterinarians, perplexed.
Even when times are tough, pet owners still find ways to make sure their furry companions have the right food. For many cat owners, that food has always been a high quality dry kibble. Some experts are now saying that these commercial diets are at the center of an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among our feline friends. So, how do you know what’s best to feed?
To try and find an answer, veterinarians and nutritionists are looking at the evolutionary history of our cats. All of our felines, purebred and mixed, are descended from a Middle Eastern wild cat that goes by the simple name of Desert Cat.
As with most desert creatures, our cats’ ancestors evolved to obtain most of their water from the food they ate. In the cat’s case, the majority of their moisture came from hunting lizards, small rodents, birds and insects.
And, unlike their canine cousins, these cats didn’t routinely eat plant material as a significant portion of their diet. Cats evolved to be obligate carnivores, meaning that all their nutritional needs can be met through eating animal tissue. In fact, some early commercial cat foods were deficient in certain amino acids found only in meats and animal fats. This caused heart and vision problems in numerous cats.
Today, almost all cat foods are complete and balanced. So, why the worry?
Some experts are concerned that most of our pet cats are eating dry cat food made with significant amounts of cereal grains. In a recent paper published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), author Dr. Deb Zoran speculates that the use of grains in our cats’ diets as well as the routine use of a dry food has potentially predisposed a large percentage of cats to diabetes, obesity and several other issues, including blockages in the urinary tract.
Dr. Zoran’s argument is that as obligate carnivores, cats are unable to fully utilize carbohydrates as an immediate energy source and the excess carbs found in these cereals end up being stored as fat.
One solution proposed by experts is to use grain free, canned cat foods. Unfortunately, not all cat owners like this option as they feel it is wasteful (the canned food dries out quickly) and more expensive. Using a dry food offers the owner convenience and less of a mess to clean up.
There are even cats who refuse to eat canned diets. Moreover, some veterinarians feel that cats will over-eat canned diets just as easily as dry and the sticky wet foods promote more dental issues than the dry kibble. Finally, because canned diets of the meat and gravy variety are only complete and balanced if the pet eats the whole portion, cats who lick up the gravy and leave the meat are at risk for nutritional deficiencies.
So, is there an easy, or even a right answer to this debate?
First, cat owners should realize that millions of cats have eaten dry commercial diets for many years and done very well. So, there is no immediate need for panic. Although nutrition does play a part in diseases like diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and urinary obstruction, other factors, such as genetics and environmental issues, also influence the progression of these illnesses. So, a switch to canned diets may not prevent the development of these diseases.
Next, choose foods wisely. There are many commercial diets, canned and dry, prepared by companies who have invested years in developing nutritionally sound diets for pets. Don’t be fooled by fancy label claims or celebrity endorsements. Your veterinarian is a great resource to help you find a quality food for your pet.
If you and your veterinarian decide that adding canned foods to your cat’s diet is a good idea, remember to start slow. Sudden changes in diet can be hard on a cat’s digestive system or could cause them to stop eating entirely.
Finally, remember to “count calories” with your cats. Leaving bowls full of dry kibble AND feeding canned diets can lead to overweight kitties and the problems mentioned above. Feed small meals frequently throughout the day to mimic a cat’s natural “grazing” activity. Some owners even hide small amounts of kibble around the house for cats to “hunt”.
Nutrition is probably the most important aspect of the health of any pet. Veterinarians and nutritionists are actively researching and refining diets to best match the needs of our cats. You can find more helpful pet care information at www.gardneranimalcarecenter.com.