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Careful What You Feed Your Cat

Kitty Corner

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, just under one-third of all families in America own cats.

Of course, as a cat parent yourself, you know that “owning” is a term we use very loosely. Often it can seem more like your cat owns you than the other way around.

While in some areas it is fine to let your cat rule the roost, in other areas — like diet and health — you must be the boss. The good news here is that, unlike your tween daughter or teenage son, your cat actually wants to eat a diet that is healthy and biologically appropriate.

So all you have to do is select the right cat food to support your cat’s instinctual dietary preferences and health needs.

The best news of all is that when you feed your cat a diet that is whole, complete, and balanced for feline nutritional needs, your cat will live longer and be a happier and healthier part of your family.

Why is it important to feed your cat properly?

A feline is a feline, no matter how large or small. While your pet indoor house cat may look quite different from the giant wild felines at the local zoo, on the inside they are very much the same. Cats of all types have evolved to eat as obligate carnivores. This means a cat’s digestive system is designed to consume pure animal flesh, which contains a high amount of protein, some fats, and a smattering of carbohydrates.

In the wild, cats typically catch mice, rabbits, rats, or birds for dinner. That animal is meat — full of protein, some fat stores, and inside the prey’s stomach, there is some partially digested carbohydrate material (fruits, seeds, grains, plants).

So when the cat eats in the wild, a basic nutritional analysis suggests that the average nutritional content of what the cat takes in is about 52 percent pure protein, 36 to 48 percent fat, and a very minimal percentage of carbs.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you donate all your cat food and start releasing mice in the house at dinnertime. But you can make sure you select biologically appropriate cat food that is full of real meat (pure meat with organs included, just like the mouse would have offered), zero fillers, and as few additives as possible.

What do cats prefer to eat?

In the wild or in a feral situation, cats are what is known as “opportunistic feeders.” As the charity International Cat Care explains, a feline in any type of wild or feral setting might spend half of each day just hunting for food.

As solitary hunters, smaller prey is easier to handle and quicker to consume. But this also means that the typical hunting cat would have to catch and consume as many as 10 mice daily to get its caloric needs met.

This isn’t the case with domestic house cats whose meals arrive pre-killed and (often) pre-cooked on a dish. All the cat has to do is eat it.

Wet food versus dry food: Which one is better?

Because a wild or feral cat would consume moisture in the process of hunting and eating whole live prey (most meats are 60 percent to 70 percent moisture), the cat’s natural thirst instinct is low.

Domestic cats can be at special risk of dehydration for this reason, so it is important to monitor fluid intake and adjust food accordingly to add more moisture.

Wet cat food can be a better all-around option because it naturally contains a higher moisture content. Not only does wet cat food include more moisture, but it also tends to be lower in carbohydrates.

What are the health risks of feeding an inappropriate feline diet?

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, a whopping 60 percent of pet cats nationwide are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, cats, like people, can fall into the bad habit of eating too much when they get bored. They also don’t get as much activity as outdoor or wild cats.

The typical adult house cat needs 200 to 300 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight (but as always, take your veterinarian’s recommendation over any general caloric recommendations you read here).

Overeating, and the consumption of low-protein, high-carb foods can lead to diabetes, liver disease, kidney failure, heart disease, and shortened lifespan.

So what food should you choose?

If the first few ingredients aren’t meat, don’t feed it. Look for a wet food (preferably) with meat as the first one to four ingredients. If it contains organ meat, all the better. Carbohydrates should be almost zero, and you should find a food with very few fillers, like corn, wheat, soy, or peas.

The ideal indoor feline diet might be a homemade or raw diet. However, since it is very difficult to get right, and is quite labor intensive, picking a high-protein, low-carb canned food is likely the easiest way to improve your cat’s health and increase his lifespan.

Emily Parker lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and is the resident cat expert at Catological.com, where she helps hundreds of thousands of cat parents love their kitties better. She believes in feeding cats biologically appropriate food to extend their lives and keep them healthy. When she’s not writing about cats, she enjoys exploring her neighborhood for the coolest new (cat) cafes.

Are you a San Francisco Bay area cat behaviorist, cat consultant, or cat expert who would like to contribute to this column, Kitty Corner? Send email to Editor@BayWoof.com.

Main article photo by: Photo by AaronAmat / iStock