That’s not to say that cats are difficult. It’s all about banishing old myths and misconceptions and embracing what your cat needs to be a happy, healthy kitty.
Cats are amazing. They are intelligent, curious, affectionate, funny, athletic and often animated.
They are also territorial, neurotic and masters of hiding illness. Some of their behaviors can be misconstrued as being vindictive, when all they are really doing is trying to communicate with their humans.
This three part series addresses common assumptions, misconceptions and myths.
Let’s begin with diet and nutrition.
Fill a bowl of kibble for the cat each morning; s/he will eat what and when s/he wants
Kibble is truly the fast food of the pet food world. It was created for convenience. With few exceptions, dry food is manufactured using very high heat. This destroys many of the nutrients found in the raw ingredients. Some estimate that 50% of the amino acids are destroyed as well as nearly all of the vitamins and minerals. That is one of the reasons synthetic vitamins and minerals are added. The thing is that like people, cats do not assimilate synthetics very well. In addition, the once healthy omega 3 fatty acids in the food also become rancid during the cooking process.
Of course, the heat also eliminates most of the moisture content. On average, dry food contains around 12% moisture. Compare that with the 75 – 80% liquid content in natural prey, raw, homemade, and canned foods. Cats drinking copious amounts of water can consume around 50% of what is available in the aforementioned food forms. This is a far cry from what they actually need.
Many cats on an all-dry diet often become chronically dehydrated, as they naturally have a very low thirst drive and will often not even drink water until they are 3% dehydrated (which is serious).
A dry food diet has been linked to obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome/disease, constipation, bacteria and yeast overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, kidney disease, urinary tract issues, such as crystals and stones, liver disease, joint problems, skin issues, impacted anal sacs and more.
"Dry kibble is hands down the worst thing you can feed your precious kitty," states Karen Becker, DVM. "Most brands are devoid of exactly the kind of nourishment your cat needs to be healthy all her life. If you’re feeding your cat dry food, I recommend you start today to make gradual improvements in her diet."
Cats also need ample time between meals to properly digest their food. When this isn’t achieved, digestion is slowed, often resulting in fur balls and vomiting.
Cats that are fed high-carb diets often have sluggish digestion. A small percentage of the diet should be made up of carbohydrates (vegetables). Cats have no biological need for grains or starch, nor can they digest them well. Even grain free kibble is loaded with starch (that’s what holds the kibble together).
A PROPER DIET
You have probably heard the term bio-appropriate diet. So what exactly does that mean? It is a diet that contains the ingredients and nutrients needed for optimal health. For cats, this means muscle and organ meat, glands, bone and fat, vitamins and minerals and a small amount of vegetation. It should not include ingredients the body does not need or has difficulty processing, such as by-products, grains, artificial and so-called natural flavorings and colors, sugar, corn, soy and beets.
Cats have large stomachs with very strong digestive acids and enzymes that break down meat, bone, fat, skin, and fur. Food is digested and assimilated quickly and the stomach is emptied between 30 minutes and two hours.
Unlike humans, cats do not utilize carbohydrates for energy. Fats and proteins are what fuel them. Vegetables and fruits do provide vitamins, minerals and both soluble and insoluble fiber. In the wild, the only vegetables cats eat are grass (promotes digestion) and the digested and fermented vegetation in their prey’s stomach.
It is important not to feed the same thing day after day, month after month, year after year. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and food intolerances. There should be at least two proteins rotated in the diet. Turkey, chicken, beef, buffalo, lamb, venison, rabbit, pheasant and quail are fantastic choices. Fish is actually not great for cats - they lack the enzymes necessary to breakdown large amounts of iodine. Once or twice a week is fine, but not every day.
Homemade raw or cooked diets are most beneficial for cats (work with a holistic vet or nutrition expert, like yours truly, to be sure of the correct balance of nutrients). It is not as difficult or time consuming as people think. A week's worth of food can be made in fewer than 30 minutes. It can cost less than $1 per day, per cat to provide this type of diet. But it is not for everyone. Commercial raw foods are the next best thing. If the idea of raw is just too much for you, consider freeze-dried raw food (just add water)! This is often a convenient solution.
Because cats digest and assimilate raw foods efficiently, there is less waste. Most cats on a raw food diet produce less feces and it is low odor. You can say that your cat's poop doesn't stink - bonus!!
There are also cats that do very well on a canned food diet. It is usually a goal to graduate my clients from canned to a real food diet (raw or cooked), however I've had clients whose cats do very well on canned (human grade, grain-free, no ingredients from China, BPA-free cans).
THE WATER BOWL
Most people do not think of water as being part of their kitty’s diet, but it is an important one.
Water should be filtered or bottled and the bowl should be changed twice a day. The bowl should be cleaned each time with hot water and a mild detergent or white vinegar (be sure to rinse well).
When water is simply topped off or bowls are not cleaned, it allows debris and bacteria to build. You've seen that sludge - it is nasty. And it can be harmful. When bacteria is ingested, it can cause health problems in the mouth and gut.
Here are some things to consider:
Be sure the bowl is wide – narrow bowls can cause whisker stress
Use glass, ceramic or American made stainless steel (radon has been found in stainless steel pet bowls made in China)
Avoid plastic bowls - plastic can harbor bacteria
Providing a great diet for your cat may seem like a lot of work at first, but it really isn't. Like anything else, it becomes part of your everyday routine in no time.
Most cats that are provided with a bio-appropriate diet avoid common health issues that often result in a trip to the vet. So not only will your kitty feel healthy and strong, you can potentially save $$$. Cha Ching!