Cats Are Carnivores Part 1: Overview
As we all know, nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining health and longevity in people and our animal friends. I am often asked, “What is the best food for my cat?” The “best” food would be what they would eat naturally: small rodents, lizards, birds and insects. Realistically, this is just not an option for our indoor feline friends. The next best thing is a home-prepared diet formulated by a veterinary nutritionist which meets your cat’s particular dietary needs at his current life stage, activity level, health status, etc. Like most people, though, I love my cat but just do not have the time or patience to cook for him on a regular basis. However, if this is an option for you, there are several websites available that can formulate a recipe for your cat (BalanceIT.com is the most popular, but there are others).
The final–and most convenient–form of feeding is a commercially prepared food. As you may know, there are several varieties: canned, dry, semi-moist, and raw foods. Of these choices, most cats today are fed dry food, as it is the easiest form to feed and has long been pushed as ideal for cats’ health. My own cats ate dry food exclusively for years. However, as we learn more about feline nutrition and metabolism, there is more and more evidence that dry food is the last thing that they need. Now, we all know of those cats which have lived a long, disease-free life on nothing other than dry food. I also know of a few people who have lived into their 80’s and 90’s while smoking a pack a day for most of their life, but I still wouldn’t recommend it!
So, why the push for dry food for so long? It is only relatively recently that cats have been living strictly indoor lives. Until this happened, there wasn’t a need for a commercially prepared food, so little real research was done. In the beginning–nutritionally speaking, cats were basically viewed as small dogs and fed similar based diets. Cats appeared to do fine on this diet; however, diet-related diseases can take many years to actually show themselves. For example, even into the late 1980’s, cats were dying from heart disease related to taurine deficiency. Taurine is an amino acid which comes from meat, and cats—unlike other species–cannot produce it themselves. Since then, more and more research has been put into feline nutrition. Today, you are unlikely to find any commercial food for cats that does not contain added taurine.
Dry food has also long been touted as good for dental health. While this is somewhat true for dogs, it is not for cats. This is because cats just don’t chew enough, and this is totally normal for them. Felines are designed to catch and quickly eat small animals before another cat can steal it or they become a meal themselves. To eat something quickly, you don’t waste a lot of time chewing it up first! That being said, there are specially-formulated prescription dental diets and dental treats that can help with oral health. These are typically large-sized kibbles which have to be chewed to be eaten, and these foods contain ingredients or a coating which helps clean or seal the teeth. Products proven to work contain a seal from the American Veterinary Dental Association on the label.
So, what do cats need? Metabolically, cats are designed to run on protein, specifically animal protein, lean fat, and water. I add water here as cats obtain the majority of their water intake from food. The closest that we can come to this commercially is via a high-quality, pate-style canned food or a raw diet, both with extra water added. In the next few newsletters, I will go into more detail on each of the components of a cat’s diet.