Although commonly accepted that commercial dry food is an adequate 100% complete balanced diet for cats, I have many concerns with this line of thinking.
First, let’s take a look at what cats really are. Cats are 100% carnivores. In fact, cat species are the only true carnivores we have on Planet Earth. They have evolved and thrived over millions of years to fit their prey, not the other way around. Prey does not evolve to suit a predator.
After over 3000 years in our company, there has been little effect on the physiology and behaviour of cats compared to their wild relatives. They are capable of reverting to a completely wild state after only one generation.
Dry food does not compare to or reflect a cat’s natural diet. For one, it is made with a great deal of grain or grain by-products, in most cases well over 40%. While dogs may relish a bowl of oatmeal or what they can scrounge at the barn from the grain barrel, cats would rarely volunteer to consume grain.
Feeding grain to cats can lead to some potentially serious health problems. One theory is that excess grain will cause obesity in cats just as in humans. Many cats are quite sedentary and unless they burn the energy derived from carbohydrates in the diet, they will wear it in the form of fat! Obesity has become a huge problem in our feline population. That one cup of dry food you are feeding your 10 pound cat is really equal to 2 cups once rehydrated. No wonder they are getting fat!
Physiologically, they are not designed to metabolize a diet high in carbohydrates and I believe these dry diets put extra stress on the pancreas as a result. Diabetes is a commonly diagnosed ailment in cats, especially in those that are obese. It affects as many as 1 in 100 cats. Isn’t it possible that the grain-based dry diets are causing many of these cases?
Another problem with feeding dry diets to cats is the fact that these diets are lacking moisture in any significant quantities. Cats, by nature, are not keen on drinking a lot of water. They have adapted over millions of years to obtaining most or all of the water they need from their prey. Once swallowed, the dry food will absorb stomach juices and water, swell and often be regurgitated, thus a probable cause of chronic vomiting in some cats.
By feeding dry food, we force them to drink more that they wish to and, over time, the vast majority simply do not drink enough. This will lead to a long term state of mild, chronic dehydration. According to the Small Animal Clinical Nutrition textbook, the “volume of water drunk increases as the moisture content of the food decreases; however, cats fed dry foods usually have lower total intake of water than those fed moist foods”.
Kidney failure is extremely common in senior cats and accounts for many deaths. Contrary to common belief, a diet high in protein does not cause kidney disorders or lead to kidney failure, although it can and will exacerbate an already existing problem, whereas dehydration is damaging to the kidneys. Dehydration can also predispose a cat to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, a painful condition in which the cat has trouble urinating and may obstruct completely, a life-threatening problem.
What about their teeth? Doesn’t dry food keep their teeth clean? Absolutely not, a fact even stated in the aforementioned textbook. “Dry foods are often perceived as providing dental hygiene benefits”, but studies have “found no correlation between food form and periodontal disease progression”. Carbohydrate based foods lead to an unnatural alkaline body environment that will allow mineral deposits, such as tartar build-up on teeth, to develop.
The text goes on to say “The general belief that dry foods provide significant oral cleansing should be regarded with skepticism”. Even special tartar control diets (eg. Hill’s T/D) will still allow plaque accumulation and gingival inflammation to develop, albeit somewhat less than regular dry foods.
So what is a species-appropriate diet for cats? Raw meat and organ meat balanced out to contain all the minerals and other nutrients they need. Most seem to prefer poultry. You may also try small raw meaty bones such as pieces of chicken wings and necks, but not all cats will go for this. If you have ever witnessed a cat eating a mouse or bird, they leave very little behind.
Cats keep their teeth clean by biting and shearing through fur and flesh. This is not possible for most cats, as they don’t hunt, but chewing through chunks of meat will help along with the fact that a protein-based diet keeps the body in an acidic balance, thus minimizing mineral deposits.
This diet is very simple to do, takes little time and is therefore still convenient. Products are available that you mix in to make the meat a balanced diet. Never feed just raw meat, as this is unbalanced. Please look at www.felinefuture.com for more information.
If started when young, raw food is almost always readily accepted. Finicky adult cats can be hard to re-program, sometimes impossible, but it is always worth a try. Their health and longevity will be improved.
For those owners that don’t wish to feed raw foods, the next best thing is a moist good quality food (no artificial ingredients preferred) with very little dry food, supplemented by chunks of meat here and there. You can also try them out on the occasional fruit or table scrap. Of all the fruits, cantaloupe seems to be favored.
Have fun feeding your cat as Nature intended. You will see their health blossom and their enjoyment of life improve.