Guest Post by Sorcha Bray
(When Sorcha commented with some interesting information on a Facebook post, I asked her if she would consider writing a post about what she knows about cat nutrition and cat food. Lucky for us, she was game. Sorcha is an author of the book, The Adventures of Powerpup and Wonderboy and the Case of the Wicked Chickens. Thank you, Sorcha, for sharing your knowledge with us!)
40 years ago I free-fed my cats dry food and gave them some canned every day. I did look for the best quality I could find, but I never thought about grains or the fish content, or the meat-by-products because I did not know they could be a problem. Over time I learned more and more, from Veterinarians, pet nutritionists and from people who owned the better quality pet food stores, and who had opened their stores because they cared and wanted to make a difference in pet nutrition. It very much does matter what you feed your cat and too many cat foods are not made for a feline’s optimum health. It is worthwhile to feed your cat a diet that fits with their genetics, it makes them able to maintain better health and it improves the quality of their life.
The quality of food you feed your cat is very important. Going for the cheap foods only increases the chances of higher Vet bills. The cheaper cat foods have been found to contain restaurant and grocery store waste including packaging materials, euthanasia from euthanized animals, diseased organs, tumors and other awful ingredients. My old Vet, who has since retired, told me a story. She had a client who’s dog had to be euthanized and she asked him if he wanted her to take care of the dog’s body, he said “okay, as long as I don’t see her go by on the belt”. She asked him what that meant and he told her that he worked at a rendering plant that sold meat-by-products to pet food manufacturers, and that dogs and cats went by on the belt all day. My Vet was horrified because she had no idea that euthanized pets were rendered into pet food. So, a high-quality diet is important and it keeps your cat healthier for their whole life.
Cats as obligate carnivores do not need grain of any kind, they are designed to live on rodents, birds and any other crunchy critters they catch. A grain-free diet is in harmony with their natural needs, so grain-free wet food or raw diet is optimal for them. Be sure to feed a variety of meats because feeding only one kind, like chicken for instance, to your cat can create an allergy to that food. Chicken and fish are the number one allergy foods for cats because the majority of pet food manufacturers put those meats into all of their foods. You need to mix up the molecules for them like they would if they were living in the wild. A fish diet is not a good one for cats because the fish bones, being too small to remove, are ground in. Eating bones causes an alkaline condition in cats that outlasts the meal, and it can encourage urinary tract infections. Cats are not vegetarians and should never, ever be made to be vegetarian, it is extremely unhealthy for them. Vegetables and grains cause a cat’s urine to become alkaline leading to urinary tract problems.
Free-feeding is not good for cats. It keeps a cat alkaline all the time. Cats, being carnivores, need to be acidic as much as possible. Whenever a cat smells food their body goes alkaline in preparation for eating. When they eat their body is alkaline as part of the digestion process but they need a several hour break between meals in order to get acidic and spend some time time that way. Feeding morning and evening allows them to return to an acidic state. Free-feeding does not allow them to do that and staying alkaline makes their urine alkaline, which allows bacteria to grow and cause urinary tract infections.
The only cats who need to be free fed are kittens. In general you free-feed kittens until they are 6-8 months old. If they are living with adult cats then free feed them in a separate room and let them out to play between meals. Up until 6-8 months their stomachs are still so small that they cannot eat enough at one sitting to hold them until dinner, plus they are still doing lots of growing and they need the extra nutrition. Kittens eat and use the box frequently just like a human baby. Feed them a wet food diet too, they will clean the dish fast so it won’t go bad. In case you have to be gone all day at work, both Nature’s Variety and Stella and Chewy’s sell a dehydrated raw diet, it’s a way to have their food stay fresh for long hours and still have them on a healthy diet. If you do have to feed them dehydrated food, be sure to give them a fountain to keep then drinking more water. Make sure to feed kittens a variety of flavors and types of meats from 4 weeks, when they are starting on wet food, until 12 weeks or so because during that time they are developing their taste buds and if they are fed only one thing, they will become an adult cat who refuses to eat anything but that one flavor. Starting them on a variety of meats allows them to be more versatile adult cats.
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A fat cat is an unhealthy cat who suffers all of the same obesity-related illnesses as a human does. Fat cats are not “cute” or “funny”, they are uncomfortable and often miserable. They cannot wash their own behinds or groom properly, they most likely have joint and back pain from carrying too much weight and if they are too fat to be able to breathe while on their back, they cannot get dental care which can lead to jaw bone infection. They are at much higher risk with anesthesia so if they do need a surgery they are unable to have one, even if it is life-saving. Obesity is a culprit in many feline health problems such as dental problems, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome), urinary tract problems, heart disease, pancreatitis, bladder disease, asthma, butt infections because they cannot wash, high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, dry skin and more. Long-term obesity leads to cancer, even a year or two of obesity puts your cat at higher risk.
The way I have gotten the weight off of a cat is by feeding 2-3 tablespoons of wet food AM and PM. That is all they need. They will tell you differently and bother you a lot for most of the dieting time, but they will be SO happy when the weight is off. Cats must lose weight very slowly. A cat who loses weight too fast can get fatty liver syndrome and that is almost always fatal. Getting a cat to survive it takes weeks of time and effort and even then they may not make it. Allow a year or more to get 4 or more pounds off of a cat. It is well worth the effort for sure.
Dry food contributes to obesity and dental and urinary problems. Cats who are prone to form crystals in their urine, or who suffer with cystitis, will have an even bigger problem with it on a dry food diet. Urinary crystals are exacerbated by dehydration and in males that can lead to a blocked urethra and the probable removal of the penis. If the blockage is too extreme, the cats entire urethra is removed and he urinates through a hole in his abdomen for the rest of his life. Or he is euthanized.
Cats bodies are designed to live on the things they hunt and those critters help to hydrate the cat as he eats, so cats do not tend to drink much water.
Hydration is very important for cats because they tend to not drink enough water. Cats are designed to eat juicy, crunchy critters and get much of their hydration from that diet, so by design they don’t tend to drink much water. Eating a dry diet keeps them dehydrated all of the time and that leads to health problems. Even on an all wet food or raw diet it is a good idea to give your cat both water bowls and a fountain or two. Fountains inspire them to drink more water. Because cats are eating processed foods that nature did not intend for them to eat, you want to make sure that your cat is well-hydrated.
What I Feed My Cats
Some of my cats want raw diet and the one they love is Nature’s Variety Instinct. For the rest who don’t want raw I feed Natural Balance, the regular grain-free, (never fish flavor and especially not farm-raised salmon. Some of my cats had UTI problems when I got them and a couple are allergic to fish, so they can’t have any at all), and the new Natural Balance Wild Pursuit. I like the Wild Pursuit because it has more meat protein and it’s very dense, so it extends quite a bit when I add some water. They love it. I always add a small amount of water to canned food so my cats are better hydrated. I also feed the grain-free Wellness and they love that, sometimes some Weruva for a treat. Weruva has lots of water and is pretty expensive so I don’t use it much. Once in a while I will get a different brand just to give them variety, always the high quality never grocery store brands. I used to feed Addiction but it’s hard to find here, the store I used to get it from got a different Distributor who doesn’t carry it so they can’t even order it. My cats loved the Brushtail flavor.