Check out our other interviews with Dr. Brandon:
- Essential Oils and Cats
- Cat Dental Care
- What Should Cats Really Eat? An Interview about Feline Nutrition
- Feline Asthma
- Vaccines Cats Need
What is the ideal diet for a feline and why? The ideal feline diet is one which mimics their natural prey: small rodents & birds, the occasional lizard or moth, snake or other small meaty treat which comes their way. These foods have similarities in general make up whereby water is by far the highest percent, followed by lean animal-based protein, then everything else (fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.). If we look at the various foods on the market today, two groups fit that profile: canned and raw. Canned is convenient, often highly palatable, and comes in a variety of textures for your cat’s preference but is highly processed. Raw food most closely mimics their natural prey, supports their GI tract flora (dog study; feline medicine is catching up) and thus their immune system, and is readily available online or at local natural pet food stores, but his highly controversial in veterinary medicine. Many anti-raw food folks quote an increased risk for human bacterial infections due to the handling of raw meat, as well as the potential for pets to contract parasitic and bacterial infections. Yes, the possibility of contracting E. coli or Salmonella increases with increased handling of raw meats … if you don’t wash your hands after handling. Yes, the possibility exists for pet illness, though statistically the industry hasn’t seen an increase in such illnesses corresponding to the rise in feeding raw food in this country. While I keep both in my household as our 22-year old cat, Kaylee, now eats canned and raw by her choice, our cats have eaten raw food for years, and we have observed significant improvements in overall health (even when compared to canned diets). How do I know what food is good for my cat? There are so many on the market from dry food to wet food to raw food – freeze dried, fresh, frozen, etc. The short answers is, if it’s kibble, it’s not good for your cat and it’s time to convince him to transition to something else. From there we have gradations of what food is good for your cat.
- Freeze dried & dehydrated aren’t bad options, provided warm water or broth is added to the mix prior to feeding. Freeze dried also serves is a fantastic treat and comes in a variety of flavors and textures, and both freeze dried & dehydrated can help transition a cat from kibble to something healthier.
- Canned food is processed but provides a ton of moisture and is readily available.
- Raw food, usually frozen at some point even if made at home, is a fantastic option for most cats as it provides all the necessary nutrients in a form which cats were evolutionarily designed to utilize.
- Homemade diets, whether raw or fresh, have pros/cons and may not be ideal for all households as cats do have specific requirements which must be kept in mind. That said, just like humans, having fresh homemade meals is generally the best way to gain healthful nutrients.
- Commercial pet foods, whether they be organic frozen raw, no-grain canned or freeze dried / dehydrated, must meet current AAFCO nutritional standards, FDA & USDA regulations, and associated labeling and marketing laws. Such regulation isn’t perfect, though, and leaves us all scratching our heads.
- Omega fatty acids: salmon oil is a good most cats like
- Glucosamine supplement: when added to the early stages of arthritis, these products can slow down joint inflammation.
- Essential oils: diffused daily to a few times a week or placed on the rim of the litter box, terpenes in feline-friendly blends can boost the body’s ability to handle the aging process.
- Weight: cats who are anything except a 5/9 BCS should have their dietary intake assessed. Skinny cats are not ‘fashionably thin,’ nor are overweight cats ‘adorably round.’ They are unhealthy and need our assistance. I typically as questions regarding diet type, amount fed and when, treat types and when they are fed, and changes in activity.
- Behavior: often the hardest to catch during the early stages as cats have a limited number of ways in which to communicate their needs and desires. If your cat is frantically trying to get into the cupboard where food is kept or paces all night yowling (assuming she doesn’t have thyroid or blood pressure issues), she may need a food which is more filling. Canned food is already pre-processed to an extent, where raw food is slower to digest. But what if your older cat suddenly changes food preferences, insisting your chicken deli meat is preferable to her long-loved sardine & tuna mixture? It could be a sign she needs a warming element to her diet; food energetics can be complicated, so seek the advice of a trained TCVM doctor or feline nutritionist.
- Skin & coat: if your cat’s coat gleams in the morning sun and his skin is supple and without visible dander, the diet is likely excellent. One of the first things to go with any unbalanced animal is skin/coat health, so keep a close eye on this visual cue. The first thing to do is assess his dietary water intake, adding moisture if the coat is dull, excess shedding is noted (outside springtime) or his skin is readily irritated.
- GI tract: vomiting, diarrhea and constipation are not part of a balanced feline system. No, you don’t have to rush to the emergency room or even the family veterinarian for a single event, provided your cat feels and acts well otherwise. But if your cat has chronic GI upset or develops an issue later in life, look to the diet as a both a potential cause and resolution.
Reader Questions:Erica Bruner “Is there a way I can know when my cat throwing up is just hairballs or a sign to see a vet?” If hairballs are seen in the spring, it’s likely normal given increased fur ingestion during shedding. You can still help by brushing your cat daily, though you may have to play around with different pet & human brushes to find what he/she likes. Even if you only remove surface fur (rather than undercoat), it’s still less fur your cat ingests. There really shouldn’t be any hairballs the rest of the year, and if there are, take a look at your cat’s diet. A raw meat diet plus access to grass fibers (e.g. oat grass often sold a ‘cat grass’), is often all the feline body needs to healthfully expel ingested fur. If a transition to raw food diet doesn’t resolve the issue, or if new symptoms arise, time to see the veterinarian. Regarding actual vomiting, like us cats may have an upset stomach from time to time … once a year at most, and in the case of cats, likely due to eating a tasty insect or random piece of fuzz. Beyond that, call your veterinarian; vomiting is one of those symptoms which has a wide variety of possible causes, and your cat’s doctor can help determine which one(s) apply. Joel Schmid “1. I have fed my cat commercial, mass produced food for years, and want to switch him to a raw diet. Like most cats I have read about – he’s a fussy eater. How can I get him to WANT to eat the raw ? Convince him it was his idea, and be prepared to wait months for success. Each transition mentioned here may take 1 week or 2 months; let him decide the new food is tastier and/or he feels better on it. Cats learn very well by positive association, whether an internal unspecified process or through interactions with you. Start with a slow transition from kibble freeze dried/dehydrated food in the protein of his choice; the next transition is from dry freeze dried food to reconstituted with warm water or (low/no sodium organic) broth. Transition again to either canned or raw, again his choice but offer raw first. If he pics canned here, then transition a final time to raw. Each step along the way he should feel better, have a shinier, healthier coat, and interact with his humans more regularly. 2. I have heard and read about the people making their own raw food by grinding up chicken and other meats for their cat. Does she recommend doing that ?” Yes but … it is a lot of work and raw food diets do need to have bones or egg shells, raw eggs, and a smattering of veggies for fiber. We’re trying to mimic the natural feline diet. Some cats prefer homemade raw diets while others, like my group, prefer commercial ones. Consider contacting a veterinary nutritionist or local veterinary Chinese medical practitioner for guidance if you elect to make your own. How much work is it ? Do I need to include other things in my home made food like eggs or veggies ?” Leah Sirk – “You have very good questions. Here is my question: on occasion I have given my kitty Dasani water which she seems to really like. She also gets tap water. Should cats have bottled water?” I think it mostly depends on how your local tap water supply tests out, and whether you believe she is trying to tell you something via her preference for non-tap water; it may taste and smell different to her. Most cities and counties have such results available online. I cannot list all the possible chemicals which could harm you or your cat — there are simply too many possibilities, often changing based on regional needs. That said, reviewing water testing reports will provide some measure of direction: if you wouldn’t drink it and prefer bottled water, then don’t offer your tap water to your cat; offer bottled water instead. Another alternative to bottled water, are high-grade filtration systems placed on your tap outlet. Deanna Adcock – “Downs Sometimes when my 7 year old Ragdoll is finished eating, he jumps off the counter where I keep his food and throws up the food he just finished eating. What causes him to do this? I feed him Fancy Feast classic patte wet food – seafood flavors only, and Royal Canin Calm dry food.” This is a perfect description of feline regurgitation. Vomiting involves specific gastric input, chemically and physically, neither of which have had time to start given when the food comes back up. Now that we know what it is, let’s talk about possible causes: kibble (hard to digest, forms a pile in the esophagus or stomach) which comes up with minimal effort), fur (hairball in the gastric outflow tract limits the total amount of food the stomach can hold), scarf n’ barf (like the technical term? This applies when cats eat too fast and the body can’t hold it down; usually more common with kibble and in multicat households.), and a few other rare medical conditions (cancers, neurologic issues, etc.). I will presume he is healthy in appearance and behavior other than this; if not, please see his veterinarian. I recommend removing kibble from his diet (over a week or so if his GI tract is sensitive), and monitoring his regurgitation, keeping track on a calendar. Transitioning again to raw is ideal and would likely resolve any underlying hairball issues. Janell Broussard Simpson – “What are the benefits of elevating the kitty’s food bowl?” As a general rule, it is not necessary as cats were designed to eat crouched our laying down. However, there are times when doing so is a great kindness to your furry friend. Cats with mobility issues of any age, may prefer different feeding and drinking positions. Some may sit, others stand, and still others crouch but want their head position higher than floor level. Similarly, cats with histories of poor dental health or with reduced sensory input (eyesight, smell, no whiskers, etc.) may also like elevated dishes. You never want them higher than just below chin level, though, as we want to encourage a natural flow of ingesta. Christy Meyers “How do you determine how many calories a day your cat should have? Can’t seem to get my vet to answer that one straight.” Heh … and you won’t get a fully straight one here, but I’ll do my best to provide lots of information 🙂 From a feline biological level, calories needed per day are dependent upon activity type and intensity, indoor/outdoor access, age, health condition. As a medical community and what is used in veterinary ICU care, is the Resting Energy Requirements (RER); this chart is an extrapolation of different RERs. As a pet parent, it’s whatever your cat needs to maintain a healthy weight based on her age, indoor/outdoor access, health status, etc. That said, if your 17 yr old, 12 lb kitty is eating more than your 3 yr old, 9 lb kitty, there is an energy imbalance which needs investigation. The same applies if a cat is overweight but truly is only eating 3 oz/day; that’s not enough to maintain any adult cat and investigation is warranted. Lastly, the easiest answer is an average activity, indoor only, adult 12 lb cat typically eats 6 oz canned or raw per day; some days will be more (9 oz), while others may be less (4 oz). This leaves room for 1-2 daily treats and is a place to start. Adjust every few weeks based on how she looks, acts, etc. What are some ingredients in food that we should stay away from? Let’s make this simple. If you read the label and think, “I could make this list into a tasty stew,” or something of that nature, then it’s probably okay. That means you’re looking for ingredients which include a protein source, veggies, fruit (replaces the honey or sugar often used in cooking human foods), and vitamins & minerals (companies are required to list them). If there’s anything else like grains (presume your stew is for gluten-intolerant folks) or by-products, then skip it. Is by-product really okay for your animal? Yes and no. Companies who use by-products like organ meat, will just list the specific organ included: beef heart, chicken liver, etc. Companies who may use less ideal by-products like chicken feet are likely to list just “poultry by-products,” and I would not feed to my cat. They don’t typically eat feet in the wild; why feed it to them as domestic critters? “A lot of the prescription diets that you’re mentioning in one of your questions above has by-product or “meal” which basically means they’ve taken decayed disgusting meat that we won’t eat washed it with chlorine ground everything up and made it into a paste and then it is chicken meal and chicken by-product… since the prescription diets are listed as having these ingredients and the food I feed my cats are not why does my vet continue to try to push Purina and pedigree on me?” At the risk of upsetting my colleagues, I believe they are not critically assessing the pet food industry versus medical research (Eastern & Western) regarding feline health, especially feline nutritional healthy. My recommendation is that you calmly indicate you are not comfortable with feeding such foods and ask if he has alternative recommendations. Cynthia Ray – “Wow you cover all of mine, how about texture of the food and why sometimes they poop differently is it the texture. Like pate vs chunky or shredded meats in the wet food diet? And what ingredients are bad in the food that we need to be aware of” Oooo! Excellent and rarely asked nutritional question 🙂 Stool consistency changes based on what goes in and how the kitty’s overall health status alters. This is a normal process and generally not something to be concerned about as long as the stool typically falls into the normal category. The overall textures of foods often alters digestibility, and the color and texture of protein used in the manufacturing will alter the stool consistency and color. Digestibility is also affected based on overall health status … how watery was the food and did your cat’s body have to input water for digestion rather than absorb water from the GI tract? Neither are bad here and there, but over time, the balance should remain in favor of GI-based water absorption. Michelle Ceo – “Vitamin deficiencies in felines with IBD- specifically vitamin B 12 and vitamin D. Do you supplement with these vitamins if labs show low levels.” I am huge fan of supplementing with injectable (under the skin, performed by pet parents at home) B12 for IBD kitties, even if their cyanocobalamin test is normal. In my experience, many seem to feel better, eat better, and have increased time between flares. Frequency of administration ranges from daily to once weekly, depending on the individual. Oral supplementation usually doesn’t work as the GI tract simply has issues with absorption. I do not know of a study showing improvements in hematologic B12 levels with super-doses of oral cyanocobalamin. Vitamin D toxicosis can be a problem in cats; if the levels were indeed low, then supplementation should be guided by his attending veterinarian. More importantly, such blood values tell me your kitty’s intestines are unable to digest & absorb vital nutrients, due to active inflammation and/or chronic scarring. If he is not seeing a TCVM doctor, please consider scheduling a consultation. Janet Jamison – “What about dental kibble sold through my veterinarian? (Looks and sounds like corn pops when they chew). Is it actually going to improve dental health? Not as a general rule. They may pull tartar off some cats’ teeth if those cats happen to prefer smaller bites to gulp down. Are there effective chew toys to help remove tartar? Some of the sisal or braided grass toys may work if your cat likes to gnaw on them, but refrains from chewing through them. I also know a few cats who like to gnaw on hard rubber dog toys (my one is one of them). These kinds of toys work like meaty bones to massage gums and scrape plaque from enamel. Best diet for dental health?” Raw food with meaty bones. This will keep them as healthy as possible and regular veterinary visits will help detect possible issues beneath the gum line. Sandra Nickel – “How long should they be on kitten food? My 7 mo boy has just been diagnosed with crystals and my vet recommended switching him to prescription urinary food. I worry because he is still growing.” He is okay to change off of kitten food, though I do not recommend prescription urinary food for more than a few weeks, and only canned versions. Prescription urinary diets (canned) can be helpful in dissolving crystals which have the potential to block male urethral outflow tracts, so we want them gone asap. Transitioning to a raw food diet from there will likely work to rebalance his body. If not, there are prescription TCVM formulations like Jing Tang’s Red Front Door or Crystal Formula, which can help realign the body. Pam Kamena – “How do you know if they are drinking too much water ? my boy will only drink out of the sink but he drinks more than my last cat and I worry about diabetes if he seems thirsty all the time. Eyeball the ins and outs via the litter box; a healthy adult cat produces 2-3 moderately sized urine balls/days. Also check out your cat’s coat: is it shiny or clumpy? Does his skin have white flakes or brown debris? Lastly, check out his behavior. If he’s constantly asking for your to turn on the faucet, he may have an imbalance. Presuming he just likes running water, try stainless steel water fountains. Also how do you know if they are eating too much since they are a bigger breed.” Start with 6-9 oz/day; 6 oz if typical adult indoor activity and 12 lb; 9 oz if more active and/or 16 lb. Adjust every few weeks so he maintains a healthy weight (see Ms. Meyers’ response). Karen Megerle – “Eye discharge, recurring. Veterinarian prescribes a salve, but what can I do to prevent it coming back. (Not green infection, brown draining)” It’s hard to know for sure without more information, and I will presume the salve is terramycin or neomycin based ophthalmic ointment, and that the issue is intermittent, and that your cat is an adult (not kitten, nor senior). Some breeds have chronic teary eyes (brown coloration is porphyrin oxidation) and some have blocked tear ducts. There are also low grade chronic herpetic infections (FHV) which flare under times of stress resulting in teary eyes. The former conditions there’s not a lot to do, though they are less common in Ragdolls. FHV infections are abundant and the first strains were contracted from the queen, helping her young kittens’ immune systems develop. However once infected, it’s for life. If your cat’s eye tears only when stressed, even if that stress seems minimal to you, then you can do several things. First is start applying an artificial tear like GenTeal eye drops 2-4 times daily. This helps flush out inflammatory cells and viral particles, letting your cats immune system gain control of the flare, and won’t harm in case of corneal ulceration. Next identify the stress and see what you can do to minimize it. Then try lysine; some cats’ FHV strains respond well to this, others do not. Susan Jacobson Whitney – “What about age guidelines; are they necessary? Kittens, of course, but what is recommended for senior cats?” For most seniors, I recommend a commercial raw food diet using chicken, duck and/or rabbit proteins, plus the occasional beef or turkey if the cat likes/tolerates. The texture may need to be more finely ground than what adults may tolerate, and you may need to add a bito water. Some cats who are supergeritric, need canned or water canned food for ideal nutrition. Since you mentioned kittens, I also feed them raw, no different than their adult mentors receive. Clair Squires – “I have a similar question about food and additional supplements. Supplements are based on need, in my opinion, though senior cats may benefit from glucosamine and omega 3 fatty acid support, helping slow down early stages of inflammation. I haven’t found any one set of supplements which seems to prevent renal disease or arthritis, or any number of other conditions. Raw food and the whole body health benefits cover most needs, in my experience. From there, supplements should be based on the individual. I’ve recently moved my two 7 yr old Floppies on to Iams Vitality Senior from the Hairball variety. It says it has glucosamine / joint supplements but would a cat eating this daily get adequate amounts to help their joints?” Not really as they indicated 375 mg glucosamine / kg food. The standard feline dose of Cosequin is 125 – 250 mg glucosamine per day. Your cat would need to eat nearly ¾ of a lb of food to meet the lower end of Cosequin’s dosing. Tami Zale – “This might not be the type of question you’re looking for but…..how do I know if my cat is overweight? I’ve heard Ragdolls are different and a fat pad on their tummy is ok.??” It’s true that genetics determines our body type, including that of Ragdolls and tummy fat. A little swing and extra fur to grab may be normal if you can still see a waist when standing from above, and there’s not an extra layer of fat also present on the sternum. Body condition scores of 4.5 (lean) – 5.5 (tummy fat)out of 9, are quite acceptable depending on age & activity. If your at pushes 6/9 or is flat out into 7/9, time to reassess the diet. Linda Betten Sidor – ” How safe are foods made out of the United States .. such as Thailand? For the most part, they are okay as they fall under the same regulations as US-based foods. The vitamin/mineral packets most large companies use come from a few sources, at least one of which is in China, though not the one associated with melamine toxicity a few years ago. Shalon asked: What does she know about prescription “Hydrolized Protein” food? I am not fan as they are generally carbohydrate rich and/or in kibble form, neither of which is suited for the obligate carnivore. From an Eastern perspective, they are ‘hot’ and while the immune system may respond favorably in some animals, you’re still feeding a non-species appropriate diet and tend to not work over time. Does the body still gain muscle? Technically the protein should be in a useable form, thus the body should be able to convert extensively hydrolyzed chicken into skeletal muscle. In my experience, however, cats overall physique is generally poor on these diets; whether that is due to kibble-based food, overweight, low muscle mass, etc. is unknown. Is it possible to build an intolerance to it? Yes, it is possible though actual research is limited. Raw food, I have heard the amount of bacteria it has in general, can mutate and cause issues in the body. I have never heard of such a thing. Yes, bacteria mutate all the time, and yes those mutations could potentially create infections, though the set of circumstances would have to be quite specific. Infections with raw food diet are incredibly rare and usually due to improper feeding (e.g. leaving raw food out all day in summer), or poor primary meat choices (e.g. grocery store ground chicken as opposed to pet-food store frozen commercial raw food brands). I was also told by two ragdoll breeders, not to feed raw at all. Most Ragdolls I’ve had the pleasure of meeting were on raw food and thrived. Comparably, they had better skin/coat quality, were of a healthier weight, and exhibited far fewer GI issues, than those eating canned food. And big and long hair cats in general have issues down the line due to being on raw food. My experience is the opposite; cats in general benefit from raw diets, regardless of size or coat length. Also ironically I had a Ragdoll become sick at 1 year of age when he was on a completely raw diet. I am very sorry to hear this news and hope he recovered quickly. Does she think the “all natural” tinctures for hairball really work? Yes, in some patients; others do not seem to respond at all. In general hairball remedies either provide an oily substance to ease passage of ingested fur, or fiber which helps push ingested fur through teh GI tract. For those whose diet hasn’t resolve the issue, and/or where daily brushing or grooming (shaving the fur) is not possible, hairball remedies which use non-petroleum bases may reduce hairball development. What would you give a cat daily for hairballs, that cannot tolerate any animal proteins at all, will not eat anything wet at all, and does not like pumpkin or hemp? In this case, we’re left with regular shaving (to a DSH-lenght coat), or regular administration of an organic vegetable-based oil given via syringe (slowly) if the kitty won’t take it mixed in food/treat. Since your cat doesn’t like nut flavors, consider canolla, coconut, or olive oil, mixed 1-2 drops at a time with a favorite treat. If you get lucky, he/she may like the flavor of one, though it’s still best to use the lowest effective dose which is usually no more than 1/4 tsp twice daily. Two resons to start at 1-2 drops/dose, though: help the cat get use to the texture & flavor & monitor for reactions. Coconut oil is also called MCT oil & can cause nausea in some patients. Also, I know you really would like your cats on a raw diet, but I actually switched from raw to regular. I know it seems counterintuitive. But I have had two different breeders (that did not know each other), tell me it causes issues. That, and my sister is a microbiologist and has tested raw food and her main concern is the bacteria count, not necessarily e-coli and such. Especially for a breed that has sensitive tummies. I have emailed Jean Hofve in the past and she suggested the HPP raw, and feeds all kinds of food, not just raw to her kitties. Just curious your thought on that? Yes, raw food is going to have a plethora of bacteria which the lower pH of feline GI tracts, normal flora populations, and digestive enzymes are designed to counter. That is not to say Salmonellosis isn’t a serious concern during the summer months; it very much is and has nothing to do with raw vs canned diet. And while Ragdolls have a genetic predisposition to GI issues, it is one I’ve found responsive to raw food. I’ve not fed HPP foods for many of the reasons listed in this article, so cannot comment on its use via direct experience. The article may be canine centric and I do not agree HPP necessarily needs to be avoided, but I think it provides a good overview of HPP foods. My general belief is that it would be rare for a feline patient to benefit from HPP over less processed commercial raw foods. That said an bottom line for all: if your cat is doing well on a given diet, then continue that diet. If, however, they have poor coat quality, are overweight and / or have ongoing GI upset, consider a diet change from kibble to canned; canned to raw; raw to canned — whatever it takes to get your cat healthy again. (Though still no kibble; feline experts everywhere agree on this one.) My kitty who got sick at age 1, almost had to be put to sleep. What saved his life was the Hydrolyzed Protein Diet. Total turn around, and it is all he can tolerate. He is allergic to All animal proteins, so going back to raw is not an option. As for my other two, too much fat gives them the runs. So wet food is limited to 1 teaspoon a day (I tried a lot of options, and the one teaspoon includes psyllium husk powder as well). Otherwise the other two both get the runs. I seem to have no choice but to give them dry kibble. Unless you have any other ideas? And lastly, my vet suggested Mineral oil for hairballs. What do you think of administering that (via syringe)? I recommend she consult a nutritionist regarding home cooked meals for the two on kibble; they can be made in advance in large batches and frozen until ready to feed. A local TCVM practitioner may also guide nutritional care as that is one of the main treatments utilized and highly successful in rebalancing the bod. Mineral oil is going to do the same thing as the oils I recommend, though it is petroleum based which is a product I avoid when possible.
Check out our other interviews with Dr. Brandon:
- Essential Oils and Cats
- Cat Dental Care
- What Should Cats Really Eat? An Interview about Feline Nutrition
- Feline Asthma
- Vaccines Cats Need
Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,