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.