Commercial cat food is pretty good stuff. It’s cheap, it’s convenient and some of it is actually good for your cat, in moderation. Cat owners worry that they are feeding a dangerous product , that their cat will be either malnourished or even poisoned. Some owners prepare their own special home-made food for their cats, some going so far as to feed their cats exclusively raw food. The real problem with cat food is the calories, both in quantity and in quality. Succinctly stated, our cats, like us, are too darn fat. Over 33% of us, and also our cats, are overweight. Concerns about malnutrition and poisoning your cat are misplaced and potentially even dangerous to the wellbeing of your cat.
Nutritional deficiencies are rare. Commercially prepared diets prevent nutritional deficiencies, they do not cause them. Supplements are not needed. Pet owners preparing their own pet food are many times more likely to induce nutritional deficiencies, most often because they do not use a recipe from a veterinary nutritionist. Even the discount brands of commercial pet food are well balanced diets.
Poisonings are rare. The last significant problem was with melamine poisoning in 2007. You are much more likely to poison your pet by making your own cat food at home, especially if you feed raw food. I actually think it’s great to make your own cat food , provided you use a recipe from a veterinary nutritionist and you cook the stuff to a bacteria-killing 160 degrees. There is a wildly popular but bogus narrative that nature is good and science is bad. Untrue. Cooking pet food does not cause nutritional deficiencies and pasteurization is the most effective way of killing microorganisms in food.
So just what is the real problem with feeding commercial cat food? Hypernutrition, in the form of the two headed monster, diabetes mellitus and osteoarthritis. Both diseases are epidemic in Americans so it is not surprising our cats share the same nutritional diseases we have. Fortunately most of our cats are not free range and are dependent on owners making wise choices for them. So how do you make good choices?
My best advice is to choose your pet food before you go into the pet store. All the pet foods you will find on the shelf make bold marketing claims, some true, made to appeal to our sensibilities and appetites while helpful nutritional information on the label is conspicuously absent. Caloric content, for example, perhaps the most important thing to know when selecting a cat food, is often not even listed on the label. How much do you need to feed? Most ten pound adult neutered cats need about 250 cal a day to maintain a healthy weight. Bizarrely, most cat food label numbers are expressed as percentages rather than actual content numbers. Without absolute content numbers the relative percentages are not helpful and comparisons between products are made difficult, needlessly and perhaps intentionally. You can find good info on cat food the internet, if you go to the right place. More on that below.
All calories are not created equal. Calories from carbohydrates are not good for cats and low or no carb diets are the best. Cats can burn 100% mice, birds and fish for fuel and never encounter carbohydrates. All carbohydrates will increase the cat’s blood glucose level. Chronically high glucose levels destroy the beta cells in the pancreas that make the insulin required to absorb glucose and the cats become diabetic, requiring twice a day insulin injections. Unfortunately all dry food is high in carbohydrates and should be avoided. Canned cat foods have much more water content than dry foods and water is good for cats, for many reasons, but the silly cats don’t drink enough of it and get urinary tract problems
Take home point- all canned foods are better than all dry foods. Second take home point- look for foods with less than 10% carbohydrates and feed cats 250 calories per day. . Low carb cat foods from almost every manufacturer can be found on our links page, look for the “cat foods with less than 10% carbohydrates” at http://www.losaltosvet.com/Links.html
Glynn Echerd, DVM is the veterinarian at Los Altos Vet Clinic, 440 First Street, and he can be reached at (650) 948-8287