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Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they cannot process plant based proteins. They are originally desert creatures that obtained all their water from the food they ate- rodents, lizards, bugs, and birds. As such, cats do not drink enough water to maintain healthy kidneys or urinary tracts. In addition, our pet kitties are a lot less active than their wild ancestors. With the exception of barn cats and other outdoor cats, most of our pet cats don’t get a lot of exercise, which makes them prone to obesity.
Obesity is a dangerous condition which can lead to serious health problems. Diabetes, degenerative joint disease, cancer, and urinary tract disease are all more common in fat cats than in cats of a healthy weight. So what can we feed our cats that takes into account their carnivore status, their need to stay fit and trim, and their need for adequate water?
HIGH-QUALITY CANNED OR REHYDRATED FREEZEDRIED FOOD!
TREATS for CATS
Most cats will eat any type of fresh, cooked, non-processed meat you offer them. Processed meats such as sausage and lunch meats have a lot of salt, which kitty doesn’t need. But feel free to offer cooked poultry, fish, beef, or even wild game as long as it is not salted or cooked with fat. As far as commercial treats, choose a variety without artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Freeze-dried and jerky treats are also very popular. Some cats prefer crunchy treats, other like the softer types.
Just experiment and see what your cat likes. As a reminder, treats should make up no more than 10% of the daily calorie intake, so less than 40 calories per day. If you’re offering fresh meats, you can give her a little more.
ABOUT CANNED CAT FOOD
There are numerous benefits to feeding cats high-quality canned foods, which are listed below. But first let us debunk some myths about canned food.
First of all, dry food (with the exception of specially formulated prescription diets) do NOT improve dental health. Tartar is so hard, it has to be scraped off with stainless steel instruments or ultrasonic scalers no dry food can do that!
The best way to control dental disease is daily brushing with a pet-formulated toothpaste (good luck J) and annual professional dental health assessments, including intra-oral x-rays, and scaling and polishing.
Secondly, canned food does not cause soft stools. However if a cat is suddenly switched from a lower protein dry food to a high quality canned food, you can expect a few days of GI stress until the cat’s body gets used to the new food. Ask us about ProBiotics to help your cat transition to canned food.
Finally, canned food will not cause your cat to become finicky. In fact, most cats appreciate a daily change in flavors, and we all like variety in our diet!
OK, but canned food is pretty expensive, especially with multiple cats. I want to give my kitties the best food possible within my budget. What do you recommend for my situation?
The more water and protein your cat gets, the healthier he or she will be long-term.
Here are some ways to give more protein and water than simply feeding dry food alone. Choose a dry food that has high meat-based protein, and no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
• Mix the dry food with warm water to form a gravy. This works really well if your cat cleans the bowl right away. Otherwise the moistened food gets kind of nasty if it sits out for a couple of hours.
• Mix 1/4 of a 5.5 ounce can or 1/2 of a 2.5 ounce can of food with the dry food twice a day. Try to add extra water to the mix as well to further increase your cat’s water intake.
• Feed dry food in the morning and canned food in the evening. Try to add water to the evening’s canned food to make up for lack of water in the morning meal.
• Get a pet water fountain. This doesn’t help increase the protein intake, but many cats will drink more water if they have access to running water.
• To encourage your cat to drink more water, add one tablespoon of low-salt chicken broth or a small amount of tuna or clam juice into the water. Again, not any help with adding protein but water is extremely important.
Benefits of Canned Food
• Urinary Tract Health Cats that eat canned food consume TWICE the amount of water that cats get on a dry food diet. Increasing the amount of water a cat consumes is the single most important thing you can do to prevent lower urinary tract disease. Urinary tract disease leads to pain, urinating outside the litter box, and can even result in fatal urinary blockages.
• Better Protein Canned food has more meat-based protein than dry food. Again, being obligate carnivores, cats cannot process plant-based proteins.
• Prevent or Control Inflammatory Bowel Disease If you keep exposing the GI tract to foods that make it inflamed, you are eventually going to cause chronic inflammation, aka IBD. Carbohydrates are not a natural part of a cat’s diet, and their bodies have no good way to process them. IBD causes chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss, and is usually treated with steroids, which can cause diabetes, and then we’re in even worse trouble!
• Prevent or Control Diabetes Cats don’t need carbohydrates in their diet- remember they are obligate carnivores. Dry food is up to 40% carbohydrate compared to 5-12% carbohydrates in canned food. Carbohydrates throw “off” the normal metabolism in a cat, making them susceptible to diabetes.
• Prevent or Control Obesity Dry cat food has on average 350-400 calories per cup. The average cat only requires about175-200 calories of food per day. Try feeding a cat 1/4 to 1/2 cup of food a day your cat will be VERY angry with you, usually at 3am! A 5.5 ounce can of food provides all the energy (calories) a cat needs, PLUS the water makes your kitty feel full, so no more begging, stealing, or crying for food.
• Kidney Health The increased water consumption from canned food is also extremely beneficial to long-term kidney health. Chronic kidney disease is one of the leading causes of death in middle aged to older cats. WATER is the key ingredient missing in most cats diets that may have prevented or at least held off the onset of this devastating disease.
How much canned food should my cat eat per day?
To maintain a healthy body weight, each cat should be offered one 5.5 ounce can or two 2.5 ounce cans of food per day. Because canned food gets pretty dried up after sitting out for a while, we recommend splitting the larger can and refrigerating it until dinner time. Most cats will not be able to finish that amount of food each day, but it’s OK to offer that much.
My cat doesn’t like canned food. How can I get her to eat it?
If your cat is healthy, not eating for a day or two won’t cause any harm. The more overweight your cat is, the more dangerous it is for him or her not to eat. Overweight cats who don’t eat for a few days can get a condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. This can be a life-threatening condition, so please make sure your fat cat eats!
• Start by mixing just a tablespoon of canned food in with your cat’s favorite dry food. Increase the amount of canned food each day until s/he is eating just canned food.
• Another trick is to add one tablespoon clam or fish juice to the canned food.
• Some cats prefer to eat canned food from a saucer to avoid getting their whiskers dirty!
• Many cats prefer room-temperature food, so heating it in the microwave a few seconds may help.