New Feline Nutrition Guidelines
With so many choices in foods out there today, how do you start deciding what to feed your pet? Does it really benefit your pet to eat that expensive premium pet food? How much should your pet eat? How often should you feed him/her? Is canned food bad for their health? Here are some good guidelines:
- Variety: Many feline veterinary specialists feel that we might be able to prevent some problems often seen in adult cats such as inflammatory bowel disease, general food ingredient sensitivities, and finicky appetites if we feed a variety of foods throughout a cats life starting as a kitten. This means offering a high quality diet in both dry and canned formulas and varying the types to include different ingredients.
- Canned vs. Dry: Over the years most veterinarians have reasonably suggested feeding dry food as a way to help slow down plaque and tartar buildup. As it turns out, with the exception of a few special dental diets (Science Diet t/d and Friskies Dental diet), dry food does not help prevent this problem whatsoever. Dry kibble feeding is primarily a convenience for us as cat owners. Unfortunately, cats evolved as desert carnivores. These kinds of animals have GI systems developed to eat whole prey items and they have very little drive to drink since most of their moisture is contained in their food. With this in mind, many veterinary nutritionists and feline specialists now suggest feeding primarily canned cat foods (ideally with additional water added) as a diet that is closest to what this species evolved to eat. By feeding dry kibble as the primary food, we are likely predisposing them to a very common syndrome called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease as well as kidney disease. A prudent compromise for cats that have no history of Urinary tract problems would be to feed a good quality canned food that contains less than 7% carbohydrates (For help choosing a commercial food available in your area, click here to see a well done and organized chart of commercial cat foods and their fat, protein and carbohydrate levels) with water added twice a day and a very small amount (2-3 tablespoons) of dry food free choice throughout the day. (see below for more details on how to transition finicky cats to canned foods)
- Quality: In pet foods, as with many other things in life, you tend to get what you pay for. In general, the reason some foods are more expensive is that the manufacturers of those diets are practicing good quality control and using higher quality, more digestible ingredients. Don't be fooled by the simple lists of percentage protein, fat, carbohydrates listed on the bags. They can be easily manipulated to appear equivalent. For example- a leather shoe can contain the same percentage of protein as a steak, but one is obviously more digestible than the other.
- Amount: Although most cats would prefer to eat small amounts throughout the day, the vast majority of our housecats will eat many more calories than they burn off in their day-to-day activities if allowed free access to food (only 10-20% of cats will self regulate). Therefore, measured and scheduled feedings is usually necessary. The food volume guidelines listed on the packaging is a place to start, but in general, are often 25% too much for most of our cats. Most cats will do best if fed a measured amount based on the manufactures daily recommendations (or slightly less). If it is placed in a bowl and he eats it gradually throughout the day and maintains a healthy weight, fantastic. If he eats it all immediately and is asking to be fed again 3 hours later, it is best to divide the feedings into 2-3 feedings/day. If you have multiple cats with different dietary needs, scheduled feeding in separate locations is the most effective method of proper feeding. Feeding a limited amount of a high quality canned food, for the reasons mentioned above, is probably the best way to go.
- Obesity: Weight control is a key! Remember, our pets are genetically pre-programmed to "stock-up" for those periods when there is less food. In the wild, who knows when the next meal is going to be available? Today those periods of food shortage never happen, therefore those extra calories will be converged into excess fat. Over time this predisposes our cats to development of Diabetes, Arthritis, Heart Disease, Liver Failure, etc. A good rule of thumb to monitor weight throughout your pet's life is that you should always be able to easily feel the ribs along their side. If you can't feel them bumping under your fingers they are covered by fat, and you need to decrease the amount being fed and/or increase the amount of exercise (not an easy feat with most house cats).
Additional detailed information on feline nutrition can be found here.