Your Cat's Diet Mistakes
There is a very strong and extremely logical connection between the way that we are currently feeding our obligate carnivores and many of the life-threatening diseases that afflict them.
Diabetes is a very serious - and difficult to manage - disease that is very common in cats. Why is it so common? The species-inappropriate high level of carbohydrates in dry food wreaks havoc on the blood sugar level of an obligate carnivore. The blood sugar level rises significantly upon ingestion of dry food. With chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) the insulin producing cells in the pancreas down-regulate, or "burn out," leading to diabetes.
Kidney disease is probably the Number One cause of mortality in the cat. It is troubling to think about the role that chronic dehydration plays in feline kidney failure. And remember, cats are chronically dehydrated when they are on a diet of predominantly dry food.
Cystitis (bladder inflammation) and Bladder/Kidney Stones:
Cystitis and stones are extremely common in the cat. The concentration (specific gravity) of the urine is a critical factor in contributing to, or preventing, these serious health issues. Some cats have a higher tendency to form crystals in their urine. Cats on dry food have more highly concentrated urine (higher specific gravity) which means that a higher concentration of stone-forming crystals will be present in the urine. This increases the chance of producing life-threatening stones. Also, a very concentrated level of crystals acts like 60-grit sandpaper on the delicate bladder wall, which can lead to painful cystitis. Cystitis can lead to inappropriate urination (urinating outside of the litter box) and stones can cause a fatal rupture of the bladder. (Any cat that is repeatedly entering the litter box but not voiding any urine is in need of IMMEDIATE medical attention!) Cats eating canned food are more appropriately hydrated, and therefore, have more dilute urine (lower specific gravity). This greatly decreases their chance for urinary tract problems.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):
IBD is thought to be a common cause of vomiting and diarrhea in the cat. There are many unanswered questions with respect to this disease process, but it seems logical to start to "treat" a gastrointestinal problem in the cat with a species-appropriate diet. Too often these cats are treated with a high level of steroids and a so-called "prescription" DRY diet. But there are an impressive number of anecdotal reports of cats that were terribly ill with IBD exhibiting dramatic improvement when ALL dry food was removed from their diet. Taking it even one step further, there are many reports of cats with IBD that improved tremendously on a balanced, grainless, raw diet.
Obligate carnivores are designed to meet their energy needs with a high protein, moderate fat diet. Carbohydrates are minimally used. Those that are not used for energy are converted to and stored as fat. The so-called "light" diets that are on the market have targeted the fat content as the nutrient to be decreased, but in doing so, the pet food manufacturers have increased the grain fraction, leading to a higher level of carbohydrates. Hence, many overweight cats eating these "light" diets are still obese. These products are among the most species-inappropriate diets available to cat caretakers.
Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver Disease):
This is the most common metabolic liver disease of cats. Overweight cats that go longer than 48 hours without eating, for any reason, are in danger of developing this serious, and often fatal, disease. Feeding a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet helps keep cats at an optimal, healthy body weight.
Long-standing claims that cats have less dental disease when they are fed dry food versus canned food are grossly overrated, inaccurate, and are not supported by recent studies. First, dry food is hard, but brittle, and merely shatters with little to no abrasive effect on the teeth. Second, the high carbohydrate (read: sugar) level in dry foods has been shown to cause dental decay. Third, many cats swallow the majority of their dry food whole and thus receive minimal benefit from chewing motion. Finally, a meat-based diet results in an acidic oral environment which may actually prevent some forms of dental disease. There are many factors that contribute to dental disease in the cat such as genetics, viruses, and diet. There remain many unanswered questions concerning the impact of diet on dental health, but feeding a high starch, species-inappropriate dry diet is a negative factor. Perhaps, a more natural way to promote dental health is to feed large chunks of raw meat.
Transitioning Dry Food Addicts to Canned Food
This is the hard part! Cats, like children, often resist what is best for them. The key is to do it slowly and with patience. Some cats that have been on dry food their entire lives will be quite resistant to the diet change. These cats may take several weeks or longer to make the transition to a healthier diet. Others will take to it with the attitude of "finally - an appropriate diet for my species!" For some cats, you will need to use hunger to help with the transition. At that point, you may want to give them only half of what they would normally eat, just to keep hunger as an incentive. Here are some tricks for the stubborn ones:
* If your cat has been eating dry food on a free-choice basis, take up the food and establish a schedule of twice a day feedings. Leave the food down for 30 minutes. Once your cat is on a schedule you will notice that he is more enthusiastic about food.
* Cats prefer their food at "body temperature", but do not warm the food more than once or twice as this will promote bacterial growth.
* Sprinkle a very small amount of tuna - or any other favorite treat (some cats do not like fish) - on the top of the canned food and then once they are eating this, start pressing it into the top of the new food. (The "light" tuna is better than the fancy white tuna because it has a stronger smell. Or, Trader Joe's makes a Cat Tuna that is very stinky!)
* Pour a small amount of the water from the tuna over the top of the canned food.
* Crush some dry food and sprinkle it on the top of the new food.
* If you have a multiple cat household, some cats like to eat alone so you may need to take these cats into a separate room and feed them canned food/tuna ‘meatballs' by hand. This worked for one of my stubborn, timid cats. In a quiet setting, he would eat from my hand and then, finally, from a bowl. I'm not sure who was being trained.