Local Insights

Published on October 3rd, 2016 | by Dr. Karin Derfuss, DVM, CVA


C is for Cat and Carnivore

The cat and all its relatives in the wild are meat eaters, also called carnivores. Some of our domesticated cats still have some instinct remaining that makes them good hunters, catching rodents, birds or small creatures that supply them with meat and bones, exactly what an obligate carnivore requires to survive. What have we done to our pet cats? For the most part, the pet food industry and our desire for easy feeding have made cats an unhealthy, fat and lazy bunch of animals that are developing problems and diseases never found in wild cats, or even cats from 20 years ago. Your cat is what you feed it. We will explore how to properly feed your pet cat today, and common problems associated with the typical inappropriate diet.

Rule #1: Cats do not eat corn, wheat, soy or even rice. Why? It’s not meat! These items are cheaper than meat and fish, and the cat foods are over run with them! Once upon a time, pet food actually had ingredients that cats needed. Does it surprise you when you see a commercial that says, “contains real meat”? It should; what else is in there? A pretty picture on the label does not mean the items are contained in the product. Read the ingredient panel! (There are some prescription foods that may include non-meat ingredients, but these should only be fed under the direction of your veterinarian for specific reasons.)

Rule #2: Cats require protein and fat, not carbohydrates. However, cat foods can artificially increase their apparent protein levels with grain based proteins, or gluten. Cats do not digest this type of protein, and it packs on the pounds and predisposes them to disease. Read the ingredient panel!

Rule #3: Cats need water. Cats tend to be dehydrated. This is their nature, and many people are not even aware of how much water their cat is drinking, and if there are multiple cats in the home, forget it! It is anyone’s guess. Water is vitally important to body functions, and ample water intake is especially important when a dry diet is fed. Do you have a cat that only drinks from the faucet or tub? A fountain may be the right choice to get your cat to drink more water. Placing water bowls throughout the house can also be helpful, as well as different types of bowls – clear glass, ceramic, metal, or even glasses of water.

A majority of our cats are not only overweight, but also clinically obese. It is a problem of epidemic proportions, and carbohydrates are a large part of the problem. If a cat is overweight, it is 100% the owner’s fault. If you feed your cat too much, or feed the wrong food, it is your fault. Your cat will be approximately ½ of its adult weight at 4 – 5 months of age, and growth slows dramatically for the rest of the first year. The amount fed does not continue to increase as your cat grows. Kittens frequently eat as much, if not more than the average adult cat.

Each cat is an individual, and the cat food label typically recommends an excessive amount. Knowing exactly how much you feed (use a measuring cup, not a handful, or a small bowl, or a mug, and worst of all a gigantic free feeder) is the starting point to making changes. Cats are also very in tune to palate stimulation. It can be difficult to change the kibble shape or food texture for some cats. Remember this: a 10 pound cat that gains 1 pound is 10% overweight, a 10 pound cat that gains 2 pounds is 20% overweight. That is like a 150-pound person gaining 15 – 30 pounds! It is always harder to lose the extra weight than to never gain it in the first place.

There are many health problems prevalent in today’s pet cats that were not much of an issue years ago. Many of these issues are rooted in incorrect diet, much like humans. The top 5 health concerns in the veterinary community for cats related to diet are: 1) obesity, 2) Type 2 diabetes, 3) pancreatitis, 4) urinary crystals and stones, 5) Gi issues – vomiting, diarrhea, IBD.

With your veterinarian’s help, a proper feeding routine can be developed, and this does not mean a prescription diet food, it means choosing the correct ingredients, in the proper amounts, and being strict with the amount you feed. The health problems mentioned above can all be reversed with proper diet and medical care! It can be very difficult with multi-cat households to feed properly, but it is essential to do so. Canned food, raw diets, home cooked, and some dry can all be incorporated into a proper diet.

Remember the saying, “a sardine a day, keeps the doctor away.” Let’s get our cats healthy!

Additional resources include: catinfo.org, fnae.org, and petmd.com.

Dr. Karin Derfuss graduated from Cook College (Rutgers University) and Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. She is IVAS certified in veterinary acupuncture and continues her integrative studies through IVAS, CIVT and the Chi Institute.

Dr. Derfuss practices at the Branchburg Animal Hospital, 1167 Route 28, Branchburg. 908-707-0045. BranchburgAnimalHospital.com. Facebook: BranchburgAnimalHospital.

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