Friday, October 28, 2011

What Should I Know about Cat Nutrition? Part 3

Answers to last week's ingredient question:
1) Meow Mix
2) Purina Naturals
3) Purina One Beyond
4) Science Diet Oral Care
5) Evo Turkey and Chicken Flavor
6) Before Grain Chicken
7) Fancy Feast Fish and Shrimp Feast

When considering the cost of the food you feed your cat, you may want to consider how much of the food your cat will require daily. Less calorie-dense foods will be fed in greater volume and may actually end up costing more than a more expensive bag of food that you can get more servings out of. When figuring out what you’re paying for, sometimes it is best to figure out cost-per-meal instead of cost-per-pound.
On the other hand, premium foods are not required to be made of any better or healthier ingredients than a regular complete and balanced cat food.

Here are three premium (dog) foods compared – you can see that some of them need to be fed in much greater volume than others!

      A.     Before Grain Made with Buffalo, Chicken Meal
B. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Canine Formula with Roasted Bison and Roasted Venison
C. Orijen Adult Formula All Breeds
D. EVO Turkey & Chicken Formula Dry Dog Food

Dry food is often easier to feed because it can be left for cats to nibble at free choice, and it is easier on the wallet because it is less costly than canned food, however many experts agree that dry foods should be fed in moderation -- some even suggest that the worst canned food is still better than the best dry food. If using a dry food, look for one that's high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and make sure your cat has plenty of water.

A cat eating kibble
The reason canned food is often better than dry is simple: cats are desert animals that instinctively get their daily water from their prey and have little thirst drive to look for water. Sure, your cat will drink water both when eating canned food and when eating dry, and may even drink more water when eating a dry-food-only diet, but studies have shown that even though they seek out the water dish more frequently, cats that eat only dry food may consume as little as half the daily water that a canned-food-eating cat takes in! Drinking less water means that your cat is perpetually mildly dehydrated, leading to super-concentrated urine and a higher risk of urinary crystals and bladder stones. Super-concentrated urine is also harder on the kidneys long-term, which could shorten the life of the kidneys.

Other benefits of canned food include: a higher protein/lower carbohydrate content, since we know that cats need very little in the way of carbohydrates in their diet; a greater feeling of satiety on fewer calories, leading to a better body condition; and most cats just plain like it better!

Two cats sharing canned food
There are mixed opinions on the presence of dyes and preservatives in cat foods. There's no proof that dyes or preservatives are unhealthy for cats, but little has been done to research the effects of these ingredients building up in cats' systems over time. Dyes can stain carpets and upholstery. Premium foods seldom contain dyes, but many supermarket brands do.

The naming of cats’ foods:
  • The 95% Rule
    A cat food may not be labeled "Chicken for Cats," or "Chicken Cat Food," unless it contains 95% or more chicken by total weight of the product.
  • The 25% Rule
    Foods labeled "Chicken entrĂ©e," "Chicken Dinner," "Chicken Feast," or the like, must contain 25% to 95% chicken. “Platter”, “nuggets” and “formula” are also common. Just because the name says “Chicken Formula” does not mean that beef, or fish are not added. The ingredient label is the real key to knowing what your cat is eating. Combinations, such as "Chicken and Beef Dinner" must contain a total of 25% to 95% of the combined meats, listed in order of quantity, and the second meat listed must comprise at least 3% of the total weight. (Imagine ordering a "steak and lobster" dinner and finding the "lobster" will barely fill a fork!)
  • The 3% Rule
    The “with” rule. A food labelled "Kitty Stew with Chicken" must contain 3% or more chicken. This is easily confused with the 95% rule. Turkey cat food has 95% turkey, cat food with turkey has 3% turkey.
  • "Flavor"
    Barely worth mentioning here, but if you see something similar to "chicken flavored," be assured that the product is unlikely to contain any chicken at all, as long as there is a "sufficiently detectable" amount of chicken flavor, usually the result of digests or by-products of the named animal versus actual meat content.

Additional resources for decoding cat food ingredients:
You Are What You Eat, Chemically
Now that we’ve talked in-depth about ingredients, don’t spend too much time trying to decipher that ingredient list. Most food manufacturers approach animal feeds with a chemist’s point of view. The bottom line of nutrition is the chmical component of the food – are the basic amino acids available to make proteins? Is the right blend of vitamins in there? Is the animal going to get an adequate balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates and maintain a good weight on this diet? Is the cat going to actually EAT the food? “Animals require nutrients, not ingredients," says Sherry Sanderson, DVM, PhD, University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine. “You should be most concerned about the nutritional value of the end product, and less concerned about the ingredients that get you there.”

Preservatives in pet foods get a bad name, but they actually serve a very important function in dry pet foods, Sanderson says. Preservatives are antioxidants that prevent the fat in foods from spoiling (becoming rancid). Some fats can spoil very quickly. Once a fat spoils, it loses its nutritional value, not to mention it can become dangerous to eat.

Preservatives may be natural or man-made. Natural preservatives commonly found in cat food include vitamin E (tocopherol) or vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Man-made preservatives are synthetic forms of vitamin E such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA).

Some web sites claim BHT and BHA can lead to cancer in pets. But at this time, little research has been done in this field – any suggested link between preservatives at the level found in pet foods and cancer growth is unsubstantiated by scientific peer-reviewed studies. Experts say you should never choose a dry cat food that doesn't contain preservatives, because the risk of feeding a potentially rancid diet far outweighs any perceived risks associated with preservatives.

If you prefer to feed your cat a diet without preservatives, it is recommended to feed preservative-free canned food only.

Natural Is Not Necessarily Organic
There is no standardized official definition for the terms "natural" and "organic" when it comes to pet food. Also, "Organic" and “Natural” are not one and the same. “Organic” refers to the way a food source is grown and processed. The FDA is currently working on developing guidelines for the use of the word "organic" on cat food labels.

"Natural" may mean the product has no artificial flavors or colors – both of which are not necessary in a cat’s food. However, it may indicate that there are no added preservatives, which can lead to spoilage in dry foods. A food that advertises itself as “100% all-natural” may be misleading because most complete and balanced pet foods have vitamins and minerals added to them, most of which are man-made. Few pet foods ever use artificial flavors.

Foods Your Cat Should Never Eat

Rules of Thumb for Feeding Your Cat

    Cat and dog looking at hamburgers
  •  Never feed dog food to your cat in place of cat food. It is deficient in essential nutrients cats require. Cats, unlike dogs, cannot convert certain dietary precursors into necessary amino acids and water soluble vitamins. A cat given dog food over a long period can develop taurine deficiency, vitamin A deficiency (night blindness), niacin deficiency, retinal degeneration, and other serious or fatal illnesses. Cats that nibble from the dog bowl from time to time are usually fine, as long as they get the majority of their nutrition from their cat food.
  • Specialty foods and even table scraps can be given as treats once or twice a week-but only after the regular diet is eaten. Cooked meats (including organ meats such as liver or kidney), cottage cheese, cooked vegetables, cooked fish, milk, and yogurt are foods with strong taste appeal that cats seem to enjoy. Only give them in small amounts and do not offer dairy products if your cat appears to be lactose intolerant (usually evidenced by diarrhea)
  • Never feed meats exclusively.
  • Treats should never exceed 20 percent of a cat’s total daily food.
  • Uncooked meat and raw fish should not be given because of the dangers of vitamin deficiency. Raw fish contains an enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 (thiamin). A deficiency of this vitamin results in brain damage. Fish is also deficient in vitamin E and raw meat in general has the potential to transmit diseases and parasites.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary or desirable if you are feeding a balanced cat food. Cats may actually overdose on vitamins A and D or calcium and phosphorus, either by giving the vitamins directly or by supplementing the diet with products that are high in them (such as raw liver or fish oils). Excess vitamin A causes sterility and loss of hair. Excess calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D cause metabolic bone and kidney disease.
  • Cats have highly selective eating habits. The location of the food dish, noise, the presence of other animals, and other threats or distractions can adversely affect how much they are willing to eat. A cat in a boarding facility may refuse food for entire week (which can be dangerous) unless an appetite stimulant is given.
  • Most cats prefer to have their food served at room temperature or slightly warm.
  • Many cats will not eat if the food dish is located near the litter box.
  • Water is a very important nutrient for cats. Always have plenty of fresh water available. Some cats like to drink from faucets and pet fountains. Some cats like ice in their water, especially in the summer. Again, canned food diets are more likely to provide an adequate amount of water than are other types of food.
  • Many cats prefer to eat and drink out of dishes that do not contact their whiskers, such as wide dishes or plates versus small, deep bowls.
Additional resources:


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