Feed Your Feline
Check in with your veterinarian for cat’s nutritional guidance
This week’s column is an excerpt from the just-released book, “Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual.” To get the entire first chapter free, visit www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker.
By Dr. Marty Becker
Nearly everything about your cat’s anatomy suggests her genetic heritage to hunt, and hunt well. Her feet are designed for silent stalking; her claws can hook anything and won’t let go; her teeth are long, pointed and razor-sharp.
So what do you feed a creature who is so obviously designed to fend for herself?
Choosing a cat food should be simple business, but with so many options available, it can be tricky to find the right diet for your cat’s best health. Even after 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, I have to admit I sometimes find myself a little staggered by today’s pet food aisle.
When I was a kid, we fed our cats in the barn from a 50-pound bag of generic, feed-store kibble. Now, I go to the grocery store that sells my own food, and see row upon row of dry, canned and even refrigerated fresh foods for felines — something for every taste, dietary need and preference.
As a consumer, it’s great to have choices. But you have to be able to sort through your options, weigh costs vs. benefits, and know how to compare to do your cat justice. After all, selecting a healthful, appropriate diet for your cat and feeding right-sized portions is one of the most important things you can do to ensure her good health and longevity.
Knowing how your cat’s nutritional needs differ from your own may help put her very distinctive dietary requirements in perspective:
•Must have meat. The feline system is designed to depend on the consumption of other animals to survive and thrive. Unlike humans and dogs, who are omnivores and can stay healthy on a variety of diets, cats are “strict” or “obligate” carnivores. Just like their distant cousins the lion, the tiger and the cheetah, house cats not only prefer meat, they can’t maintain good health without it.
• Pound for pound, cats need far more protein. A cat needs more than double the amount of protein per pound of body weight that a person requires. And even though we omnivores can meet our protein requirements with non-meat foods like dairy products, nuts and beans, cats don’t have that luxury — animal protein is the only kind that fulfills their nutritional needs. If a cat doesn’t get enough protein in his diet, his body will actually break down his own muscle tissue to get the nutrients he needs
• Cats sponge vitamins and amino acids from their prey. There are some nutrients that an omnivore can produce or convert from food that cats have to get ready-to-use from their diets. Unless your cat is dining on a whole, fresh vermin several days a week, you need to provide a diet that provides these nutrients in usable form.
• Many cats don’t get thirsty. Cats are descended from desert hunters, and many scientists believe this is the reason they don’t seem to have a strong thirst drive. In the wild, this isn’t too much of an issue — any fresh prey a cat would catch is mostly made of water. In a world of indoor cats eating dry kibble, however, this can become a big problem. Cats need plenty of water, whether they drink it directly or get it from their food. Without enough water in their diets, cats are susceptible to urinary tract problems. To help prevent problems with dehydration, make sure your cat absolutely always has fresh water available. A better solution is a pet-sized water fountain — these encourage your cat to drink more, and more often.
Your cat’s veterinarian is the best resource for advice on choosing a food that’s best for your pet. Whether you shop for pet food in a grocery store, pet boutique or big-box retailer, your veterinarian will be able to point you in the right direction.