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One of the most important things you can do for your cat is provide proper nutrition
by Beverly Morgan
It is recommended that you consult a pet nutritionist or holistic veterinarian concerning pet nutrition. Age and medical issues, known or unknown to pet guardians, can affect the dietary needs of a cat.
When I was a child in the 1970s, I watched my parents select our cat’s food at the local grocery food shop. There were no big-box chain pet food supply stores then, and there were a limited number of cat food brands and variety, with canned foods or bagged kibble having only a few flavors such as poultry or fish/‘ocean’ flavor. At that time, kitten food was a new concept, as formerly no age-specific nutrition existed after a cat had been weaned. For the majority of my grandparents’ lives, they did not have any processed cat foods available to them in shops. They fed their kittens bread that had been soaked in cow or goat milk with an egg yolk and Karo syrup mixed in (I am NOT recommending this). Further, if they supplemented whatever a cat caught while hunting with table scraps and a saucer of milk, the cat was lucky. During my grandparent's time, house pets were un-common and in most cats were kept only as ‘mousers’.
In the 1970s processed cat foods came to be popular and they were corn and chicken-based, which gave way to the idea that it was acceptable to feed corn to cats. As this was left unchallenged for a few generations, pet food companies have sadly continued to produce corn-based cat foods and corn became generally accepted as an inexpensive filler. Unfortunately, corn is not something cats are able to readily digest. Even more troubling is that both chicken and corn are the most common food allergens for most cats. The worst part is that nature did not instruct cats to seek corn out, ever!
In my extensive fieldwork as an animal behaviorist, I have never seen a cat in a cornfield munching on a corn cob, even though feral cats can be very hungry at times and corn is readily available in some fields. Many cat food manufacturers are stuck in the 1970’s original corn-based cat food model and frequently use ground corn as one of their top 3 ingredients. Even worse, there are a few cat food companies that have cleverly marketed their cat food inside veterinary offices in the waiting rooms. Keep in mind that standard veterinarians are NOT pet food nutritionists. These foods are mainly corn and/or chicken-based, and also lack many of the foods and nutrients that a cat would eat if left to hunt on his own in the wild. Some companies, including those in veterinary offices, produce canned foods that do not meet the AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for the healthy nutritional maintenance of a cat. Unfortunately, many of those cat foods claim on the packaging that the food will fix certain health issues, but almost every client I have worked with has complained that those foods were useless, and sometimes actually made things worse. The question, then, is why?
The problem is, that without access to the foods a cat is designed to eat, a cat cannot maintain his health. This is science, not an opinion. Common sense suggests that it is always better to feed your cat what nature designed for a cat to eat, because without the proper nutrition in a cat’s diet, a cat can develop health issues due to the lack of nutrients that is found in many of the corn-based processed foods available. Thankfully, this is something my generation has started to question, finally! ‘Natural’ pet foods were born during my generation as a by-product of people challenging what cat foods were made of, and if what was designed for cats during the 1970s and 1980s was the proper recipe for a healthy cat. Interestingly, pet food has come full circle in my lifetime, for when I was a child, there was simply ‘cat food’, and now many companies offer ‘all-life stage foods’. While this is a good thing, the question remains, are those ‘all-life stage foods’ complete when compared to the diet nature has designed for a cat? Let’s take a look, shall we?
What food does your cat need?
We are living in a time where there are plenty of alternatives to dry cat kibble. Nature designed cats to eat raw, fresh food that contains critical amino acids, enzymes, and live probiotics, which cats need every day with their meals in order to digest their food properly. Did you know that a cat’s body will rob amino acids and enzymes from its own organs if you do not provide those nutrients for your cat in his daily diet?
Eating a mouse, for example, provides a cat with protein, live probiotics from the digestive tract, and good fats from the brain, eyes, and other body parts. There are vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes in the stomach content of the mouse from grasses that have been broken down and are then nutritionally accessible to the cat. A live mouse has bones that are soft enough for a cat to eat safely and easily, and bone marrow is a super-food that helps with hormone production which breaks down fats in a cat’s body, helps with cell regeneration, immunology and is filled with nutrients. The entire meal is full of moisture that a cat then absorbs into his own body through the intestines. If you have an indoor-only cat, you can buy ground bone marrow for cats at most pet food stores.
Why do cats need good fats? Good fats are critical for brain functions and the nervous system. Fats keep the outer coating of blood cells slippery in order to keep the cells from sticking and clumping together which can cause problems. Did you know that cold-processed salmon oil, a healthy fat source, is also beneficial for your cat’s teeth? In addition to your cat having good fats in his diet, it is also important for your cat to obtain live probiotics for many reasons including the immune system and your cat’s overall health. It is said that the gut is the second brain, and even for humans this is absolutely true because without having a healthy gut, your cat will be unable to absorb the nutrients he gets, even with the best food. Egg yolk is also a great additional food source for your cat that is filled with vitamins, minerals, protein, and enzymes that can help keep your cat healthy, as long as your cat doesn’t have food sensitivities to them. You may want to consider providing a green plant-based nutrient to your cat's diet, as well, such as spirulina as most cats will benefit from it. There are some great supplements on the market today that have amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, and a green nutrient source included in them, which means all you’d have left to do is to add a good fat source.
Talk to a holistic veterinarian or pet nutritionist for more information on creating a fresh, raw diet for your cat.
One thing to keep in mind is that if an animal has a sensitivity to the food they are being fed, no matter how good that food is, the food can act as an inflammatory irritant or the cause of other health issues. As mentioned above, chicken and corn, which are some of the most common allergens for both dogs and cats, were the 2 main ingredients in almost all cat foods in the 1970s and sadly, still are today. There are now a number of companies that can test your cat for environmental and/or food sensitivities, and some only need a few samples of your cat’s hair in order to perform the testing for a reasonable cost (www.5Strands.com). The knowledge gained from this type of testing can help you better care for your cat by arming you with the knowledge on how to shape your cat’s diet.
During my in-home pet behavior sessions, it is not uncommon for me to observe animals that scratch at their ears, have skin twitching, frequently lick and nibble at their body apart from regular grooming, vomit, have loose stools, runny eyes, red skin, skin ‘hot spots’ and more. These are frequently signs and symptoms of food sensitivities. When I see this and ask to be shown the food the pet is eating, 100% of the time the food has chicken and/or corn in it. When I worked in the pet nutrition industry, I saw many signs and symptoms of food sensitivity disappear when the animal’s diet was modified to eliminate chicken and corn and sometimes other typical food-sensitive ingredients.
I often witness senior animals who can no longer digest their food properly even when they are not eating food that they are sensitive to, which is why it is critical to make sure that your senior cat has a diet that allows them to easily and effectively absorb nutrients from their food. As with all cats, seniors need digestive enzymes, amino acids, and live probiotics daily, which is why I highly recommended that you have your cat tested for any food sensitivities and work with a holistic veterinarian or animal nutritionist to help your senior cat thrive! The best plan is to design a diet as close to the one that nature designed for them.
Once you have determined what your cat can eat through a food sensitivity test and have a holistic vet or animal nutritionist to guide you, you’ll most likely be instructed to slowly change your cat’s food from their current diet to their new one. This is usually done by gradually decreasing the food your cat has been eating, and at the same time, gradually adding and increasing the new food for your cat. Using proteins from an animal source that your pet is not food sensitive to is very important. Lamb has been deemed to be one of the most easily digestible proteins and contains iron, vitamins, and minerals and most animals do not show food sensitivity to it.
Anytime you can feed organs and fresh bone meal, your cat will benefit enormously. I would like to stress that you should always give your cat amino acids, enzymes, a good protein and fat source, along with live probiotics no matter what you feed. Below, I have outlined various feeding systems to consider when deciding what to feed your cat.
Cooking for your cat and Raw food:
Always consult a professional source in creating your own cat food recipes whether they are raw or cooked. If you go with raw cat food that has been commercially prepared, be sure to do your research on what nature has decided cats should eat and choose a raw food that models that in a nutritionally complete manner. Recall my example above on what a cat obtains nutritionally when he eats a mouse. When making cat food, to ensure it is nutritionally complete, most recipes will require the addition of vitamins, minerals, iodine, and calcium. The key is to feed cooked and raw food with knowledge and safety. Do your research and consult an animal nutritionist if you have any doubts at all!
Note: The stomach processes raw food very quickly as compared to the time it takes to digest processed/kibble food. Your cat may become hungry more frequently so you might want to decrease the time between feedings and feed more often. Some cats need a larger serving size at mealtimes when put on raw fresh food and do not gain weight from the increase. You can work with a holistic veterinarian or animal nutritionist to monitor this.
Raw processed bits are still processed and lacking the moisture needed for digestion absorption, so your cat will make up for this by drinking water on the side. This is a convenient way to feed raw for pet guardians who travel with kitty, as it requires no refrigeration, is lightweight, and takes up very little space. No water is added to it and most cats find this extremely palatable and do not refuse it. Raw in a fresh food form is always best, but this is a great alternative if your cat won’t eat raw or you are traveling.
Dehydrated cat food:
This is typically raw food that has been dehydrated. It is convenient for traveling with your cat because it does not require refrigeration, is lightweight, and takes up very little space but expands in quantity when prepared using water.
Note: I have noticed that about 90% of my client’s cats (and dogs!) find that their pets will refuse to eat dehydrated food a few days or a few weeks after being introduced to it. Animals often know when something is nutritionally out of balance or when something is not good for them. Listen to your animal and respect when they refuse to eat a food.
If they refuse to eat a **type** of food (not a dish of food) more than twice, throw it out. There are plenty of other options on the market that can meet their nutritional needs. Further, with all the pet food recalls, it is possible that the food is spoiled in some way, or nutritionally out of balance.
Jerky-style raw food:
Most cats love this as a raw food source. It has nothing fresh left in it so you should consider fresh raw food as the ultimate diet. This is a convenient raw source for travel because it does not require refrigeration.
Processed kibble/dry cat food:
Note: When selecting processed foods, ideally, it’s best to choose only brands that have organ meats and bone listed in the ingredients. Remember, raw and home-cooked meals are nutritionally superior to any processed kibble for most cats.
Kitten chow: Minimum of around 36% protein (90% from animal sources) and 20% fat.
Adult or ‘all life stage’: Minimum of around 36% protein (90% from animal sources) and 20% fat.
It is important to store dry kibble cat food in a sealed bag or metal tin to avoid loss of nutrients. Throw out cat food offered but not eaten past one day. Dry kibble has been baked to the point the manufacture must spray vitamins and minerals on the kibble to meet guidelines for cats to maintain their health when put on this diet. There is very little moisture in it, there are no live probiotics that could survive the baking process, it no longer resembles food and it does not benefit the body like fresh food would. Nature would not deem this an appropriate source of food for a cat to maintain his optimum health. Note the difference between my description above for what a mouse provides for a cat as compared to baked crunchy kibble. Would you eat a fortified crunchy cereal every day and expect your body to thrive? Studies prove fresh foods increase health and it is my opinion that your cat should be fed kibble as a last resort.
Canned cat food:
Most canned cat foods have a high water content but can fall short of the AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for the health maintenance of cats. If your chosen canned cat food doesn’t meet those guidelines, consider using it as a supplement with a nutritionally complete food system, or switch to canned cat food that does meet the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance. If you have an AAFCO compliant canned food, it is better to feed that than any dry kibble food. However, raw fresh food is always best.
A few added notes...
Did you know that your cat can get bored from eating the same food all the time just as you would? No cat food is nutritionally perfect making variety very important. Nature provides a good example to us of how diets have variety. Most wild carnivores can change proteins without digestive upsets because they have a nutritionally supported digestive system and eat only pure fresh foods, unlike the processed foods domesticated pets are fed. In nature, cats typically eat fresh foods that include healthy fat, enzymes, amino acids, and live probiotics. I have seen barn cats easily change from eating mice to eating rabbits without any digestive upsets.
If, however, your cat has had nothing but processed foods and has not had the chance to build up the digestive tract flora or good bacteria through live probiotics and does not have the proper amino acids and enzymes in his diet, your cat may have trouble transitioning from one food to the next. A holistic veterinarian can work with you to help prepare your cat for any dietary changes before you make the switch. Help your vet to better understand what foods your cat can and cannot have by doing your homework in advance. It’s as simple as mailing a sample of your cat’s hair to a food sensitivity testing company as mentioned above, like www.5Strands.com. This approach is typically less expensive and less invasive than the standard processes that most veterinary clinics offer if at all, to determine what foods your cat may be sensitive to.
TREATS: As always, be sure to have a food sensitivity test run before selecting ANY foods for your cat. Freeze-dried minnows are an all-time favorite in my experience and through client feedback. Always try to avoid processed cat treats which often have corn and ingredients your cat should never have. Pure simple foods such as freeze-dried or raw liver are very nutritious (turkey and lamb liver are good choices). Green tripe from lamb protein has a potent smell that is attractive to cats and is very healthy. In most cases, cats do not often have food sensitivities to these types of real foods.
FOOD AND DENTAL CARE: A qualified professional can provide a professional tooth cleaning for your cat if your veterinarian recommends it. Tooth brushing can help keep plaque down as per the recommendations of a qualified professional. If you would like to help your cat learn to have his teeth brushed, there is a tasty cat treat called tuna mousse which is sold in stick-like packets. If a cat learns that tooth brushing is the only time he has access to the tasty tuna mousse that you put on the toothbrush, you might find your cat is willing to tolerate tooth brushing, and maybe even enjoy it. Please note that a majority of the pet toothpaste on the market often contains sugar and ingredients your pet should not have. Once more, this is the 1970’s thinking about feeding cats things that they should never have.
Many people forget to wash their cats’ food and water bowl’s and this can be a source of contamination. Plastic can be the worst for bacteria, absorbing odors and tastes, and any scratches in a plastic bowl can harbor even more bacteria. As an animal communicator (in addition to an animal behaviorist) it is important for you to know that your cat Does care very much about the bowls he eats out of. Cats can have preferences when it comes to color, shape, and size, and do make sure your cat’s whiskers don’t hit the sides of the bowl if at all possible. Cats have bionic-like sensory capabilities in their whiskers and use their whiskers to help guide them and record things in their brains. Your cat’s whiskers should be free to fully extend without hitting the sides of the bowl you choose. Few pet companies have designed bowls with whiskers in mind so you might use a shallow saucer or plate with success.
If you feed dry kibble, keep in mind that manufacturers recommend dry kibble be stored in a sealed container to keep it from spoiling. Also, leaving dry kibble out constantly on a free-feed basis can break down the nutrients within the kibble and degrade the food. For the sake of the nutrients within the cat food, it’s important to protect the food from air and
contamination and to be sure to store whatever type of cat food you feed in alignment with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
I hope you learned some helpful new ideas about cat food and how it is important to feed your cat as close to nature as possible for optimum health. Please feel free to contact me for questions or a behavior session with your cat!
Beverly Morgan at: email@example.com
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