What do you feed your cat? If this question causes you to shrug and think whatever cat food is on sale at the supermarket, you could be unintentionally harming your beloved feline. According to Nina Anderson and Howard Peiper, authors of “Are You Poisoning Your Pets?” Avery Publishing, many animal care professionals believe that commercial pet foods are as good for our pets as fast food is for us humans.
Why? Commercial pet foods are rendered and processed to such a degree that they are depleted of vitamins and minerals, they say. The addition of chemical additives and low-quality nutrient sources, including items rejected for human consumption, also contribute to an inferior product.
Anderson and Peiper note that the claim of “nutritionally complete and balanced” is based on minimum requirements for just adequate health. Anderson and Peiper maintain that instead you could target optimum health by changing your pet’s diet. And, in doing so, you’ll be bringing your cats back to a more natural diet—one that nature intended.
Many people opt for a homemade diet, but “homemade” does not mean table scraps. Homemade can be cooked or raw and typically includes lean ground meat mixed with cottage cheese, vegetables and cooked whole grains like brown rice.
Some experts feel that cats require a raw diet, one that closely resembles the natural diet cats would eat in the wild. Opponents worry about the potential for food poisoning. Dr. Martin Goldstein, DVM, author of “The Nature of Animal Healing,” Knopf, recalls when he began feeding a homemade diet to his cats and dogs. He would simmer organic free-range chicken, then remove the cooked chicken and cook vegetables and then a whole grain in the chicken broth. But one day he needed to leave the raw defrosting chicken on the counter while he attended an emergency. When he came back he found a picked-clean defrosted chicken carcass and some very happy dogs and cats. None became sickened and he decided to incorporate a raw diet from then on.
On the complete opposite end of the pet food spectrum, other pet owners who are vegetarians ask if they can feed their cats a vegetarian diet. Because cats are obligate (that is, “true”) carnivores, their diet must reflect that of the carnivore’s diet with a large amount of animal protein. Animal protein supplies specific amino acids that are crucial to a cat’s development and continued health such as taurine. A lack of taurine can lead to blindness and other problems. Anderson and Peiper believe that by requiring a cat to eat a vegetarian diet is “enforcing their beliefs on their pets.” And, they state, cats do not thrive on vegetarian diets. Unlike cats, dogs can synthesize their own taurine, so they are able to tolerate vegetarian diets better than cats do.
Assuming you do not have time for a homemade diet, how can you be sure that your cat is receiving adequate nutrition? Pay special attention to your kitten and cat food labels. What are you looking for on the labels? Primarily, you will be looking at the first few ingredients listed because ingredients are listed in decreasing order of weight. Specifically, you are checking the primary sources of protein. Protein is the most important part of a cat’s diet. Nutrients that she gets from protein need to come from a good-quality source in order to ensure that she is getting nutrients from a digestible source.
Innova EVO grain-free and is marketed as the next best choice to raw diets. Innova was developed to more closely match a raw diet—that is, one that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Its turkey and chicken come from the flesh, cartilage, fat, bone and connective tissue. The whole foods added, such as potatoes, supply other nutrients that wild cats would find while foraging. Its crude analysis guaranteed minimums are:
Omega-3 fatty acids .40%
Another premium food, Wellness, is marketed as containing no meat by-products, no rendered fats, no white rice, no ethoxyquin, no corn, no pre-processed grains, no corn gluten meal, no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, among others. Wellness has a similar label: deboned chicken, chicken meal, ground whole barley, ground whole oats, ground brown rice, rice bran, chicken liver, flax seed, eggs, tomato pomace, alfalfa leaf, peas, canola oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), cranberries, blueberries, taurine, garlic, Norwegian kelp, whole apples, zucchini, sweet potatoes, yucca schidigera, chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine…followed by probiotics and vitamins.
The Wellness guaranteed analysis:
Protein not less than 30%
Fat not less than 8%
Fat not more than 10%
Fiber not more than 7.5%
Taurine not less than .20%
Omega-6 not less than 3.59%
Omega-3 not less than .88%
Though slightly differing in formulas, both of these super premium foods supply superior nutrition. Since all cats are not the same, their formulas are geared toward specific needs—one with healthy grains and complex carbohydrates, the other with higher protein and less grains and carbohydrates.
In comparison, here is a label of another dry cat food manufacturer that markets its products as premium: chicken by-product meal, corn meal, ground whole grain sorghum, dried egg product, chicken, natural chicken flavor, dried beet pulp (sugar removed), chicken fat (with mixed tocopherols), sodium bisulfate, potassium chloride, DL-methionine, fish oil, brewer’s dried yeast…
In comparing the “super” premium labels to the premium label, one immediately sees that the whole source of protein is superior in both super premium brands. Chicken appears further down on the other premium food and its main source of protein is from chicken by-product meal.
These cat foods are stamped with the AAFCO nutrient profile guarantee; however, clearly all foods are not created equal. The canned food label for the commercial product is a lesser product because of the “wheat gluten, meat by-products and corn starch” use in particular.
One cannot determine from marketing phrases such as “natural” or “made with real chicken” whether the product really is unless reading the label. For example, a “premium” brand cat food says “made with real chicken,” but the chicken ingredient doesn’t appear until the fourth item after wheat gluten, cornmeal and chicken by-products.
“Natural” usually means made without chemical additives such as artificial colors or preservatives.
“Natural” is often confused with “organic.” Organic means that some or all of the ingredients were grown or raised without chemical pesticides, fertilizers or hormones.
“Holistic” is usually in reference to whole-body health. Holistic proponents believe that disease is the absence of health and that a poor diet contributes to a weakened immune system. Thus, a healthy diet contributes to a strong immune system and reduces risk for disease.
Armed with your knowledge of types of wholesome cat food diets and how to read ingredient labels, you’ll be better able to bolster your cat’s immune system through exceptional nutrition.