by Dr. Dallas Scales

Have you ever considered what type of food is best for your cat? Should you feed dry kibble, canned, homemade or raw? With so much information and advertising out there about dog food, where is all the information about how and what is best for your cat? Let’s begin by looking at the pros and cons of each type. 

For many years, veterinarians recommended dry food (kibble). The  thought was that  a diet consisting of crunchy kibble would help keep cats teeth free of plaque, tartar and prevent periodontal disease.  However, the shape of dry kibble, no matter how it is formed, is not designed for the intended purpose of a cat’s teeth which is to shear. If you’ve ever received a love bite from your cat, you can testify to this! Cat’s teeth are designed to shear  and shred the meat and organs of their prey, rather than crunch and chew.  Their teeth are sharp and pointed and there is less surface area on a tooth when compared to a dog’s, especially the molars. This means food has less contact time with the tooth surface when they eat. 

Dry food is notoriously high in carbohydrates when compared to canned, homemade and raw food. If you have an overweight cat that eats only dry food, there is a very good possibility that this is most likely why they are carrying around those extra pounds. Cats are obligate carnivores and therefore really need no carbohydrate in their diet. Excess carbohydrates can also have a detrimental effect on the blood sugar of cats making it more difficult to regulate glucose levels within their body. 

Dry kibble is also very low in moisture. In fact, most dry kibble has less than 10%. A low-moisture diet may predispose your cat to urinary or kidney issues over time, such as urinary crystals, bladder stones and kidney failure. Dry kibble may also contribute to constipation for some cats. High-moisture diets, those with greater than 75% moisture, help prevent both conditions by encouraging more frequent urination and smaller, moist stools. This helps prevent urinary issues by flushing out the kidneys and bladder and the discomfort, straining and nausea that sometimes accompanies constipation. 

The protein sources in dry kibble may not all come from meat. The reality is that a lot of protein comes from plant protein like grains, peas and potatoes depending on the manufacturer.  Therefore, even though a dry bag of cat kibble may boast a high protein level, it’s not necessarily all from meat and it still may be high in carbs since plants contribute both protein and carbohydrate. Be sure to check the ingredients carefully and if you’re unsure, call the manufacturer. 

And finally, one must consider with dry food that most are harshly cooked and processed which may destroy nutrients. With more handling and processing, there is a higher risk of contamination from fungal mycotoxins, bacteria, and insects. 

The real benefit to dry food is the convenience to us and the fact that most cats really do enjoy eating it.  Having said all this about kibble, there are plenty of cats that live long lives eating dry food with no complications, but the reality is that they probably aren’t being fed to thrive, just survive. 

Compared to dry food, canned is very high in moisture, usually lower in carbohydrates and higher in animal protein.  While this already sounds better than dry food, there are some things to beware of though when buying it. First, avoid anything with gravy. Gravy is the first thing a cat will usually lick, and many times, they won’t even eat the morsels left in the can. Canned foods with gravy are usually higher in carbohydrate. If you feed canned food, it is best to stick with a pate or chunk-based diet and avoid those with a stock or gravy base. 

As far as flavors, avoid feeding excessive amounts of seafood. Seafood has histamines in it which may irritate the stomach and small intestines. This can lead to vomiting or diarrhea. Seafood is a favorite of many cats and if you only feed this to them for some time, it can be very difficult to transition them to another flavor. Try to introduce other protein sources like chicken, rabbit or turkey and rotate these intermittently so your cat doesn’t become addicted to just one. This also helps reduce the risk of developing a food allergy over time. It’s also worth considering that some seafood diets, depending on where they get their seafood from, may contain toxins such as mercury and PBE (fire retardant). 

With regard to homemade diets, I do like them, but with cats, my biggest concern is balancing their diet and ensuring they get enough of an essential amino acid called taurine into their diet. Sadly, I have heard of some people only feeding chicken or tuna to their cats. Unfortunately, this is not a balanced meal and muscle meat alone does not contain sufficient taurine for cats. Overcooking meat in a homemade diet can also deplete it of taurine too. Most cats get this amino acid in their diets from eating organ meat. Without enough of this essential nutrient, they are at high risk to eventually develop heart failure and blindness.

 My other concern with homemade diets is handling of the food, preparation and proper storage. While I’m not completely against a homemade diet, if you chose to do this, it is best to let your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist develop a balanced diet for your cat—especially if your cat has any underlying medical conditions. 

Balanced raw diets are by far the best and my favorite diet for cats. They are very high in animal protein and moisture and have no to very low carbohydrate in them.  Many of the companies that make these products are committed to using antibiotic and hormone-free, human-grade meats that are free range and even organically-raised. Raw diets are also very convenient for consumers. They can be purchased frozen and thawed for consumption or are packaged in a freeze-dried form and reconstituted with water so they are very convenient. No fuss, no mess, no grossness. 

This type of diet is excellent for many common conditions for cats such as food allergies, skin diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, and obesity. It truly is designed to help your cat thrive, not just survive. It’s wonderful to see your cat really enjoy and look forward to what they are eating, but it is even more satisfying to know that you are feeding them to optimize their health so they can be with you a long time. 

For additional information about feline nutrition, check out, www.catinfo.org, This website, written by Lisa Pierson, DVM, is a fantastic resource about cat food and it’s relationship to common cat conditions. It also has an excellent and free cat food comparison table. 

So there you have it. Next blog post will discuss optimum protein, fat and carbohydrate percentages in cat food and how to read a nutrition label.