Feline Nutrition

Cat Nutrition

The first step in determining what brand of food to feed your cat is to ignore what the bag says. Don't pay attention to things like "hairball control", "indoor formula", or "grain free" because this is just a ploy by the manufacturer to get you to buy their food. Many are starting to realize the bag is just a colorful decoration and meant only to get our attention so the ingredient list is the way we should determine the quality of the food, right? Unfortunately, even that is not of much use.

The first thing you need to understand is that the ingredient list is not listed in order of what the food is predominantly made of, it is listed in the order of the heaviest ingredient first and then in weight descending order. So, you find a food that sounds great and you look at the ingredients and see it's listed as: Chicken, chicken meal, peas, potatoes, etc. so your first thought is that the food is mostly chicken, but it's not. Chicken just happens to be the heaviest ingredient. Dr. Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN explains:

"According to AAFCO, ingredients must be listed in descending order of weight (including water weight). Therefore, ingredients that appear at the top of an ingredient list - typically the main proteins, carbohydrates, and fat sources - are present in higher amounts by weight in the food than items at the bottom, such as vitamin and mineral supplements, flavoring agents, and preservative for dry foods.

Because water is included in the weight of the ingredients, ingredients with high water content (like meats and vegetables) are going to be listed higher than similar amounts of dry ingredients even though they may contribute fewer nutrients to the overall diet.

So, just because chicken or lamb or duck is the first ingredient doesn't mean the food has more of that meat than one that has chicken meal or lamb meal a little farther down on the list. Likewise, canned diets will nearly always include water or broth as their first ingredient as they are 70-80% water by definition. It is very difficult to estimate how much of an ingredient is actually in a diet other than to assume that the first few ingredients are in the highest amounts."

That last sentence is concerning, "It is very difficult to estimate how much of an ingredient is actually in a diet..." so how are we supposed to know whether a food that has protein sources like chicken, lamb or duck with potatoes and green peas is actually made of a lot of those ingredients? The answer is quite simple, you have to do a little research and base it on the manufacturer quality standards. Click here to learn what that exactly means.

Quality Control

The quality of the pet food, regardless of what the ingredients say, is to find out the quality control standards of where the food is manufactured and where they obtain their ingredients for food production. The latest strategy pet food manufacturers have developed to make you think their food is of the highest quality is to label it as "human grade". While it is an appealing term, it is important to know this fact that a pet food labeled as "human grade" has no legal definition and is used strictly for marketing purposes. Here's the truth regarding the term "human grade":

"Foods, typically meats, are labeled either as "edible" or "inedible, not for human consumption." Once a food leaves the human food chain, even if it is of outstanding quality, it has to be labeled as "inedible, not for human consumption". Therefore, meats used in pet food must be labeled as "inedible," regardless of the source or quality of the meat. The only way to make a pet food with ingredients deemed "edible" is to never let the meat leave the human food chain facility and transport it using human food trucks. Therefore, advertising a product as containing "human grade ingredients" is untrue if it is not manufactured in a human food facility. However, just because a pet food isn't marketed as being "human grade" does not mean that the ingredients are poor quality."
Deciphering Fact from Fiction Number 6, December 2013

Do not be alarmed that the meat obtained to make your cat's food may not be edible for human consumption, all that term means is that the meat used in most pet food has been transported from a human food chain to a pet food manufacturer. It does not mean the meat has gone bad. In order to manufacturer human grade food, it can only be processed in approved human grade facilities. So, when a pet food manufacturer labels its bag of food as "human grade", don't assume that they are telling the "truth." In order to find out whether the brand of food is of high quality you need to follow these research steps:

  • Make sure the bag/can has no spelling or grammatical errors
  • There should be an easy way to contact the manufacturer, an address, phone number, and website should be easily found somewhere on the bag
  • Call the customer service department and ask them where they obtain their meat sources, you want to make sure they obtain their sources from human food chains
  • Make sure the food manufacturer own their own facilities
  • Ask the customer service department about how they maintain quality control and cleaning standards.  If they do not have information readily available or become defensive on the phone you want to stay away from their brand
  • Find out whether the manufacturer employs their own qualified animal nutritionist (someone with a PhD in animal nutrition) or at least consults with qualified nutritionists

The propaganda behind the terms used by pet food manufacturers can be very misleading so in order to really understand what is actually in your cat's food click here.

Meal By-Products

What is a by-product?
Many pet parents think the term "by-product" means the food contains ingredients such as hooves, feces, roadkill, and internal organs. Of the four things listed only one is actually a byproduct- internal organs. The other three are not a by-product and are not ingredients that are permitted to be put in cat food. But that's not what pet food manufacturers want you to think. First, you need to know what a by-product actually is - A by-product is a side product from the making of another product and are not by definition poor quality. For example, any dairy product is a by-product derived from milk of a mammal. So, the true definition of the word by-product is greatly misleading by pet food manufacturers that fight against their competition by claiming their food doesn't contain any "by-products."

A by-product when related to cat food is simply part of the slaughtered animal that is not muscle meat only referring to the anatomic parts, not the nutritional quality of the parts. When we think back to human food chains we know that pet food manufacturers purchase the "inedible" meat, which does not mean the food is bad, but actually represents the parts of the animal most consumers do not eat like the heart, stomach, or lungs. Dr. Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MD, DACVN explains:

"The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AFFCO) defines a meat by-product as the 'non-rendered clean parts, other than muscle meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone...and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves...'

While many Americans may not be used to eating these animals parts themselves, it is important to realize that in many regions and cultures, these parts are regularly consumed and may even be considered delicacies. Additionally, many of the items included in 'by-product' may be higher in essential nutrients - amino acids, minerals, and vitamins - as well as more palatable to pets than the skeletal meat."

We have discovered that many pet food companies are misleading us by listing ingredients like lung, liver, or kidney and avoiding the term by-product altogether and marketing their food as better than compared to another company which may list the same ingredients as "chicken by-product". Saying the food contains by-products or listing each by-product individually and avoiding the by-product term does not mean one food is better than the other. In fact, it could be very possible that the food avoiding the term by-product is not as good a quality compared to the company that does use the term in the ingredient list. In short, quality of a cat food cannot be assessed by the language used to describe the ingredients.

Grain-Free Diet

Grain-free Diet Alternative
Grain-free diets are the newest diet trend being reported as superior compared to diets that contain corn, wheat, and rice. Part of the trend relates to the ever growing concerns of pet food allergies and consumer fear of the glutens. As a response, pet food manufacturers have developed allergy sensitive diets or grain-free diets but the marketing has taken on a whole level and make claims that grains are bad for cats, which is not the case.

First, we need to understand what "gluten" actually means. Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from grains. It's a necessary protein source the body needs and a cat's body does not treat grains any differently from other carbohydrate sources. The body reacts to food by the nutrients the food contains, not by the source. Cats are not allergic to grains, if they were then every single cat would react to their food if the food contained grains. Grain allergies are yet another trick of the pet food industry to get you to buy their food.

"A diet of meat and potatoes for a dog or seafood and peas for a cat is no more or less physiologic than a diet of meat or seafood and rice. However, many people now assume that the potato or pea diet is superior only because it lacks grains. Much of this information is due to marketing by manufacturers who are looking for a way to make their diets stand out in a crowd marketplace.

Digestion of grains is no different from digestion of other carbohydrate sources that have similar nutrient profiles. Many consumers have been led to believe that dogs and cats lack the enzymes or capacity needed to digest grains as compared to potatoes, peas, apples and other sources of carbohydrates used in grain-free diets. The truth is that the starch (the main carbohydrate) in appropriately prepared grains is highly digestible (usually 95% or greater) for both cats and dogs."
- Drs. Lisa M. Freeman & Cailin R. Heinze

Pet food manufacturers are aware that veterinarian nutritionists have researched the way a cat's digestive tract handles grains and the argument they provide in defense of their grain-free diet is to suggest that grains are "cheap fillers" in a diet. Grains like corn, wheat and rice actually contain an excellent source of protein but we find these grain-free diets are substituting corn, wheat and rice with carbohydrates sources like potato and tapioca, which are actually only a single carbohydrate source, therefore they are not nutrient packed compared to corn or wheat. The USDA comparison data of the nutrients found in popular carbohydrate substitutes for corn and wheat revealed this data:

  • Corn Meal - Protein 9.1g, Carbs 85.7g Total Dietary Fiber 8.1g Sugars 0.7g
  • Oats - Protein 14.7g Carbs 75.9g Total Dietary Fiber 11.3g Sugars 1.1g
  • Potato w/skin - Protein 10.3g Carbs 83.9g Total Dietary Fiber 9.0g Sugars 4.2g
  • Tapioca - Protein 0.2g Carbs 99.7g Total Dietary Fiber 1.0g Sugars 3.8g

So, by comparison, this data proves that diets lacking corn and wheat actually provide less nutritional value. We see again that the ingredient list does not provide a good picture about the overall quality and nutrition of the food.

Raw Food Diet

The raw food topic is one that we immediately react to and strongly advise that pet parents NEVER feed their cat a raw food diet. Raw diets pose a huge health risk to you and your cat, you for having to handle uncooked meat and your cat for ingesting it.

Another ploy of pet food manufacturers is to suggest that raw diets are "natural" and what a cat eats in the wild. A cat in the wild shows its "natural" setting to be quite dangerous and the average lifespan of these animals is about 6-7 years old. They are exposed to environmental dangers such as parasites, destroyed territory, other predators, and a diet that is not nutritionally balanced. Why is it that we are now seeing indoor family pet cats living easily to the age of 12-14 years old before exhibiting signs of old age? The answer is very simple - we are keeping them indoors, providing parasite control and medical care, and feeding cat food that is designed to provide nutritional care a cat's body needs.

Pet food manufacturers are enticing consumers because they promote the food as "natural" and there is an ever growing demand that people are looking for products and food that don't contain preservatives, chemicals, etc. so pet food companies are simply appealing to what the consumer thinks they want. Raw food diets are not natural - the feed animal is slaughtered, sold by a human food chain company to a pet food manufacturer, then frozen or freeze dried, packaged and shipped to a pet food store, then sold to the consumer. That process takes at least several days before the slaughtered animal's meat actually makes it the pet food store so what is "natural" about that? In the wild, a cat would kill its prey then immediately eat it, starting with the entrails and leaving the majority of the muscle meat for scavengers. The ability for a wild cat to immediately eat its kill avoids the biggest problem with raw meat, which is contamination.

Here are the top ten myths of raw food diets:

  1. Raw food diets have proven benefits. There are no scientific veterinary studies to support such a claim, and there never will be because of the dangers raw food poses to consumers and their pets.
  2. This is what animals eat in the wild. We explained that animals in the wild do not have a long life span and immediately eat their kill.  They don't wait for their kill to be dead a few days before they eat it.
  3. Dogs and cats can't get infections from Salmonella or other bacteria in raw meat diets. Pets can absolutely become very sick from food contamination, and so can their owners.  Salmonella, clostridium, and campylobacter are the most common bacterial infections found in pets that eat raw meat diets.
  4. Raw food diet ingredients are human grade. Click here to recall what the term "human grade" means when applied to pet food.  The meat we buy to feed ourselves can potentially contain harmful bacteria, that's why we cook it before we eat it.  Would you eat a package of raw chicken?
  5. Freezing raw diets kills bacteria. Bacteria can easily survive freezing and/or freeze drying.  Warming frozen or freeze dried meat actually provides a better environment for bacteria to grow and multiply.
  6. As long as bones are raw, they're safe. Raw or cooked bones still pose a threat to your cat as they can fracture the teeth or cause blockages or tears within the esophagus and intestinal tract.
  7. Cooking destroys enzymes needed for digestion.
    The enzymes required for digestion are already present in the intestinal tract.  Food does not give cats (or people!) the ability to digest food.
  8. Raw diets do not contain grains, because grains are added to pet foods only as fillers. Corn, oats, and other grains provide an excellent source of protein and nutrients.  Click here to recall the nutritional value of grains.
  9. Most commercial pet foods contain harmful ingredients such as by-products. We discussed what a "by-product" is, please refer to our "Meal & By-Product" page.
  10. If bones or chicken necks are added to raw meat diets, they're nutritionally balanced. Raw meat diets are extremely deficient in calcium and other nutrients and adding bones to the food does not provide any nutritional balance and can severely injure the animal consuming it.

Evaluating Food

What brand of food should I feed my cat?We did our research how to evaluate cat food brands by working with veterinary nutritionists that wouldn't tell us what brand of food was better than compared to another. It's hard to trust someone's opinion on a topic if they appear to be promoting their own brand so we looked to learn how to evaluate food in order to decide whether it is of good quality and nutritional value and then in turn help you how to research a good diet for your cat. The truth is there are many excellent brands of food available for your cat, and with the knowledge you have gained by reading through all the information under our Nutrition section you should be able to find a brand of food that is good for your cat. For our own personal veterinary use of prescription diets we choose the Royal Canin brand, not because they offer us a deal or benefit from selling their food, but because we needed to provide our patients with specific Rx diets. We applied the same approach we learned to evaluate a pet food manufacturer in order to determine whether Royal Canin is good quality. We in no way promote Royal Canin outside the use of Rx diets so we encourage pet parents to go with any brand they like, as long as they have followed research guidelines and found the brand to fit the proper requirements of a good cat food.

Remember these guidelines and make sure your cat's food brand manufacturer fits these requirements:

  • Make sure the bag/can has no spelling or grammatical errors
  • There should be an easy way to contact the manufacturer, an address, phone number, and website should be easily found somewhere on the bag
  • Call the customer service department and ask them where they obtain their meat sources, you want to make sure they obtain their sources from human food chains
  • Make sure the food manufacturer own their own facilities
  • Ask the customer service department about how they maintain quality control and cleaning standards.  If they do not have information readily available or become defensive on the phone you want to stay away from their brand
  • Find out whether the manufacturer employs their own qualified animal nutritionist (someone with a PhD in animal nutrition) or at least consults with qualified nutritionists

Prescription Diet

Why we use Royal Canin Veterinary Diets
We want to be very clear that we only utilize Royal Canin Veterinary Diets because they follow strict quality control standards and have full-time qualified animal nutritionists that help research the nutritional value of their veterinary diets. Royal Canin also provides a subdivision that provides regular diets sold in many popular pet stores. We do not feel that you have to feed your cat Royal Canin, but we invite you to research them if you are considering a switch to their brand.

Drs. Richter & Arcuri believe the Royal Canin Veterinary Diets provide excellent benefits to cats that are afflicted with certain diseases or conditions. We evaluated Royal Canin following the guidelines we learned from the best animal nutritionists in the country and feel comfortable using Royal Canin when managing your cat's illness.

Best Cat Food For Urinary and Kidney Care

Many brands of cat foods tout their ability to promote a healthy urinary. But, as is the case across the board, no one medicine cures all diseases, and no specific food can address all problems associated with a cat's urinary tract.

Similar to human beings, the feline urinary tract consists of kidneys, ureters, the bladder, and the urethra. Food that might help the bladder can actually harm the kidneys, and this is the case with the majority of supermarket and pet store foods that market to urinary health. Those foods are primarily made to help cats who have had a specific bladder stone that develops in urine with a high pH. The problem is that not all stones are created equally. By lowering the pH of the urine, a different stone -- “calcium oxalate” -- can develop, causing the same problem the struvite stones can cause. Non-prescription urinary diets have no effect on the pH of the urine and are a waste of money. The kidneys, while part of the urinary tract, must be treated differently from the bladder as far as diet is concerned. There are no non-prescription cat foods available designed to prevent or treat feline kidney disease.

Cats with kidney disease should not be put on any special diet before you consult with your veterinarian. When it comes to the urinary tract of cats, it's important to diagnose problems before choosing the proper food.

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