When you look into the eyes of your beloved cat, do you see the soul of a voracious, meat-eating hunter? You probably see a cute, fuzzy, lovable attention-glutton! But rest assured, your feline is a carnivore, wired to hunt and eat animals. Cats require meat in order to be healthy, and yet so many available cat foods emphasize grains and veggies. No wonder there's a cat (and pet) obesity problem in our country, and that so many of our furry friends suffer digestive ailments. These cat health tips will help you learn about nutrition and find the best food for your kitty.
- Meat. You might be inclined to believe that canned wet food causes cats to develop weight problems, but the reality is that a good wet food helps to maintain a cat's optimal weight far better than the average dry food. The reason? Carbohydrates. We know they can cause weight problems in omnivorous humans; why should we be surprised that they could cause weight and digestive issues for a true carnivore? Feed your cat a diet primarily composed of meat. If meat (either land or marine meat) is not the first ingredient on your cat's food, then find a different cat food.
Meat is a cat's source of protein, and cats require more protein than dogs. However, too much protein can ultimately cause weight and kidney problems.
- Moisture. It is becoming increasingly evident that wet cat food diets can help cats maintain proper hydration. When cats become dehydrated, their kidneys are put under increased stress. The sad truth is that too many cats are chronically dehydrated because they don't drink enough water on their own and dry diets don't allow them to ingest enough moisture through eating. In the wild, a cat's diet is far more similar in moisture content to wet food than to dry food. Pay attention to your cat's drinking habits - does she drink often? Seldom? If your cat is reluctant to drink water on its own (as some are), then you should feed her mainly wet food.
- Taurine. A nutrient that only comes from a meat diet, taurine is an amino acid that helps cats maintain healthy heart and eye functions, among others. Cats can't make taurine.
- Arginine. Here's another amino acid that cats can't make, but must ingest in order to manage protein waste and maintain health.
- Vitamin A. As a testament to their carnivorous nature, cats can't synthesize vitamin A, so they must get it from meat.
- Fatty acids. Cats do require fat in order to be healthy. They must ingest two key fatty acids - linoleic and arachidonic - in their food. Arachidonic acid can only be found in animal fats (poultry being a much better source than the common beef tallow found in many cheaper cat foods).
- How do I know what's in the food? Like human food we buy at the grocery store, cat food has a list of ingredients and a dietary breakdown of components like crude protein, crude fat, fiber, ash, taurine and others. Look for cat food whose top ingredient is good-quality meat (not byproduct); it will be a source of good protein, fatty acids, vitamin A and taurine that your cat needs.
- What is ash, anyway? Ash in cat food is not what you might fear imagine (the scrapings from a grill or the contents of an ashtray). It's actually the amount of mineral deposit that remains after the cat processes the food. Excessive ash content in cat food can potentially cause urinary problems.
- So are minerals bad? No. Many trace minerals are essential to the health of your cat, though in excess they can pose a danger. Magnesium anc calcium, for example, is important for maintaining bone health. Iron, copper, potassium and zinc are all instrumental to a cat's health in trace amounts. But many cat foods contain too much of these minerals. Hence, the high ash content that should be avoided.
- Cheap diets end up more costly. Many loving pet owners want what's best for their cat, but also feel that they can't afford to buy high-end foods. In reality, your cat will try to eat as much of the cheap, low nutrient food as is necessary to gain the vital nutrients. Not only that, but as nutrition is such a cornerstone of feline health, choosing good cat food can save you costly veterinary care down the road.
- Home-cooked cat diet. Many cat owners want to provide their pet with the freshest, most complete and balanced diet possible. While their intentions are excellent, nevertheless many pet owners consequently are feeding their cats improper diets, because it is not difficult to cook those vitamins away or, in an effort to provide nutrients, provide excessive vitamin levels (which can also be harmful).
- Don't put your cat on a vegetarian diet. If your cat is overweight or seems unhealthy, the answer is NOT a vegetarian diet. Cats are true carnivores; unlike many animals (including humans), cats can only get certain essential vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids by eating meat.
- Best bet: variety of good foods. Though theoretically a food might exist that single-handedly satisfies all of a cat's nutritional needs, it's best to hedge your bets a little bit by providing different foods to your cat, all of which should be nutritional (no kitty junk food). Perhaps the most important reason for doing this, however, is that cats are notoriously fickle, prone to sudden changes in taste. They often get sick of a food and decide not to eat it at all, sometimes even to the point of unhealthy eating lapses (which can quickly cause fatty liver disease in cats).
A diet composed of both wet and dry food is perfectly acceptable as long as you don't deny your cat wet food that he desires, and make sure that the dry food you leave out for him lists good meat or seafood as the primary ingredient. Meat ensures that your cat gets the vitamin A and taurine he needs. See to it that your cat gets arginine with his cat food, and you'll be doing him a big favor.
These tips about cat health will help you pick the best cat food. Knowing about cat nutrition is the first step in finding healthy cat food. Talk to your vet. Of course, quantity and dietary requirements are best determined by your trusted veterinarian. The doctor is your best source of information when it comes to choosing the best cat food for your furry companion. Remember that cats are carnivores and that cheap food is cheap for a reason. A few extra dollars spent on high-quality cat food are dollars well-spent!