Guest post by Jodi Ziskin
Cats are like snowflakes – no two are exactly alike. And no two households are exactly alike, either. These are important factors I have to take into consideration when helping cat guardians discover the best diet for their cats – and for their lifestyle.
There is a dizzying amount of information out there. There is also a great deal of misinformation. Some of the tips and protocols shared by well-meaning advocates of one type of diet or another may not be based on facts, but rather on interpretation. Think about how many times you have read articles on the “one, perfect diet for humans.” Biological facts about our bodies are often twisted to meet the ideals of the author.
Cats are obligate carnivores
Of course, all cats are obligate carnivores. All require muscle and organ meat and fat. All require the right balance of minerals and vitamins. All deserve human grade, high quality food. However, not all cats thrive on the same diet.
Raw food diet
While I am a big proponent of raw food, as many cats truly thrive on it (homemade or frozen raw by several outstanding raw pet food companies), it is not the only way to provide an excellent, bio-appropriate diet. There are several studies that show that raw and cooked meat are both highly digestible for cats.
Some cats with poor health improve greatly on a raw food diet. For others, especially those with a compromised immune system, raw food may not be appropriate. It is important to consult with your holistic or integrative vet when considering raw for a cat with cancer, irritable bowel disease or other autoimmune diseases.
Homemade cooked diet
For many of my clients, homemade cooked food has been instrumental in helping get, or keep, their kitties healthy. As a bonus, most cats transition easily to homemade food and truly thrive on a real food diet.
Freeze-dried raw diet
Freeze-dried raw diets can be a godsend for cat guardians wishing to offer real food in a convenient way that fits into their lifestyle. I have seen many cats that have rejected fresh/frozen raw or homemade cooked food absolutely love freeze-dried. While it doesn’t offer the same dental health benefits as fresh/frozen raw food, it still provides outstanding nutrition.
Many cats do very well on a canned food diet. It is usually my goal to graduate my clients from canned to a real food diet (raw or cooked), however I’ve had clients whose cats truly thrive on canned (human grade, grain-free, no ingredients from China, BPA-free cans). After transitioning a client’s two male cats that had been suffering from urinary tract issues to canned food, their issues subsided. The cats had been on a dry food diet and absolutely rejected the canned prescription diet their vet originally recommended. Thankfully, the vet was on board with turning to a more holistic diet. We tried raw food, but both cats rejected it.
There is a misconception that only one type of food must make up the entire diet. How would you feel if you ate the same thing, day after day? Consider a rotation diet for your cats. This can mean providing both raw and cooked foods or one of these as well as a canned option. There are many advantages of doing this. Rotating food provides a well-rounded diet. If a pet food company changes a recipe or eliminates a line of food your cat has been enjoying, you will not have to endure the drama often involved in introducing a new food. In times of emergencies such as severe weather events, fresh food may simply not be an option.
Just say no to dry food
Cats should never eat dry food. Nearly all dry foods are high in carbohydrates, something cats have a minimal need for. Even grain-free dry foods are loaded with starch (that’s what holds the kibble together) and contain too many plant-based ingredients (carbohydrates). “Cats’ bodies aren’t equipped to digest carbohydrates efficiently,” says holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker, “they lack the salivary, intestinal and pancreatic enzyme activity necessary to break down and digest carbs.”
Dry food is also directly tied to chronic dehydration. By nature, cats get nearly all of their liquid needs from their food. Kibble contains approximately 12% moisture. Compare that to real food, canned food and natural prey, which contain around 75 – 80% moisture (including nutrient-rich blood and plasma). Dehydration is one of the primary enemies of a cat’s body. A dry food diet is often a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome/disease, constipation, kidney disease, liver disease, joint problems, including arthritis, skin issues, including dry or flaky skin, hot spots, and itchy skin and more.
Finding the right diet for Cali: a team approach
Cali, an 8-year-old calico/tuxedo/tabby mix, was suffering from seizures. She was put on multiple medications that wreaked havoc on her digestive system. Every time she ate, she would get terrible diarrhea or vomit. Because my client has to travel a lot for business, she was filled with guilt and at a loss about how to help her beloved cat. After some trial and error, homemade food, along with a probiotic, digestive enzymes and a supplement for liver support, did the trick. No more diarrhea, no more vomiting, an increase in both appetite and energy. Success!
Any time your cat has a medical condition, it is best to work with a holistic or integrative medicine veterinarian to find the best possible diet for your cat’s individual condition. In Cali’s case, the veterinary neurologist was part of the decision making process and was pleased with the results.
Your lifestyle matters, too
When choosing a diet plan for your cat, it is important to be honest with yourself. If your life is super hectic and you don’t even have time to cook for yourself or your family, making cat food from scratch is probably not the best option. Making food for your cats should be joyful, not stressful.
There are many options when it comes to providing excellent nutrition for your cat. The goal is to find a diet that provides food your cat enjoys and thrives on, and one that is sustainable for you.
Jodi Ziskin is a Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant who also holds a Master of Science degree in Holistic Nutrition with a concentration in companion animal care. Her mission is to help cats and dogs live healthier and happier. Through her company, Healthy Pet Coach, she educates pet parents in their home environment, via Skype/Facetime or by telephone on how to make the best holistic diet and lifestyle choices for their animal companions. Jodi has been featured in articles appearing in Animal Wellness Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine and Urban Animal (Australia). She is also a Cat Health Writer for examiner.com and a Nutrition Consultant for Lap Of Love Veterinary Hospice.
Photo by Kevin N. Murphy, Flickr Creative Commons