If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m passionate about species-appropriate nutrition for cats. Cats are obligate carnivores, and they need meat not only to survive, but to thrive. You can find many of the articles I’ve written about this topic in the Feline Nutrition section right here on this site.
Have you ever opened a can of food or a bag of kibble and wondered about the contents? Why does it smell so bad? Why are the ingredient lists so complicated and long? What’s even in it? Cats may be mysterious, but their food shouldn’t be. That’s where Smalls comes in. Smalls is human-grade, fresh food, for cats.
Smalls was founded on the simple discovery that cat food was never really made for cats’ unique nutritional needs. Kibble was invented out of a necessity to meet ration requirements for meat and canning materials such as tin during Word War II. What’s more, kibble was primarily invented for dogs. Cats seem to have been an afterthought, and as we know now, cats are not small dogs.
Cats are obligate carnivores. They need protein-packed meals that are filled with natural moisture and no starches. Kibble became the status quo because it’s convenient, shelf-stable, and cheap. Unfortunately, a diet of low-quality kibble means cats often don’t consume nearly enough water, leaving them in a constant state of dehydration, which can result in chronic renal problems, and in many cases, shortened lifespans. A regular diet of fresh food is one of the best ways to prevent chronic health problems.
The issues with kibble, and even canned cat food, go beyond how it’s made. The pet food industry standard is “feed-grade”, which means ingredients are not regulated by the FDA and therefore, not considered to be safe for human consumption. Your furry friends are like family, so why would they not eat like it?
After cooking the ingredients, Smalls freezes each pack for shipping. Smalls is making sure that you don’t have to compromise your cat’s health and convenience.
Curious about trying Smalls, but have a picky kitty by your side? No problem. Smalls, a company of cat people, understands that our feline friends can have particular palettes, and have developed a two-week sampler so your cat can try their different textures and recipes and decide what’s their favorite. From there, you can customize your subscription to be delivered monthly.
I’ve been ordering cat litter and other supplies from Chewy.com for years. I don’t particularly like shopping and running errands, and I love having things delivered. In fact, between Chewy.com, Amazon, and Prime Now (for groceries,) I save a lot of time that I would otherwise spend going to multiple stores, not to mention sitting in traffic.Continue Reading
At Global Pet Expo earlier this year, I had one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve ever had about pet food with a representative from Merrick Pet Care. I have long considered Merrick one of the better offerings in the pet food arena, and after my conversation with Mark, I like the brand even more, for a variety of reasons:Continue Reading
The Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF), an advocacy group established by Susan Thixton, the publisher and founder of The Truth About Pet Food, recently published the results of an unprecedented pet food testing project conducted by U.S. labs late last year. The results reveal serious concerns for pets and for the human families that purchase and handle the pet food.Continue Reading
I spend a lot of time looking at cat food labels so I can stay on top of all the latest information on feline nutrition, so it was a refreshing change to spend some time looking at cat food labels purely for fun. Cat Food for Thought: Pet Food Label Art, Wit & Wisdom is a charming little book featuring cat food art from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.Continue Reading
Carrageenan is a common food additive both in pet food and human food. It is extracted from seaweed through the use of a chemical solvent. It is used as a thickener and binder in canned pet food, as well as in many human foods such as ice cream, yogurt, and soy milk. You would think something that comes from seaweed is natural and healthy, right? Think again. Unless your cat absolutely refuses to eat the brands that do not contain carrageenan, I would advice making the switch to food without carrageenan.
The 2 Types of Carrageenan
There are two kinds of carrageenan – degraded and undegraded. According to the Cornucopia Institute, the International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes degraded carrageenan as a “possible human carcinogen,” based on research showing that it leads to higher rates of colon cancer in lab animals. Carrageenan processors claim that food-grade carrageenan falls entirely in the undegraded category; however, one study showed that not a single sample of food-grade carrageenan could confidently claim to be entirely free of the potential cancer-causing material.
Food-grade or “undegraded” carrageenan is on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) list of items that are “Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)” and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines it as an acceptable emulsifier, stablizer, and thickener.
Degraded carrageenan, which occurs at high temperatures and acidity, has been associated with ulcerations in the gastro-intestinal tract and gastro-intestinal cancer in animals.
Should You Err on the Side of Caution?
All of this has me increasingly concerned about feeding food that contains carrageenan. Even though foods without this ingredient may be a little harder to find, I think it’s well worth reading your labels and finding alternatives if your cat’s current food contains it.
Take the time to scan your cat’s food for this ingredient. Unless your cat absolutely refuses to eat the brands that do not contain carrageenan, I would make the switch.
I don’t usually accept food and treats for review here on The Conscious Cat, unless it’s something I’ve already thoroughly researched and/or tried. I won’t use Allegra and Ruby as product testers for diets whose claims I can’t verify. For those reasons, I was hesitant to try Freshpet Select, but after taking a look at their information, I agreed to a test.
Freshpet Select is a line of freshly prepared meals. According to the company, each recipe only includes select ingredients like high protein meats and eggs, and vegetables. The cat food contains no grains, although it does contain some pea fiber. As Freshpet Select states on their website, the recipe is much like a meal you would prepare for your family with simple ingredients you are familiar with and can pronounce.Continue Reading
September is National Preparedness Month. We recently experienced an earthquake and a hurricane here in Virginia, all within one week, so emergency preparedness has definitely been on my mind. It also made me realize how woefully unprepared I really am. Irene was one thing: at least with a storm, you get a few days advance warning and can think about what you need to do while you’re not in panic mode. With the earthquake, I truly didn’t know how to react, nor would I have known what to do to keep Allegra and Ruby safe. Now granted, earthquakes are not a common occurrence in my part of the world (the last time Virginia had an earthquake was something like 100 years ago!), but it still provided incentive for me to focus on making a plan and being more prepared in the future.Continue Reading
Image Credit: Yaya Photos, ShutterstockDiabetes in humans has reached epidemic proportions. Statistics from the Centers of Disease Control show that in 2007, nearly 24 million Americans had diabetes. Statistics are no less alarming when it comes to cats. Just as for humans, there has been a tremendous increase in diabetes in cats over the past decade. Diabetes affects as many as 1 in 50 cats, with overweight cats being especially prone to the disease.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes results from inadequate production of insulin by the pancreas or an inadequate response of the cells to insulin. Without insulin, the body can’t utilize glucose. This results in elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). In diabetic cats, excess glucose is eliminated by the kidneys, producing frequent urination. This in turn leads to increased water consumption to compensate for the increased urination.
There are three types of diabetes in cats:
Type I: Cats are insulin dependent and need to receive daily insulin injections because the beta cells of their pancreases are not making enough insulin.
Type II: The pancreas may make enough insulin but the body cannot utilize it properly. This is the most common type of feline diabetes. Some of these cats will require insulin as well, but others may get by on dietary changes and oral drugs to control blood glucose.
Type III: This is known as transient diabetes. These are type II cats who present as diabetics and require insulin initially, but over time, their system re-regulates so they can go off insulin.
While diabetes can affect any cat, it mostly presents in older, or overweight cats. The four classic signs noticed by most cat owners are an increased, almost ravenous appetite, weight loss, increased urination, and increased water consumption.
Diabetes is diagnosed with a thorough physical exam and laboratory testing of blood and urine. If the cat’s glucose is elevated, a second blood test, called a fructosamine, will provide more information. This test measures the average level of glucose control over the past few weeks.
Diabetes is treated with a combination of diet, insulin, or oral glucose medications.
What causes diabetes in cats?
While diabetes can affect any cat, it occurs more frequently in middle-aged and older, obese cats. It is more common in male cats. The exact cause of the disease in cats is not known, but obesity and poor diet seem to be major factors. Other causes may include chronic pancreatitis, other hormonal diseases such as hyperthyroidism, and certain medications such as steroids.
The link between diet and diabetes
More and more evidence shows that diabetes in the cat is a preventable disease, and is most likely caused by the high carbohydrate content of most commercial pet foods, especially dry foods. Since so many cats eat primarily dry food, these poor-quality, highly processed, carbohydrate rich diets that are the equivalent of sugared breakfast cereals are increasingly thought to be the major culprit for the epidemic increase in diabetes in cats.
A diet high in meat-based protein and free of grains and carbohydrates, either raw or canned, is not only the ideal diet for cats to prevent diabetes in the first place, but should also be the diet of choice for a diabetic cat. Veterinarians vary in their approach when it comes to diets for diabetic cats. Many traditional veterinarians still use high-fiber diets for these cats, but more and more holistic vets as well as feline vets have turned away from this approach. Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins makes a convincing case for how a grain-free diet can help diabetic cats and reduce, or even eliminate, the need for insulin. Her website Your Diabetic Cat provides a wealth of information on the connection between diet and diabetes.
There is no cure for diabetes. However, with proper dietary management, some cats may no longer need insulin. If diabetes has resulted from consumption of a poor quality diet and/or obesity, it is likely to improve or even completely resolve once the cat’s weight is under control.
We’ve all heard some of these: Dogs come when they’re called called; cats take a message and get back to you. Dogs believe they are human; cats believe they are God. If a dog jumps up into your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer. Cats act and respond differently than dogs. You’ll never see a cat wag his tail. Dogs’ reflexes are quick, cats’ reflexes are incredibly fast. Dogs prefer action, cats prefer watching first. Maybe the cat is America’s favorite pet because cats are, well – different!
The differences between cats and dogs become particularly evident when it comes to their nutritional requirements. Even though both species are considered carnivores, cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need meat in order to thrive. In fact, cats cannot survive without at least some meat in their diets. Dogs are considered omnivores – they can survive on plant material alone; however, they, too, do best on a diet made up primarily of meat.
Why do cats need meat to thrive and survive? Dietary protein supplies amino acids and is needed for the manufacture of antibodies, enzymes, hormones, and tissues. It provides energy and is essential for growth and development. Protein derived from meat and poultry contains ample amounts of these essential amino acids, whereas protein in vegetables and grains does not provide these. More importantly, unlike dogs, cats lack the enzyme required to process vegetable-based proteins metabolically.
Another significant difference in nutritional requirements is cats’ need for taurine, which is important for proper functioning of the heart. Meat is a natural source of taurine; it is not available in plant tissues. Dogs can make their own taurine, but cats cannot. Commercial cat foods did not contain this important amino acid until 1987, when veterinarian Paul Pion identified the link between a lack of taurine in cats’ diets and feline dilated cardiomyopathy, a fatal heart disease that has been largely eliminated in the pet cat population since then.
So what should you feed your carnivore? The ideal diet that most closely mimics what cats would eat in the wild is a properly supplemented raw diet. There are several reputable resources available online to learn more about raw feeding, two of the best are Dr. Lisa Pierson’s Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition and the Feline Nutrition Education Society. Raw feeding does not have to be complicated or a lot of work; fully supplemented commercial frozen raw diets are readily available and all a cat owner has to do is thaw and feed.
However, not every cat owner will want to feed raw, and there are other, healthy alternatives available. A home-cooked diet can be a good option for cat owners who like the idea of controlling the ingredients in their cat’s food and don’t mind the extra work these diets require. Proper supplementation is key; a great resource for preparing nutritionally complete homemade diets is PetDiets.com. The next best thing to feeding raw or homemade is feeding a quality grain-free, canned diet. Look for foods that list meat as the first ingredient. Be aware that with the recent popularity of grain-free foods, some manufacturers are now taking grains out of their foods, but are adding other carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and peas, and as a result, some of these diets are still too high in carbohydrates.
Cats should not eat dry food. Cats need moisture in their diet, and feeding only dry food is considered to be one of the most common causes of bladder and kidney problems. Even though cats who eat a predominantly dry diet will drink more water, they still only get half the amount of water a cat eating canned food will get, even after adding all sources of moisture together. If you must feed dry food, at the very least, consider feeding one of the grain-free varieties, and supplement with canned or raw food.
Regardless of what type of diet you choose to feed, never feed cats free-choice. Free-choice feeding, which means leaving food available for the cat all day long, is the primary reason why feline obesity has become an epidemic. Cats by their very nature are hunters: they kill, and then eat their prey. They do not graze throughout the day. Feeding two meals a day, appropriate in size for your cat, will go a long way toward keeping kitty fit and trim. What is a normal sized meal? Consider that in the wild, a mouse would constitute a typical meal for a cat. Manufacturer recommendations may not be your best guide when it comes to portion size – they’re usually much higher than what your cat really needs. When in doubt, consult with your cat’s veterinarian.
I’ve been feeding my cats grain-free canned food for a number of years with wonderful results. I recently transitioned Allegra, who just turned one, to raw food, and I now alternate raw and grain-free canned food, with raw food taking up the bulk of her diet (about 75%). I’m also a firm believer in variety and rotate brands and flavors. Cats can be finicky, and by exposing them to a variety of choices, they will not only be healthier (no one food can be complete and balanced, no matter what the manufacturers tell you), they also won’t get stuck on eating only one thing and refusing everything else you offer.