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Conscious Cat Sunday: healthy cats, healthy human

cats-on-cat-tree

My cats’ health and happiness is more important to me than just about anything else in my life. I spend a lot of time researching cat health topics, not just for Allegra and Ruby, but also to be able to bring you the latest information on how to keep your feline family members happy and healthy.

As a result of my strong interest in cat health, I also do a lot of research into human health and nutrition. The two go hand in hand for me. I’ve always eaten a reasonably healthy diet. I believe in moderation. While I eat mostly vegetarian, I do eat some fish and seafood, and I’ll even ocassionally indulge myself with some red meat.

My biggest challenge is my wicked sweet tooth. I grew up in Germany, a country with the lovely tradition of the daily afternoon “Kaffee and Kuchen” (coffee and cake) break. It’s a time when Germans take a mid-afternoon break to indulge in a little sweet treat and some conversation with friends or co-workers. When I worked at IBM Germany in the early 80’s, Kaffee and Kuchen break in the company cafeteria was a tradition that was never messed with, no matter how tight a project’s deadlines might have been.Continue Reading

How to Wean Your Cat Off Dry Food

Allegra eating canned Wellness grain-free food

One of the best things you can do for your cat’s health is to stop feeding dry food. Dry food is the equivalent of junk food for cats. Many of the degnerative diseases we’re seeing in cats, including diabetes, urinary tract disease, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, may be directly linked to these foods.

Cats need meat and moisture

Cats are obligate carnivores.  This means they need meat to survive.  They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.  They need few to no carbohydrates in their diet.

Cats also need moisture in their diets. They do not have a strong thirst drive when compared to other animals, and this can lead to chronic low-level dehydration when the cat’s main diet is a dry one. Even if your cat drinks water, it won’t be enough if she only eats dry food. A cat’s natural diet (prey) contains about 75% water. Dry food only contains 7-10%. Canned food contains somewhere around 75% (depending on the brand). Even though a cat on only dry food will drink more water than a cat who is eating canned food, when you add up the water they drink and the water that occurs in their diet, water intake still falls short for the cat on dry food. Considering how common urinary tract and kidney problems are in cats, this in itself should make a convincing argument against dry food.

Meal-feeding, not free-choice feeding

Many pet owners feed dry food because it can be left out during the day without spoiling while the cat is left at home alone.  This method of free choice feeding is one of the leading contributors to obesity in cats.  Cats, by nature, are hunters, and it doesn’t make sense that they should need access to food 24 hours a day.  Meal feeding twice a day mimicks their natural hunting behavior much closer, and by feeding controlled portion sizes twice  a day rather than leaving food out all day long, calorie intake, and weight, can be controlled much better.

Dry food does not clean teeth

The myth that dry food helps clean cats’ teeth is one of the most persistent beliefs when it comes to pet food, and it is simply not true. Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough, if at all, for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in.  What little they do chew shatters into small pieces.

Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage the chewing longer, but many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole.  Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque. And seriously, if it was true that dry kibble cleans teeth, wouldn’t human dentists recommend that we eat dry cereal to keep our teeth clean?

How to transition from dry to grain-free canned or raw food

Some cats will transition easily. The first time you feed them grain-free canned or raw food, they’ll start eating it right away, and I’m guessing what goes through their minds at that point is something along the lines of “finally, the humans have figured out what I’m supposed to be eating!”

Others can present more of a challenge. This is in no small part due to what pet food manufacturers do to make these dry food so enticing to cats. As part of the production process, the baked or extruded kibble is sprayed with animal digest (and yes, it’s pretty much as disgusting as it sounds: digest is material which results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolisis of clean and undecomposed animal tissue.) Cats love the taste of these digests; for some cats, it’s like kitty crack and actually causes them to be addicted. Some cats also love the texture of dry food and may resist the drastic change in texture from dry to grain-free canned or raw food.

Go slow, and be patient

The key is to transition these hard-core dry food addicts is to go slow, and be patient. And you may need a few tricks up your sleeve. For some cats, it may take several months. I’ve heard of one cat whose human would put down a small amount of canned food next to his dry food every day for several weeks. He refused to touch it, so she wound up throwing it out each time. Then one day, several weeks into the transition, he gobbled up the raw food and never touched his dry food again!

Stop free choice feeding

If your cat is eating only dry food, and you leave food out at all times, stop this practice immediately. This step is critical. Feed twice a day, at set meal times, and take up what the cat doesn’t eat within about half an hour. She gets no other food until the next meal time. Your cat will not try anything new if you keep his bowl filled with the old, familiar food 24/7.

Be prepared that your cat will make you feel like you’re letting him starve. This phase of the process can be much harder on the human than it is on the cat. Persistence is key. A little hunger at meal times can be a powerful motivator to get a cat to accept the new food.

Gradually increase the amount of canned or raw food

If your cat is already getting a small amount of canned food or raw food as a special treat, she will probably be much more receptive to being transitioned to all canned food or even raw food. All you have to do is gradually increase the amount of canned or raw food, and decrease the amount of dry food, until you’re only feeding canned or raw.

Add some incentives to tempt finicky eaters

Some hard core dry food addicts can be convinced to try canned or raw food by sprinkling freeze dried chicken or salmon on top of the food. A little bit of tuna or clam juice drizzled over the canned or raw food can also help. Other “bribes” can include cooked meat, cut in small pieces, a spoonful of meat-based baby food (make sure it doesn’t contain onion powder), or, as a last resort, a small amount of crushed kibble.

Never let your cat go without food for more than 24 hours

Be patient and persistent during the transition period, but never let your cat go without eating for more than 24 hours. Allowing a cat to go without food, especially one who is overweight, can result in a life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis.

Minimize intestinal upset

Most people recommend to transition to a new food gradually, by reducing the amount of the old food and increasing the amount of the new food over a number of days to avoid upset stomach and soft stools. I’ve found that when transitioning to grain-free food, this is usually not an issue.

I do recommend adding a good probiotic every day. I actually recommend this not just during the transition period, but as a lifelong immune system booster. Probiotics come in unflavored powders and can be mixed in with the food. I use Dr. Goodpet’s Feline Digestive Enzymes, a mix of enzymes and probiotics.

Cat parents who have weaned their cats off of dry food are usually amazed at the difference. Overweight cats who have been unable to lose weight are starting to lose fat and build muscle. Haircoats look sleeker and shinier. Stools decrease in volume and smell. And most importantly, cats are healthier.

Related reading:

The truth about dry cat food

Feeding raw food: separating myth from fact

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Product review: New Wellness grain-free canned food

Allegra and Ruby Wellness canned cat food

I don’t usually accept food and treats for review here on The Conscious Cat. I like what I feed Allegra and Ruby, and I won’t use them as product testers for diets whose claims I can’t verify. However, I have been feeding Wellness® grain-free canned food for many years, and it meets my criteria for what constitutes a species-appropriate diet for cats (a feline diet must be completely grain-free, and it must be canned or raw. I don’t recommend ANY dry food for cats).

When a representative for Wellness® contacted me to see whether Allegra and Ruby would like to taste test their new Succulent Cuts with Savory Sauces for Cats line of grain-free canned diets, I accepted their offer (and there was much celebrating on Allegra and Ruby’s part). 

The new Wellness® Cubed, Sliced and Minced canned diets are 100% grain-free and contain no added artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. For each recipe, Wellness® has paired succulent cuts of wholesome, all natural protein sources like chicken, turkey, salmon and tuna with savory sauces that are designed to please the palate of even the most finicky feline. The new diets come in 12 different sliced, cubed and minced varieties

Finicky is not a word I’d associate with either of my two. Ruby would probably eat just about anything I put in front of her. Allegra is a little more discerning and sometimes needs a little encouragement whenever I present a new brand or flavor.

We tested the Minced Chicken Dinner and the Sliced Turkey Entree. Allegra got the chicken, Ruby the turkey. But why don’t I let the girls tell you what they thought.

Allegra: Finally! I told you about those cans that had been sitting on our kitchen counter last week, and even though Ruby and I tried our best, we just couldn’t figure out how to open them ourselves, and we had to wait for Mom to do it. When she popped the lids (She makes it look so easy – why can’t we figure it out?), the smell coming at me was incredible! I couldn’t wait to taste what smelled so good!

Ruby: I smell food! Woohoo! It’s dinner time!

Allegra: When Mom put the dish in front of me, I wasn’t quite sure at first. It looked really different from our usual raw food, and it looked different from any of the canned food Mom occasionally gives us, too. But boy, did it smell good! So I took a lick – and that was all I needed. I proceeded to eat the entire can in one sitting. Yummy!

Ruby: Food, food, food! Put it down already, Mom! I’m totally starving! I haven’t eaten in hours!!! – Oh. Hmm. This is different from what I had for breakfast. But it’s food! It smells great! I’m going to eat it all as fast as I can!

Well – I told you not to expect much of a review from Ruby.

Allegra eating canned Wellness grain-free food

Allegra takes her product testing duties very seriously!

We were also sent cans of the Minced Tuna Dinner and Sliced Salmon Entree varieties. I only very rarely give the girls fish protein based food, so we’re saving them as a special treat. 

If I were feeding canned food on a regular basis, I would definitely consider adding these new foods to my rotation. I think it’s important to feed a variety of flavors and textures to avoid having your cat stuck on only one diet. The different texture may be an issue for some finicky eaters who are used to the standard canned food texture, for those cats, Wellness®’s regular grain-free canned varieties may be a better choice.

If your cat has tried these new products, let us know how she liked them in a comment!

For more information about Wellness and their wide range of products, please visit their website.

You may also enjoy reading:

The truth about dry cat food

Cats are not small dogs, especially when it comes to nutrition

Feline nutrition: who bears the responsibility?

Giveaway: Voucher for Nature’s Logic cat food

Nature's LogicNature's Logic feline products

When the folks at Nature’s Logic approached me about doing a giveaway for you, I was intrigued, but since I wasn’t familiar with this company or their diets, I wanted to do some research first.

Let me first say that I have no personal experience with these diets. I like what I feed Allegra and Ruby, and I won’t use them as product testers for testing diets or treats whose claims I can’t verify. However, I can take a close look at diets I haven’t tried and evaluate them based on my criteria for what constitutes a species-appropriate diet for cats. 

My first criteria is always that a feline diet must be completely grain-free, and it must be canned or raw. I don’t recommend ANY dry food for cats. Nature’s Logic’s canned and raw products meet that requirement. The raw formulas are a little lower in protein than I like to see, I prefer to see a 95% protein/5% vegetables and other ingredients ratio, but at 90-92% protein content, I still consider them acceptable. 

Nature’s Logic believes that the safest and most natural source of nutrients for cats is food. According to the company, they have created the first and only, full-line of commercial pet food in the world with no chemically-synthesized vitamins, minerals, or other ingredients. Nature’s Logic states that all the nutrients in their formulas come from whole foods or 100% natural ingredients.

Nature’s Logic foods are said to be rich in high-quality protein, derived from beef, chicken, duck, lamb, fish, venison, and rabbit.

Nature’s Logic also makes Ponderosa Pine Cat Litter, which, according to the company, is 100% natural and made entirely from ponderosa pine. It does not contain silica particles found in typical clay litters. This litter is said to be virtually dust-free and safe for cats, kittens, and other small mammals. I have no personal experience with this litter, either – just like food, I won’t use my cats as product testers for litter. We like what we use, and we’re not taking any chances by switching.

Nature’s Logic is offering a voucher valued at $25 good for the following to one lucky reader:

  • one 3-lb bag Raw Frozen Diet or nine 5.5-oz cans Feline Diet
  • plus, one 12-lb bag Ponderosa Pine Cat Litter

How to Enter

Leave a comment below letting me know:

  1. Why you’d like to win this giveaway.
  2. Your choice of which of the two food types (raw or canned) you’d like to win.
  3. Your choice of flavors – visit the Nature’s Logic website to see available flavors.
  4. Tweet about this giveaway or share it on Facebook and post the link in a separate comment for an extra chance to enter.

This giveaway will end Tuesday, May 31.

For more information about Nature’s Logic and their products, please visit their website.

You may also enjoy reading:

The truth about dry cat food

Feeding raw: a veterinarian’s view

Book Review: Natural Nutrition for Cats by Kymythy R. Schultze

Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purrfect Health by Kymythy R. Schultze, C.N., C.N.C, is a comprehensive guide to species appropriate nutrition for cats.  Schultze, a Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Nutritional Consultant, shares her extensive knowledge of proper nutrition and points out why most commercial pet foods may not be the best way to feed our cats.

The book covers the basics of cats’ nutritional needs in great detail.  Cats are obligate carnivores and need protein to thrive, but they also need fat, minerals, vitamins and water.  What they don’t need is carbohydrates, and Schultze explains why grains in a feline diet can cause many of the degnerative diseases we see in cats, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and even cancer.   She looks at how commercial pet foods are formulated and manufactured – information that is not for the faint of heart.  It may be quite surprising to many what actually goes into these foods. 

Schultze is a raw-food proponent; like many others, she believes that cooking, and especially the high heat used to produce commercial pet foods, destroys vital nutrients.  She cites the Pottenger’s Cats study as one example of how cats on a raw diet tend to thrive when compared to cats who are fed processed foods.  She provides step-by-step instructions on how to transition cats to a raw diet, and offers a variety of recipes for those inclined to make their own food.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in improving their cats’ health through nutrition.  Even if you don’t think raw feeding is for you, the book still provides valuable insight into what makes our feline friends tick when it comes to nutrition. 

For a thought-provoking extract from the book, read Feline Nutrition – Who Bears the Responsibilty

You may also enjoy reading Feeding Raw Food  – Separating Myth from Fact, and The Truth About Dry Cat Food.

Diabetes in Cats: Treatment and Prevention

Diabetes 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.

Symptoms

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.

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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.

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How to Select Healthy Cat Treats

cat-treats

You will find a lot of information on feline nutrition on this site, but one aspect I haven’t covered in detail is treats. While treats should always be used judiciously, especially for cats that have a tendency to gain weight or are already overweight, realistically, most cat guardians want to occasionally spoil their feline charges with a special treat.  Treats also have their place when it comes to training (and yes, cats can be trained).  Since most of us will give our cats treats, it’s important to choose healthy options.Continue Reading

Eating gluten free

I recently read an excellent book on the topic of eating gluten free:

glutenfreeIn Eating Gluten Free, Shreve Stockton, author of “The Daily Coyote” and a professional photographer, presents a unique blend of information and recipes, including helpful cooking and preparation hints.   Stockton was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in 2003 and has devoted herself to sharing all that she has learned about living well, and eating well, with this prevalent condition.

 

From the book:

“The wheat-free/gluten-free diet is one of the fastest growing nutritional trends in this country. …  Gluten intolerance causes an auto-immune reaction in the body, which means that the body basically attacks itself.  … The resulting damage can be physical or neurological, and symptoms can range from gastrointestinal distress to depression, anxiety and fatigue.  …  In its most severe form, celiac disease, damage shows up in the small intestine.  When even the smallest amount of gluten is ingested, it triggers the body to attack itself, a process that inflames the lining of the small intestine, which makes it impossible to absorb nutrients.  … Gluten intolerance is frequently misdiagnosed and symptoms are often ascribed to numerous other conditions.”

“Many people who are not gluten intolerant are nevertheless discovering the health benefits of a wheat-free/gluten free diet.  …  Grains containing gluten are difficult to digest, they compromise the body’s ability to maintain maximum health, and they can even have an adverse effect on brain chemistry.”

While I’m not gluten intolerant, I found the book inspirational in general as far as healthy eating and making changes to one’s eating habits is concerned.  I’m intrigued with the health benefits a diet lower in or free of wheat and other harmful grains and plan to investigate further.  The book may even get me to start cooking, since the author makes getting started sound fairly manageable.  As a confirmed non-cook (my stove currently serves as an extra desk ….), that’s saying something! 

Many of the recipes sound absolutely delicious, from the hot cakes made with sorghum flour and applesauce to the buckwheat banana bread to the creamy cauliflower soup to the hippie bars (part cookie, part cake).  A wide variety of smoothie recipes is already getting me out of my protein powder/banana smoothie rut.

Humans are not the only species who can have problems with digesting grains.  Our pets also do better on grain-free diets.  See my previous posts “Amber is on a diet”  and “How to choose healthy foods for your pet” for more information about healthy and grain-free diets for your pets.

How to choose healthy foods for your pet

The overwhelming array of choices when it comes to pet food makes it difficult to determine which foods are best for your pet.  In addition, many pet owners stopped trusting commercial pet foods after the massive pet food recall of 2007.  Pet owners began preparing home-made diets for their pets or jumped on the raw food bandwagon.  How do you know what food is best for your pet?

I am not a proponent of raw food diets.  While I acknowledge that there are numerous benefits to feeding raw, unprocessed foods, I believe that the risks for animals outweigh the benefits.  Unless you can be one hundred percent sure that the meat you’re feeding your pet is pathogen and parasite free, you should not be feeding raw meat.  If you want to feed a homemade diet, feed your pet a cooked diet and make sure it is properly balanced.  Petdiets.com provides recipes created by veterinary nutritionists for healthy pets as well as pets with special medical or dietary needs.

Most pet owners still prefer to feed a commercial diet, but they want to feed something that’s “natural” and free of preservatives.  But how do you know whether the food that’s advertised as “natural” really is?  Often, foods are labeled “natural”, but once you check the label, you find that the food really isn’t so natural after all.  A look at the ingredients might show that the conventional brand’s “natural” food is still of pretty poor quality.  Maybe the primary ingredient was changed from poultry by-products to chicken, but the food still contains corn gluten meal, soy meal, and wheat gluten meal, ingredients that are high on the list of culprits when it comes to allergies or digestive problems.  This is why it’s important to not fall for the marketing hype of a “natural” label but read the ingredients.

Another common misconception is that veterinary diets are high quality, healthy foods because they come from a vet’s office.  Unfortunately, when you look at the ingredient list on the veterinary brands, you often find the same things you find in the cheap grocery store brands. Most veterinarians receive very little training in nutrition.  Veterinary schools typically offer only a few weeks of training in nutrition, and the instruction is often sponsored or provided by the same companies that make these veterinary diets. 

Many pet owners are unsure of what makes a food natural, healthy or holistic.  The best way to determine this is to disregard tags such as “all-natural”, “holistic”, “veterinarian approved”, “chosen by top breeders”.  Ignore the cute photos of happy dogs and cute kittens and wholesome looking ingredients on the labels, and look at the ingredient listing instead.  Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order, i.e., the ingredient with the highest amount is listed first, the one with the smallest amount last.
Quality Ingredients to Look For:

  • Animal proteins – identified by name (e.g., chicken, beef, lamb). 
  • Organic ingredients – meats, vegetables, grains and fruits – these are certified free of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Check for the USDA Organic seal on the package.
  • Whole unrefined grains like barley, brown rice, or ground oatmeal for dogs.  For cats, it is best to look for grain-free foods.  Most cats can’t digest grains, and grain-free foods also help alleviate or eliminate hairballs.
  • Human-Grade ingredients – human grade meats tend to be better quality.
  • Whole vegetables and fruits – the less processed the better (for example, whole potatoes are much better than potato starch). These are important sources of natural plant-based nutrients (phyto-nutrients) and antioxidants.

I recommend the following brands:

Wellness, Innova (especially the grain-free EVO line), Merrick, California Natural

These brands and more are available at Only Natural Pet Store and other online retailers.