Posts Tagged ‘cat food’

Imagine the future of food.

People shop for groceries at large outlets, filled with aisles of canned and boxed and bagged meals. Each meal shows a nutritional analysis, and most are certified “nutritionally complete” by a government agency.  Long gone are the frozen and fresh food sections. Oh, they exist in a few pricey boutiques, but for the most part, our meals come from bags, boxes, and cans – dumped into a bowl. Some of the meals are more tasty than others, most are pretty much the same. The labels show pretty pictures of images from the past – turkey dinners with the trimmings; chicken, vegetable, and rice casseroles; even leg of lamb with mint jelly. The contents of the packages bear some vague resemblance to these dinners of the past.  Among the vast assortment of nutritionally-balanced meals are various “treats” of processed cookies, cakes, chips, and crackers.

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Friends of mine compared dry food to doughnuts, candy, or chips recently.  They noted that a little bit given to a healthy cat, probably won’t hurt them.  I actually agree – but if your cat is anemic, vomiting and/or has diarrhea/constipation, is borderline diabetic (or full-blown diabetic), obese, or has a tendancy to develop urinary tract stones – I would argue (once again) they should be given absolutely NO DRY FOOD!

I DO understand about some special cases, but in my opinion there’s a difference between understanding your choices and the risks and benefits of those choices and choosing something for which you feel the benefits outweigh the risks… and making a choice ignoring the evidence, justifying your decision with “my vet said” or “well, all my cats in the past” or “I know cats that”… like the people that *know* canned/raw is better for diabetics but don’t want to bother with the “effort” required to open a can twice a day. 

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Catchy title, huh?

Some of my friends have deemed me the “Queen of Poop and Puke”. While not a particularly flattering title, the sentiment is actually rather nice. I’ve worked with six cats with gastro-intestinal issues now – adopted and fostered. Generally, vets lump these cats into the category of “IBD” or Inflammatory Bowel Disease – meaning their intestines are inflamed, reasons unknown.

The thing is the reason generally *isn’t* unknown – at least not to me. The reason is an inappropriate diet – most often DRY KIBBLE. Of the six cats I’ve worked with – not a SINGLE ONE needed to remain on a prescription diet or medications. They were all “cured” by a diet change and nutritional supplements.


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Let’s talk about canned food.  First, if it isn’t already abundantly clear – I think dry cat food is a very bad idea.  I don’t think anyone thinks the semi-moist foods (those little pieces that aren’t hard as kibble, but chewy, like Tender Vittles) are a good idea.  (If you do – well, they’re not for the same reasons dry/kibble is bad and more.)

So, where does that leave us?  Options remaining are a freeze-dried raw food,  a frozen raw food, or a canned food.  (Or, I suppose there’s the options of a freshly made raw food or whole prey or homemade cooked diet – I won’t go there for the time being.)  I realize there are MANY caregivers out there that are reluctant to feed raw for many reasons, and I do not fault them for that!  I think commercial canned food is a perfectly acceptable option!  While the majority of my cats’ diet is a frozen raw food, I do feed canned food to them on occasion and I feed my foster cats canned food.  Why don’t I feed my own cats’ canned food more often?  Well, a few reasons including cost (yes, homemade raw is less expensive), palability (if some of my cats get canned, they start clamouring for it and refusing to eat their raw), and a couple cats that had IBD so long before their diet was changed that even most canned foods cause them stomach upset…. among other reasons.

However, I’ve seen some  people argue against canned food – and I’d like to discuss some of the “reasons” why.

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 I’m pleased I’ve had more and more caregivers talk to me about putting their cats on a raw diet.  For those new to raw, I often recommend a pre-ground meat/bone product such as Hare Today, supplemented with a multi-vitamin/nutrient for cats such as Platinum Performance, as described in Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins in her book “Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer Stronger Life“.

One problem – it seems some of these caregivers view this Hare Today/Platinum Performance combination to be some magical “cure” for what ails their cat (diabetes, IBD or chronic diarrhea, obesity, “allergies”, etc.)  In a way, it is a “cure” in that the cat becomes healthier and may no longer show any symptoms of their prior ailment (no more need for insulin, no more anemia, no more diarrhea, etc.)  However, in my opinion, it’s not so much that the particular food is a cure in that you’ve eliminated the *problem* (dry food). 

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I’ve had no fewer than THREE conversations with individuals in the past week regarding their cats and urinary tract disorders (in these cases, urinary tract inflammation and/or stones). In each case, the individual was feeding a dry food.

The most effective means of avoiding urinary tract disorders is to feed an all-wet diet. One coworker resisted all of my pushing until his cat landed up blocked and hospitalized, and one surgery and $2,500 later he switched to canned.

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Among the miscellaneous junk mail in my mailbox this week, was a bright yellow envelope from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In huge bold print across the envelope it stated:


New findings from America’s most respected veterinary school reveal the ONE food you should feed your cat for optimal health!

They were soliciting subscribers for their newsletter, Cat Watch, but out of curiosity I looked inside to see what this magical food may be. Among other tips inside it stated:

What’s the one food you should feed your cat for optimal health? Wet food. Feeding your cat wet food, and not letting her eat from a dry food dispenser, could be the single greatest thing you do for her health and longevity. (New research shows wet food helps prevent diabetes, heart disease — even feline arthritis!)

Now, this isn’t news to me. I’ve written in the past about the dangers of dry food. I discovered most of the issues with dry food back in 2004, when I was struggling with cats that were obese, diabetic, and had gastro-intestinal disorders (such as IBD). Honestly, I would have liked to hear this cat food alert from Cornell back in 2004 – or earlier. However, I suppose it is “better late than never” and for once I hope a LOT of people were given this piece of “junk mail”.

Now, I wish Cornell would update their brochure on “Feeding Your Cat” to reflect these “new findings”.

Scanned copy of the Cornell mailing:
CatWatch mailing

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Why I Lie

Well, I avoid lying – but I often evade the truth.

People often ask how veterinarians respond when I tell them I feed my cats a homemade raw diet. Honestly, I don’t generally tell veterinarians that I feed a homemade raw diet. The vets at the general practice clinic where I take my cats know. I don’t really now how they all feel about it. I’m fortunate there was a holistic vet that practiced acupuncture that used to work in this clinic, and I know she fed raw. I generally ask for two particular vets at the clinic. They know, and they seem fine with it. They know I credit my cats’ health (and “recovery” from IBD and diabetes) to the diet. One of these two prefers that I’m feeding homemade than a commercial raw diet, he thinks it’s safer. There’s a third I’ve seen a few times and she’s voiced the typical concerns about bacteria like salmonella, warning me to wash their bowls each meal. I wonder if she warns caregivers feeding commercial dry food about salmonella? We know with certainty that dry food often contains pathogens like salmonella, do vets express the same concerns to their clients about the bags lining their own shelves? I tell caregivers, regardless of what they feed their pets, to handle food and bowls with care and wash their hands well after handling food, bowls, and scooping litter boxes.

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The topic of L-Carnitine came up on an online forum for diabetic caregivers recently. L-Carnitine is grouped among the amino acids (like Taurine), and is also known as Vitamin Bt. I’d known of the link of carnitine to weight loss and the recommendation to supplement carnitine for cats suffering hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease). I also knew that carnitine levels were higher in raw meat than in cooked meat – but I didn’t realize how MUCH higher.

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Pet food labels differ from human food labels in several ways – one of which is instead of the “nutrition facts” on human food labels, pet food labels have a “guaranteed analysis”.  Why?  Why do human food labels have “as fed” or average nutrient contents on their labels, whereas pet food labels have minimums and maximums?  Well, primarily to give the pet food manufacturer more leeway to vary the contents based on cost.  Many manufacturers use a “least cost” method to creating their pet food – meaning they’ll adjust the level of ingredients in order to achieve the lowest cost for the food (maximizing profit).

Now, assuming we’re all okay with that (or not), another difference is the absolute *lack* of some information on the pet food label – such as carbohydrate content.  We have moisture, protein, fat, fiber… no carbohydrates.  Now, we could try to figure out the carbohydrates from what we have – I mean if we know how much moisture, protein, fat, etc. there is in the food – the rest must be carbohydrates right?  Well, yes and no.  Let’s look at an example:

9-Lives ground chicken & tuna dinner

The label’s guaranteed analysis says: minimum 9% protein, minimum 4.5% fat, maximum 78% moisture, maximum 3.5% ash, maximum 1% fiber

Subtracting the minimums and maximums from 100%, we get 100% – 9% – 4.5% – 78% – 3.5% – 1% =  4% carbohydrates.  If we then want to convert to dry matter (so we could compare this canned food to a dry food, for example), it’s 16% carbs dry matter: 4% / (100%-78%).

However, if we contact the company for as fed information (and I have), we get a very different story. I don’t have the exact numbers with me, but roughly, they were on a dry matter, “as fed” basis… so averages, not minimums or maximums:

Protein (average) – 58%
Fat (average) – 35%
Carbohydrates (average) – 6%

Note: for example, the protein dry matter average of 58% is greater than the *minimum* listed on the can of 9% / (1-78%) = 36% dry matter. That’s all that’s necessary – that they properly label the MINIMUM. Therefore, by definition, on average the can will contain more protein and more fat than what is listed.

Janet  has collected “as fed” information for a large number of commercial cat foods, and she converts the numbers to a percent of calories… by converting the %’s to grams, and then grams to calories (using the assumptions she notes).
Protein = 39% calories (average)
Fat = 57% calories (average)
Carbs = 4% calories (average)

VERY different picture – not only because we’re using averages, not minimums/maximums, but also because fat has 8.5 calories/gram, much higher than protein and carbs (3.5 calories/gram).

You can’t really compare “the label math” to “as fed” information or Janet’s charts… it’s comparing apples and oranges.

Getting back to my example – 9-Lives ground chicken & tuna, something I personally do feed fosters, etc.


I see *no* grains listed, no vegetables, no fruit.. just a bit of guar gum for fiber. I think this is a perfectly acceptable low-carbohydrate canned food.

This is why I rely much more on the list of ingredients than I do either Janet’s charts *or* the guranteed analysis. Unless the very faulty labeling requirements change, it’s very hard to use the analysis for anything,

So, I read ingredients. If there’s no grains, veggies, fruit… it’s most likely low in carbohydrates. If it’s filled with grains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, etc. it’s probably not. Companies are required to list them in order by weight. It’s not a perfect system, but if you use it in conjunction with what we’ve got, it’s the best you can do.

Now, why do we even care about carbohydrates?  Cats have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates.  Well, because high-carbohydrate diets have been linked to diabetes, struvite urinary stone formation, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and other ailments

That’s why I am petitioning that caring pet owners contact the FDA with their comments in anticipation of an upcoming “public meeting” on pet food labeling.  Specifically, I’m requesting that maximum carbohydrate content be added to pet food labels.  It takes only a few minutes of your time to send in your comments, I’ve provided mine so you can just copy and paste, if you like.  I hope, for all our pets’ sake, you’ll take the time to do so.

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