If you could buy six-packs of mice for your cats, you would be providing the most natural and arguably the healthiest diet possible. That’s a long, long way from endlessly topping up the food bowl with multicoloured, crunchy kibble. And somewhere between fantasy and reality there’s a practical, healthy way to feed cats. Feeding felines is a hotly debated topic right now in the world of veterinary medicine. Some advocate a diet of 100 per cent canned or homecooked food while others feel good quality dry kibble is totally acceptable, not to mention vastly more practical for pet owners. Like a growing number of veterinarians, I like the mousy, natural feel of the canned approach and have seen this type of diet help several cats with health problems such as diabetes and inflammatory bowel problems. As a nutrition lecturer at school once said, “kibble was invented for the convenience of people, not because our cats and dogs prefer it”.
One of the big benefits of tinned food is that it can be easily formulated with the high protein, low carbohydrate balance reflected in cats’ natural diets. This combination appears to decrease the risk of diabetes, aids in weight loss and helps control chronic bowel conditions in some patients. Just by virtue of its higher moisture content, wet food helps prevent potentially life-threatening urinary tract disease in male cats. But what about their teeth? Doesn’t dry food prevent dental disease? Nope. No way. Regular dry kibble, even the best brand, doesn’t do a thing to keep cats’ teeth clean. Only a food specifically designed to clean teeth, such as Hill’s T/D will help keep your kitty’s teeth clean and it usually does a good job of it. Unfortunately, T/D contains 30 per cent carbohydrates, which is far above the 10 per cent maximum recommended by the Mousy Foods camp.
So here’s where I’ve drawn the lines when recommending diets for my patients:
· If you can brush your cat’s teeth (for help, click here How to brush kitty’s teeth) and don’t mind the smell, mess or additional expense, feed 100 per cent canned and be sure it is high protein (>30 per cent) and low carb (Binky’s Canadian list , Binky’s canned food list. Several veterinary nutritionists offer consulting services for preparing homecooked diets if you prefer that approach: Balance It and Pet Diets . There is a fee for these services.
· If brushing is not an option, but you don’t mind the smell, mess or additional expense of wet food, give half the diet as TD (or equivalent) and the rest mousy menu as above.
· For those cats and owners who want strictly kibble-based foods, at least try to decrease the carbohydrate content in the dry diet. As far as I know, Hill’s M/D, Purina DM and Innova EVO are the only dry foods meeting the criteria that are available in our area. The first two are prescription products sold only by veterinarians . Feed half the low carb kibble and half a dental diet such as T/D. Keep in mind, that the dental foods will be less effective than if they were fed exclusively.
Anyone who wants to delve into the calorie-nutrient-formulae-laden details of the cat food debate can find plenty of bedtime reading at Dr. Pierson’s site and Indoor cat initiative . Both of these sites have excellent information about cat care in general, along with their own takes on appropriate diets and methods of transitioning to new foods.
Keep in mind that the major pet food companies have produced a lot of good research to develop healthy foods (dry and canned) to meet the various needs of cats in different stages of life and health. If dry food is staying on the menu for your cat, be sure it’s good quality (not the cheapest stuff on the shelf) and provide plenty of fresh water throughout the house.
For the record, your average mouse is around 50 per cent protein, 40 per cent fat and 10 per cent carbohydrates. At around 35 calories each (about the same as 10 to 15 pieces of the average kibble), seven or eight mice would provide for the daily energy needs and endless amusement of a fairly active 10-pound indoor cat. Just laying in a sunbeam, dreaming of mousies…
Dr. Fiona Gilchrist,
Hillcrest Animal Hospital