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 little or no carbohydrates in their diet. Feeding foods high in carbohydrates leads to any number of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Are we feeding our cats wrong?
In the wild, cats receive almost 80% of their overall hydration from prey like birds and rodents, not from drinking water. At home, high moisture foods like raw or canned are the closest thing to providing a naturally balanced diet because they contain lots of moisture, are high in protein, and lower in carbohydrates
Cats evolved getting most of their fluid intake from the foods they ate. They don't drink a lot of water and don't have the thirst drive that dogs or humans have. As creatures that evolved in the desert, they naturally concentrate their urine. A cat getting only dry foods will drink water, but will have a hard time making up for the lack of moisture in the food, leading to even more concentrated urine. This can promote feline lower urinary tract disease.
A cat's natural diet, usually rodents, rabbits, insects and birds, is usually less than 2% carbohydrate. Dry cat food is generally 25-50% carbohydrate. Not only does this excess carbohydrate promote obesity in cats, but it's also implicated in diabetes. Obesity doesn't cause diabetes. Rather, obesity and diabetes appear to have the same cause, too much carbohydrate in the diet.
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 little or no carbohydrates in their diet. Feeding foods high in carbohydrates leads to any number of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Free choice feeding leads to obesity
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 does not make sense that they should need access to food 24 hours a day. Feeding two or more small meals a day mimicks their natural hunting behavior much closer, and by feeding controlled portion sizes rather than leaving food out all day long, calorie intake, and weight, can be controlled without the cat going hungry.
Dry food is the leading cause behind most urinary tract problems
Dry food is the leading cause behind most urinary tract problems in cats. While cats who eat only dry food will generally drink more water, they still don’t get enough moisture to support all their bodily functions and essentially live in a constant state of low level dehydration, which can lead to bladder and kidney problems.
Dry food can lead to diabetes
Due to the high carbohydrate content, dry food dumps unnaturally high levels of sugar into the cat’s bloodstream, which can lead to an imbalance of its natural metabolic process. In extreme cases, this can, and often does, lead to diabetes.
Dry food does not clean teeth
The myth that dry food cleans teeth is one that just won’t die. Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough 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 chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food actually leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.
Cats need water available
Here are some ways to get more fluid into your cat:
- Provide multiple bowls of fresh, clean water. Water that sits becomes stagnant and filled with food debris and germs. If you wouldn't drink it, why should your cat? Keep bowls clean and refill them twice daily and/or every time you feed your cat.
- Place your cats water bowl away from their food. They're more likely to drink the water away from their food for instinctual reasons.
- Water bowls should not slip or slide around when a kitty is using them. Place a non-skid mat under your cat's dishes if they slide.
- Avoid plastic bowls. Chemicals or detergent in the plastic can leach into the water, giving it an unpleasant taste. Ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowls are preferred.
- Make sure the water bowl is big enough to allow your cat to get her head into it without having her whiskers brush the sides.
- Take advantage of any water fetishes your cat may have. Allow her to drink from the running faucet after you shower or brush your teeth. Put a second glass of water on the table just for her. (See note below about tap water and filters.)
- Water filters help block out chemicals in your tap water that could be harmful to your cat. You can find out which chemicals are used in your water supply and check with your veterinarian to see if any of them pose a danger to your cat. Water filters also help prevent residue and sludge in old plumbing from seeping into the drinking water. You can buy inexpensive filters that attach to the faucet or go inside water pitchers, or you can invest in more comprehensive water treatment systems. Note that softened water is different than filtered water and is not recommended for your cat because the salts used to soften the water may be harmful to drink.
- Drinking Fountains are a great way to provide your cat with a continuous stream of fresh, running water. Cats, like humans and probably many other species, may instinctively associate moving water with safe, clean water. In addition, many cats are somewhat fascinated with running water. As a bonus, the charcoal filter in the water fountain eliminates bad odors and tastes that often make cats reject the water bowl.
- When feeding wet food, you can sprinkle a little extra water on top of it. This is not recommended for dry food that will be left out for free feeding because the food may spoil if wet.
Kibble is ok in moderation, but a felines diet should be wet or raw for kitties sake (and kidneys sake).