Cat Food

What to feed your cat is a confusing topic. A search on the web showed a wide range of opinions. Talk to one vet and you get one opinion. Talk to another and you get a different opinion, each with some sound reasons behind them. What is a cat owner to do? Here’s what we have learned navigating this question.

The experts we most trust say:

Cats are obligate carnivores (depend solely on the nutrients found in animal flesh) so should eat protein, mainly wet, preferably raw, from a variety of sources. Vegetables and grains are not part of cat diet.

Here is what we understand this to mean.

Ingredients

Grains have no food value for cats. Some, particularly corn, are often a source of food allergies. These are present because they are cheaper than meat products and their only function is to lower the cost of the product. Grain free food is preferred.

Vegetables are also added to cat food. I understand these are also fillers and provide little to no additional food value.

Lots of other things are added or used. All The Best Pet Care has a description of some of the least desirable.

Consumption of fish should be limited. Seafood does not have the right protein balance for cats so feeding mainly fish is a problem over the long term. Cats are more likely to be allergic to seafood.

Luna was over grooming, possibly due to food allergy. One common wisdom was to switch her away from the common proteins such as chicken and turkey to things like duck and venison. Our natural vet, however, thought protein would be the least likely cause of food allergy and that other things like grains and vegetables should be completely eliminated first.

Wet vs Dry

Wet food is better for cats. Period. If you can afford to feed your cat wet only, and are going to be home every ten hours to feed your cat, then there is no reason to include dry kibble into their diets at all. The ingredients are generally closer to a proper diet and it provides the moisture cat’s need. Cat’s don’t have a strong thirst drive and should derive much of their moisture from the food they eat. A cat’s body is designed to absorb moisture through food. Dry food does not provide this and they may not drink enough water to compensate, leading to dehydration.   The only advantage of dry food is to the owner in lower cost and convenience.

There is no health benefit to feeding your cat a dry kibble. The age-old claim that it ‘cleans’ or ‘brushes teeth’ is largely a myth, fabricated by kibble manufacturers.

Pet kibble is meat cereal. The bulk of the food is usually a protein meal and a plant starch (sugar) of some sort, accompanied by all kinds of buyer-friendly (but ultimately unnecessary) ingredients like fruits and vegetables. Common starches include Corn Gluten Meal, Wheat Gluten, Potato Starch and Tapioca. The starches (which are the binding agents) are sugars (Polysaccharides). Because the food is largely composed of these sugars, dry food leads to tooth decay, diabetes and a multitude of long-term health problems.

Free Feeding vs Fixed Feeding Times

We feed two meals a day at fixed times. I believe most of our cats were previously used to free feeding or more frequent meals and this showed in an unwillingness to finish the whole meal at once and begging between meals. After several months they have all adjusted to the regular feeding times. With fixed feeding times it is easier to serve the correct quantity.

Cooked vs Raw

We have started feeding our cats raw food. This is slightly less convenient than cooked canned food and slightly more expensive than the high quality canned food we feed them. It is unquestionably closer to their natural food source and our cats unquestionably prefer raw over cooked food. Tom does not like the smell of cooked cat foods and finds that raw foods, by contrast, have very little oder. There are lots of claims as to the health benefit of raw foods. We believe many of them, but don’t think the decision is as clear cut as the pro-raw food sites state.

There are a couple reasons to not feed raw food. One study showed commercial raw foods had more bacteria in them than commercial canned. Additionally, raw food may contain Toxoplasmosis, a parasite that lives in cats. Cats mainly get it through eating raw foods, including rodents they may hunt outside. This parasite also affects humans, causing birth defects amount other things. Not feeding raw foods eliminates one pathway for Toxoplasmosis. Humans get Toxoplasmosis through handling cat litter.

The counter to those arguments is that cat’s digestion can handle additional bacteria – it is not a problem. We do, however, have to take more care in handling raw foods to limit bacterial growth. And, one should always take care when cleaning the litter box. Pregnant women should let some other family member tend the litter box. There are other pathways for toxoplasmosis, such as gardening with bare hands.

Variety vs Single Food

Variety is better. This helps cats get nutrients from a variety of sources, keeps food interesting, and prevents them from becoming fixated on one taste.

We have been told that switching food upsets a cat’s digestion and the usual recommendation is to switch slowly over 7 days. Mostly we have not found this to be necessary – particularly when switching between same category such as canned food to canned food. Now that they are used to raw foods we switch and mix in raw and canned with no adverse effect (well, occasional adverse effect). It seems that only when introducing a significantly different type of food, such as raw foods, is a gradual transition necessary.

Simple vs Complex

Some foods are very complex – long ingredient list. Our trusted experts recommend simpler foods – fewer ingredients. Such complex foods may make sense if that was the one food you were going to feed your cat. We think that getting complete nutrition from a variety of simple sources over several meals is better. Since cats are obligate carnivores they should not need much variety.

Quantity

See my later post about quantity.

Cost

Here’s a table of the daily cost of some food options. I assumed a cat eats 5oz per day. I took the price from stores in my neighbor hood for a reasonably bulk purchase (e.g. a case). I did not add sales tax or subtract any discounts. Your actual cost will be slightly different but the relative costs are about right.

Food Cost
Wellness (case of 12) $0.93
Before Grain (case of 24) $1.16
Filaday (Case of 12) $0.78
Darwin’s (Standard mix of chicken and turkey) $1.23
Nature’s Balance 3lb bag of medallions $1.46
Nature’s Balance 2lb tube $1.09
Primal chicken 2lb tube $0.86
Primal turkey 2lb tube $1.02
Rad Cat Chicken (24oz tub) $2.50
Friskies 12oz can $0.50

My conclusion is that raw foods are not much more expensive than equivalent quality canned foods, especially if you are willing to use the more bulk packaging.

For now we are feeding our cat’s mostly Darwin’s, a Northwest company that delivers free in Seattle and Portland and ships to other places. We mix it up with some Natural Pet Pantry, Primal, and Before Grain when we don’t happen to have thawed raw food.
We were feeding Natural Balance as well but our cat’s no longer like it.

Informative Links

All the Best pet stores has an informative web site, including nutrition information in PDF form.

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  1. Would u post this. Avoderm, they changed the formula taking out Kidney.

    Hi Sue at Breeder’s Choice,

    Kidney and Liver organs are very important for cats health! My Siamese had
    a liver failure episode at age of 8 years old along with 2 other of my part siamese
    out of several other cats I have and all I could figure out was I was feeding 36%
    premium cat food, too high protein for them. I lost 2 of them and saved this one.
    All 8 years old.

    After orally syringing Science Diet (crap) liver disease food low protein but full
    of corn to feed her, when she recovered we went on a search for canned food
    10% protein that she would eat as on her own she wouldn’t touch any of the
    canned or dry Science Diet liver disease food low protein.

    The only one she would eat was your’s Avoderm Chicken and Ocean Fish.
    Today she is 11 and she recovered fully and beautifully in all her Siamese glory.
    The other premium canned food we tried is Wellness and some others, but
    landed on Avoderm canned as the only food she will eat.

    And NOW you have removed a vital part of that food that she craves.
    Kidney. Yes it makes a big difference! Your formulators, or bean
    counters probably thought it wouldn’t make a difference. It does!

    Please put the Kidney back in. There are the are other things in
    your formula not in other brands besides the Kidney now.
    And I am forced to go on the hunt for something else she will eat.

    Please make sure to pass this on.
    I’m going to be posting and blogging about this change too.
    Baby and me, not happy with this change in a perfectly good formula!

    Thank you, Vickie Stevens

    Reply

  2. It’s advisable to ask your pet’s veterinarian (vet) about the best cat food choice. For one thing, it’s not always about a certain brand being better than another so much as the type and quantity recommended for each animal.

    Reply

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