Choosing a cat food can be difficult. Owners need to consider price, their own lifestyles and the needs of their pets. Unfortunately, decisions about cat foods are often complicated by the many cat feeding and cat food ingredient myths that circulate on the internet and are passed by word of mouth. Many of these myths have little to no basis in scientific fact. Some common cat food myths involve requirements for raw meat, the use of garlic, the benefits of supplements, the dental health benefits of dry food, the need for free feeding and the unhealthiness of commercial diets. Learning the truth behind these myths allows owners to more confidently choose the best foods for their cats.
Claim: Raw Meat is Always Best
Cooked meat diets have less potential microbial contamination, suitable for pets with compromised immune systems and … cats whose owners have health issues
While feeding a raw diet is certainly a good option for some cat owners, the evidence indicates that cooked meat diets are perfectly healthy. A study published in the Journal of Animal Science found that cooking meat did not alter the digestibility of protein, carbohydrates or fats. In addition, cooking did not change energy availability. Cooked meat diets also have the advantage of having less potential microbial contamination. This makes them suitable for pets with compromised immune systems and cats living in houses with small children or cats whose owners have health issues. It is worth noting, however, that, while cooked meat is as digestible as raw meat, the extruded dry meat found in kibble is less digestible than either cooked or raw meat.
Claim: Garlic is a Safe Way to Control Parasites
Garlic causes Heinz body anemia in cats and causes irritation of the stomach and esophagus
Garlic is a folk remedy with purported benefits for humans, and many people advocate using it in dogs and cats to treat fleas and intestinal parasites. Unfortunately, garlic contains a substance that can cause Heinz body anemia in cats. Additionally, raw garlic causes irritation of the stomach and esophagus. The actual toxic dose of garlic for cats is not clear, though small amounts of garlic in food or treats seem to be safe. However, it is best to avoid feeding any garlic to a cat. The toxic effects of garlic accumulate over time, and cats can become very ill or die from anemia. Owners wishing to try natural remedies for parasites should consult a qualified, licensed holistic or homeopathic veterinarian for advice rather than adding garlic to their cats’ diets.
Claim: Cats Fed Supplements Do Not Need Meat
While feeding supplements can prevent death and illness due to severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies, striking the correct nutritional balance is difficult
It is true that there are vegetarian and vegan diets formulated for cats. These diets use supplements to provide essential nutrients, such as taurine, that are normally found in meat. While cats can survive on these diets, they are unlikely to thrive on them. After all, cats are obligate carnivores. Their systems very efficiently turn meat based protein into energy. They also require many nutrients that are only found abundantly in animal flesh. While feeding supplements can prevent death and illness due to severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies, striking the correct nutritional balance is difficult. Additionally, animals tend to process nutrients more efficiently when they are presented in their natural states. This makes correctly supplementing unnatural diets for cats an especially tricky endeavor. Improperly supplemented diets can lead to heart disease, blindness, neurological disease and other problems. If not corrected promptly, these deficiencies can be fatal.
Claim: Dry Food Keeps Teeth Clean
When they do bite the food, the pellets shatter without offering sufficient resistance to help scrape plaque from teeth.
This is a common claim, but the fact is that most dry diets do nothing to improve dental health. In order to keep teeth relatively clean through chewing, cats need to gnaw on pieces of meat or specially designed cat foods that are formulated for dental health and approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. In actuality, cats do not have to do much chewing in order to eat most types of kibble. In many cases, cats swallow the food without chewing. When they do bite the food, the pellets shatter without offering sufficient resistance to help scrape plaque from teeth. To maintain feline oral health, owners should have their pets evaluated by a veterinarian and begin a program that includes brushing and a proper, healthy diet rather than relying on kibble.
Claim: Cats Need Food Available at All Times
This pervasive claim is one of the most dangerous cat food myths, because it contributes to the obesity epidemic that house cats currently face.
This pervasive claim is one of the most dangerous cat food myths, because it contributes to the obesity epidemic that house cats currently face. Cats do not effectively self regulate their portions, so most cats will overeat if given the opportunity. This is especially true of cats fed dry food diets, because dry food simply does not satisfy cats as well as other types of food. Unlike dry food, canned and fresh foods contain significant amounts of water. Because water adds volume without adding calories, cats feel fuller when eating canned and fresh foods than when eating dry food. Since many owners erroneously believe that is dangerous not to free feed cats, many house cats have free access to high calorie, unsatisfying kibble. Unfortunately, because most house cats are fairly sedentary, it is easy for them to overeat to the point of obesity. As with humans, obesity can lead to diabetes, arthritis and other health problems in cats.
Portion control is essential for helping a cat to maintain a healthy weight. To determine portion size, owners should consult their veterinarians. Owners can then choose to either offer set portions freely or to feed in set meals. With measured free choice feeding, the cat’s portion is left out for the animal to eat at will. Set meals mean that the uneaten portion is taken up after 20 to 30 minutes. Either system is acceptable. The decision is based on the home environment, the cat’s needs and the owner’s preference. It is important to note, however, that it is dangerous for a cat to go more than 24 hours without eating even when transitioning to set meals. Owners should make sure their cats eat every day. Any cat that refuses to eat needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Claim: All Commercial Foods are Unhealthy
Cats have very strict dietary requirements, and (when preparing home diets) it is easy to make small mistakes in mixing proportions or in adding incorrectly labeled ingredients.
All cat foods labeled “complete and balanced” are adequate to meet a cat’s nutritional needs. However, while cats can survive on these diets, they will not thrive on all commercial diets. Some diets are simply better than others. In order to choose an excellent feline diet, cat owners need to read labels and find diets high in meat based protein and low in fillers, preservatives and artificial colors. Additionally, each owner should take his or her cat’s health into account when choosing a cat food.
While home prepared diets can also be healthy for cats, these diets require cat owners to educate themselves about feline nutrition, to obtain high quality ingredients and to prepare food to consistent specifications. Cats have very strict dietary requirements, and it is easy to make small mistakes in mixing proportions or in adding incorrectly labeled ingredients. Unfortunately, such mistakes can lead to severe illness or death if not quickly corrected. This is why, in many cases, high quality commercial diets are most convenient for cat owners. Those owners who do choose to home prepare food should consult with a veterinary nutritionist to make sure that they are feeding their cats well-balanced and safe diets.