Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cat Nutrition and Understanding Food Labels

Cat Nutrition and Understanding Food Labels

By Fiona Dudley

It’s very important to know that if a cat gets much less food than they need or stops eating
completely, this is a serious problem. Cats can go into liver failure within 24 hours of fasting.
This is a condition called Hepatic Lipidosis that if not treated, can result in permanent liver
failure. The “cure” for it is – food - now! Even if your cat is overweight, take weight loss very
slowly! Always consult your vet about how to diet a cat. If your cat suddenly stops eating on
their own, consult a vet immediately.


As cat lovers, we all know that cats are “different” and that’s why we love them. Cats are very
different from most other animals when it comes to their nutrition too. Here are a few important
things to know, plus some help on how to decipher the ingredients on your kitty’s food labels.
Please note that this information is not intended to be advice, medically or otherwise. Every
individual animal is different! If you have further questions, or any concerns about your cat’s
nutrition and health, it’s always best to talk to a veterinarian. The information I’m providing
assumes your cat is in general good health.

The Basics

Most cat lovers know this, but it bears repeating. Cats are directly descended from wild desert
cats who live on rodents, lizards, birds, and maybe the occasional bug. Cats have unique
nutritional needs that are based on this diet of animal protein, fat, and the water in the prey they
eat.

There are also many essential nutrients cats cannot live without, and can only get from animal
sources. For example, taurine and most of the vitamins they need.

The basics to consider are actually pretty simple then – good meat, animal fat, and water!

Wet Food vs. Dry

Cat kidneys are desert-adapted and are very very good at extracting the water they need from
their food, and conserving water by concentrating their urine. That’s why a wet food that is about
80% water is considered better than dry food. Your average mouse is 70% - 80% water. Even so,
make sure you always have at least one (if not several) sources of clean fresh water for your cat
at all times. This is doubly important if your cat is fussy and just plain likes dry food better.

The “Zone”

This is the percentage of nutrients and calories that should come from the three basic food
sources: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. For you, me, and the dog, the zone is about 30% protein,
30% fat (animal or plant) and 40% carbohydrate (plants).

For cats, the ideal zone is 50% protein, 45% fat, and 5% or less of carbohydrates. That’s quite a
difference, isn’t it!

Choosing Cat Foods

There are only four ingredients that are required to be listed on pet foods:

Minimum Protein, Minimum Fat, Maximum Moisture (water), and Maximum Fiber.

However, this doesn’t really tell us much, does it?

When it comes to preparing commercial pet foods, the manufacturers can juggle three things: the
protein (expensive), the fat (cheaper) and plant-based carbs (a LOT cheaper).

So – we have to take a look at the actual ingredients in the food. Look at the first five or six
ingredients. You want the first one to three to be meat and to be defined as what kind of meat! If
the label says “meat” without saying what animal it came from, then it is mystery meat – it could
be anything, literally. There is some debate about whether to avoid “meat by-products” and
“meat meal”. They are not necessarily bad – for example, hearts and other organs could be part
of the by-products and heart muscle is actually an excellent source of protein for cats. The
problem is, by-products and meals are poorly defined. It’s almost impossible to know what’s in
them and their nutritional value. But if you are on a budget and can’t afford the $2.50 a can types
of foods, by-products and meals are better than the “mystery meat”. Just be sure it says
something like “chicken meal” or “beef by-products”.

So – what about the next few ingredients? Since cats do not digest plant proteins or carbs, all the
corn, grains, rice, flaxseed, potatoes, peas, carrots, and similar ingredients are basically bulk.

There are two points to consider with these ingredients:
1) Do they make up far more of the volume of the food than the animal-based nutrients your cat
needs? Just do the best you can and realize even some of the premium foods out there might be
grain-free but still have potatoes, carrots, or peas.

2) Is there a possibility your cat develops a digestive problem by eating corn, grains, and other
plant ingredients? Some cats have no problems at all, and other cats do develop food “allergies”
and digestive problems. Please consult your vet if you have any concerns. Especially watch out
for refusing to eat, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, but that’s by no means a complete list.

Never Ever Starve A Cat.

It’s very important to know that if a cat gets much less food than they need or stops eating
completely, this is a serious problem. Cats can go into liver failure within 24 hours of fasting.
This is a condition called Hepatic Lipidosis that if not treated, can result in permanent liver
failure. The “cure” for it is – food - now! Even if your cat is overweight, take weight loss very
slowly! Always consult your vet about how to diet a cat. If your cat suddenly stops eating on
their own, consult a vet immediately.