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Cat Food: Twelve Scary Truths

We look at common misconceptions about cat food and ask: are we being misled about what is and isn’t good for our feline friends?

Is this food really good for me? Ensuring you feed your cat the best diet is a big challenge
“Is this food really good for me?” Ensuring you feed your cat the best diet is a big challenge

Like people, our cats are what they eat. You can save your feline friend a lot of suffering, and save yourself a small fortune in veterinary bills, by paying more attention to your cat’s diet.

Here are 12 things you may not know about the food you offer your cat:

Twelve scary truths about your cat’s diet

1. Price and brand name are no guarantee of quality

Alas, buying the most expensive food does not guarantee quality. Likewise, the cheapest cat food is not automatically the worst kind.

Rather than look at the price tag, examine the ingredients list. Ignore the manufacturers claims on the packet and get straight to the content.

You’re looking for protein and the more the better where cats are concerned. You may be surprised to find a cheap store brand is better quality than one with a posh name.

Your cat needs a variety of vitamins and minerals and these should be included too.

2. Kibble is not better than wet food and doesn’t clean teeth

There is a wide belief that kibble is better for cats than wet food – because manufacturers say so. There is no scientific evidence that categorically proves dry food is better than wet food or vice-versa.

Many kibble manufacturers claim their product cleans a cat’s teeth by scraping off plaque as they crunch. However, many brands are so small, cats simply wolf them down whole.

Some dry food brands now produce larger pieces claiming these encourage cats to crunch. However, as they crumble at the slightest pressure from the tips of a cat’s teeth, they don’t ‘scrape’ the area where the problem lies – the gum line.

If you prefer to give your cat dry food, that’s fine. However, be very skeptical about its teeth cleaning powers!

Kibble doesn't clean a cat's teeth after all
Look after your cat’s teeth – kibble doesn’t have the cleaning power that we believe it has

3. Some human food is good for cats

Despite what you may have heard from vets or pet food manufacturers, many ‘human foods’ are good for cats. Giving human food to your cat is, of course, bad for cat food producers because it harms their sales.

Giving your cat plain cooked cuts of chicken, beef, pork, or fish that you would eat, will cause it no harm whatsoever – unless this is absolutely all you feed it. If this is the case, it will miss out on essential vitamins and minerals.

If you are really serious about making your own cat food, educate yourself about their dietary requirements, and ensure you include the correct supplement of vitamins and minerals to prevent deficiencies and the side-effects associated with them.

4. Not all food sold or recommended by a vet is superior

A lot of what vets know about cat nutrition is learned from vets who work for pet food companies, commercial pet food sales reps, and seminars held by commercial pet food producers.

Unless a vet has specifically studied cat nutrition or has practical experience trialing food on their own cats to know what is or isn’t good food, don’t presume they know best.

Your vet makes a profit selling the pet food brands they stock therefore it pays for them to promote them. Some may even be contracted to promote a particular brand.

5. Some commercial food is equivalent to “Fast Food” for cats

Kibble is the preferred choice for many cat owners. The packaging often claims it’s a complete or balanced diet and it’s also an easy option that lots of cats seem to love. And, of course, it’s cheap.

Unfortunately, dry cat food (even the expensive premium brands) is often the equivalent of junk food for cats. It’s calorie-dense and leaving a large bowl full down at all times enables cats to feast on too much and become overweight.

You wouldn’t allow a child to eat sugar-coated cereal all day long so don’t allow your cat to do the same with dry food. Look at the feeding guidelines, weigh out the amount your cat needs according to its weight and activity levels, and don’t give it more than that per day.

A 50-gram portion of dry food (shown in a 6-inch bowl) is all a 4 kg (8.8 lb) cat needs per day

6. Chocolate can be a killer

Cats should not eat chocolate or any foods containing cocoa in any form. The higher the percentage of cocoa the more dangerous it is. The culprit is theobromine, a bitter alkaloid that occurs naturally in the cocoa bean. It is highly toxic to cats.

Fortunately, cats aren’t usually attracted to chocolate in the same way dogs are. Just half an ounce of dark chocolate or one ounce of milk chocolate can cause serious problems for an 8-pound cat.

Just half an ounce of dark or one ounce of milk chocolate can seriously harm and 8-pound cat
This amount of milk or dark chocolate is enough to cause an 8-pound cat serious harm

7. The quality of commercial cat food varies widely

There are hundreds of brands of cat food, some dry, some in sachets, some in cans. You can also buy frozen raw varieties. Prices vary widely and so does quality.

It is an absolute minefield and can leave you confused as what to buy for your cat, especially if you are first-time owner. Look at the ingredients list and go for a brand that clearly states its contents.

8. You can’t assume the words ‘Complete’ and ‘Balanced’ indicate the best food

There is no clear definition of exactly what ‘complete’ or ‘balanced’ means when it comes to cat food. Just because these words are printed on the packaging doesn’t mean you can automatically trust that brand to be everything your cat needs.

These are eye-catching selling techniques that many cat owners implicitly trust. Look closely at the ingredients. If they are deliberately unclear or confusing this is probably a good reason to avoid that brand.

9. Serving the same poor quality food daily limits nutrition

For the sake of your cat’s health, feed it a good quality diet. If you’ve been feeding your cat food with low nutritional value it may react to new better quality food. Try a gradual swap over and things should settle down.

Make sure you offer food with a variety of meat and fish content because each type contains slightly different nutrients. This will ensure your cat gets the ideal mix of every vitamin and mineral it needs to stay healthy.

10. Some human foods are bad for cats

Several foods we term as healthy are anything but where cats are concerned. Though many fruit and vegetables will cause them no harm, they hold no nutritional value for our cats.

We might need our 5-a-day but cats really don’t, and some are actually quite harmful to them. Avoid giving cats the following: grapes, raisins, onion, garlic, mushroom, and rhubarb.

Although thoroughly cooked eggs are a good source of protein for cats, don’t feed them raw egg as it may contain salmonella, E-coli, or other harmful bacteria. The same goes for raw meat or fish.

Ham, bacon, and smoked sausage are far too salty for cats so don’t include these in their diet.

Smoked sausage is far too salty for a cat
Avoid feeding your cat salty, processed meat

11. Poor quality food can lower a cat’s life expectancy

If you persist in feeding your cat cheap, low-quality food, it could very well suffer in the long run. You may then find yourself spending any money you might have saved on food bills paying for veterinary treatment instead.

Diet-related illnesses include heart disease, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, skin conditions, alopecia, periodontal disease, poor eye health, and urinary tract infections.

It is possible to find good quality food without spending a fortune. Look for a brand that’s high in meat protein, is grain-free, and has added vitamins and minerals.

12. Cats should not drink milk

Cats should not drink milk due to their inability to digest its lactose content
Milk contains lactose which is indigestible to cats because of its lactose content

Images of cats lapping milk are popular and many people give it to their cat as a treat. Although a very small amount is unlikely to cause much harm, a daily dish of milk can lead to all sorts of digestive problems.

Cats lack the enzymes that break down lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk, which means it ferments in their guts, causing bloating, pain, vomiting and diarrhea.

Never go down the path of giving your cat milk – what it’s never had it will never miss. Your cat might beg for milk as you make a coffee but resist the temptation to pour it a saucer full and give it water instead.

Your cat’s diet: make it count

It doesn’t take much effort or cost a fortune to source a healthy diet for your cat. Get it wrong and you could end up making your vet a lot richer and -joking aside – unnecessarily decrease your cat’s lifespan.

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