Our cats like kibbles, especially when it’s mixed with their favorite wet food. But I am wondering if that is really the right type of food for cats or if it wouldn’t be better to offer food that is closer to what felines eat it in the wild.
There is a lot of high quality cat food on the market that is organic, grain-free, rich in nutrients, in form of dry food, canned or dehydrated meat, and also the so called “raw food diet” for pets which has been gaining more in popularity.
In order to consider what would be the best food for cats offering essential vitamins and minerals, we need to look at the diet that cats eat in the wild. Unlike dogs, who are scavengers, cats are carnivores which means a balanced feline nutrition mostly consists of protein and animal fats.
How do cats eat and drink?
Some cats devour their food and others are more finicky and like to pick at their meal. The best times to feed a cat is at dawn and dusk, that’s when they usually catch their prey in the wild.
They prefer several small meals during the day instead of one big one. It’s best to have set mealtimes instead of letting your cat nibble during the day since she might overeat easily. They don’t really need to eat continuously because a cat can survive without food for quite a while.
Cats are carnivores but they will eat grains, fruit and vegetables like carrots, peas, corn, salad and catnip. You can see outdoor cats nibbling on grass and other greens.
They will drink water but they do not drink as much as dogs do. Cats get most of the hydration through wet food, the moisture content of wet food is about 60 % to 75 % whereas the moisture content of dry food is about 10 % (according to pets4Homes.com). That’s why it is not recommended to feed cats only dry food because they might get dehydrated.
Indoor and outdoor cat food
Always wondered why some dry cat food varieties are labeled as “indoor cat”?
It’s because the composition of the food destined for indoor cats is a little different. Some companies came up with the idea that cats who live inside don’t need the same calorie intake as cats who roam outside. Indoor cat food is usually made with less high-quality meat, contains less fat and the protein is substituted with high fiber vegetables.
If a protein-rich food is essential for a cat’s health, is it really necessary to cut back on protein because a cat only lives inside? It would be better to give indoor cats an opportunity for more exercise, which would be a healthier for cats anyway, and give her the same high-quality food than outdoor cats.
I think when it comes to weight management for indoor cats, different factors are important: the quality of the food, serving size, feeding frequency and exercise.
Cats and fish
A cat sitting in front of a can of tuna, nobody would think there is anything wrong with that picture.
Cats usually love fish, especially tuna, but from an evolutionary point of view fish is not part of the feline diet.
Eating too much fish can actually cause allergies in cats. Some canned food varieties for cats use different fish parts like guts and fish bones which contain harmful substances like phosphorus. This can cause some medical issues in cats like kidney and urinary tract infections.
Especially canned tuna that is sold for human consumption should not be offered to cats. It doesn’t really contain the necessary nutrients that cats need and too much tuna can lead to mercury poisoning.
Besides tuna, salmon and ocean white fish (tile fish) are contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. Salmon that is used in cat food is raised commercially by factory farming and contains high levels of PCB, pesticides and antibiotics.
So, no wonder feeding too much fish can create some serious health issues in cats!
But there is nothing wrong with offering your kitty some fish once in a while. Just look for some high quality fish products, preferably products based on fish raised by sustainable farming. After all, fish contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, excellent supplements for your cat’s diet, since omega fatty acid are very beneficial for her skin, coat and joints.
Should cats eat raw meat?
There are many opinions about the so-called BARF diet for cats and dogs. BARF is an acronym and stands for “Biologically appropriate raw food”.
If you own a cat who likes to roam outside at night you know that she likes to kill mice and birds. But that’s usually all she does, cats who are fed by their owners on a regular basis will not eat their prey.
In the wild, felines don’t only eat the meat of their prey, they consume bones, tissue and organs as well. They can eat carcasses of animals that have been left out for several hours and they don’t get sick.
Some experts in feline nutrition think that cats should eat a diet that contains raw meat just like their counterparts in the wild do. And indeed, the idea of feeding your cat raw meat sounds pretty convincing.
Here are some benefits of the raw meat diet:
- Raw meat and bones are better for cat’s digestion than grains and carbohydrates.
- Taurine is an important amino acid that can be found in raw meat. Taurine helps cats’ eyesight and heart health.
- High protein in raw meat fuels energy (and ultimately a more active pet) and other nutrients like fatty acids make for a shiny and healthy coat.
- Switching cats to a raw meat diet can give them relief from food allergies.
What are the drawbacks of feeding raw meat to pets?
If you think about feeding your kitty raw meat from your kitchen, you have to be aware that it comes with some risks.
Salmonella and E.coli bacteria can be present in raw meat and bones which can infect the person handling the meat. These bacteria and other parasites can be passed on to your cat and compromise her health.
If there are bones involved, be careful because certain bones might easily splinter and your cat can choke on it.
The cost of a raw food diet for pets might be an issue for some people. Besides the fact that preparing pet food from scratch at home is very time-consuming, the weekly trip to the grocery store to purchase quality meat can become a strain to your budget.
In case you decide to follow the BARF diet and prepare your own cat food, it is recommended to follow some nutritional guidelines and talk to a veterinarian first for advice.
Here are some general guidelines for those who are considering feeding raw food:
- Choose mostly poultry meat, chicken wing, turkey necks and liver. Only a smaller percent of the meat should come from beef. Lamb and duck meat can also be added.
- About 10 % of the food can come from raw vegetables like carrots, zucchini and broccoli.
- Cats can eat raw eggs but only in moderation.
As I mentioned earlier, switching your cat to a raw food diet can be beneficial if she suffers from food allergies. However, some cats might not like it if they are used to eating commercial cat food.
Ready to go raw cat food
For people who do not want to prepare raw food at home, there are a few brands that offer freshly prepared, high quality and healthy meals for cats.
DARWIN’S NATURAL PET PRODUCTS or BALANCEDBLENDS.COM are just two companies who specialize in organic and wholesome fresh pet food. For cats, it’s usually raw poultry or lamb meat, chicken necks and organs. No grains, no animal by-products or preservatives added.
There are always health concerns when it comes to handling raw meat. Certainly, safety rules and regulations are in place, just be aware that there have been recalls of raw pet food in the past due to bacterial contamination.
Freeze-dried cat food is another way to feed minimally processed meat to your cat. ONLY NATURAL PET’S RAW NIBS made from cage-free chicken with added vegetables are grain-free and only need to be put in water for a few minutes and then are ready to be served.
Or try INSTINCT RAW BITES by NATURE’S VARIETY. Minimally processed organic chicken, liver and bones in bite-sized pieces that thaw in minutes.
Dehydrated meat has also gained in popularity. The gentle dehydration process of fresh meat and vegetables does not destroy its nutrients and artificial preservatives become unnecessary.
ZIWI PEAK CUISINE for example offers air-dried and jerky-style meat from poultry, lamb, beef, venison and fish including organs and bones.
HONEST KITCHEN offers well-balanced dehydrated cat food made from poultry, eggs and some vegetables added, it just needs be hydrated in warm water for a few minutes before serving.
My final thought
Why has the raw meat diet for cats gained so much attention? It’s the idea to offer your pet balanced nutrition that is close to what an animal would eat in the wild. That means, for cats, food with only a few ingredients and minimally processed.
You don’t have to ban kibbles or dry food completely from your cat’s menu as long as the list of ingredients contains the right nutrients, not too many carbohydrates and as long as you offer some variety.
If you don’t want to feed raw meat exclusively, for example because you are on a budget, you can always get some freeze-dried or dehydrated meat and mix it with dry food.
It is also a good idea to give your cat some Omega 3 +6 oil (like cod liver oil) if you are not sure about feeding fish.
I like to invest in balanced quality food for my pets to make sure they stay healthy and happy, and that cuts down on the vet bill for sure.
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