As cat owners, we all want to give our feline friends the best possible diet for health and longevity. With so many products on the market and so much conflicting information out there, it seems overwhelming to make the right choice.
First, I always think it’s a good thing to start with some facts. The average life span of a cat in the 1980’s was about 7 years. By 1995 this had increased to 9.4 years and by 2014 to between 12-15 years. Through better education, routine sterilization and advances in nutrition, our cats now live almost twice as long as 40 years ago! It is interesting that it was during the 1990’s, that the super-premium cat food brands became more prevalent.
So, what should our cats be eating?
Cats are obligate carnivores. This simply means that they need to eat animal protein! In the wild, cats are hunters and their prey provides them with a diet consisting mostly of animal protein, moderate amounts of fat and minimal amounts of carbohydrate. Whatever our own dietary preferences or convictions might be, cats cannot be omnivores (like dogs and humans), vegetarians or vegans. Their entire digestive system and metabolism is designed for a meat based diet.
Cats need Taurine. This is an essential amino acid, which is not naturally produced in the cat’s body and therefore needs to be taken in through the diet. Taurine is important for heart health, the functioning of the immune system and for the health of the retina in the eye.
Cats also need various vitamins and minerals as building blocks and for enzymes and hormones in the body. These need to be included in the diet at very specific levels and in certain ratios to ensure that our cats get exactly what they need.
Fatty Acids are important for brain and coat health. They act as anti-oxidants and reduce inflammation. Essential Fatty Acids are those that cannot be produced in the body and need to be taken in through the diet, like AA, EPA and DHA.
How can we be sure that our cats are getting what they need?
Nutritionally, our cats need plenty of fresh water and a balanced diet.
Fresh water should always be available. Cats often prefer not to drink where they eat, therefore water should be made available in several different places. Cats prefer fresh water and replenishing water several times during the day will encourage our cats to drink more. Tinned food can also provide additional water and feeding a combination of tinned and pelleted food can help our cats take in plenty of fluids.
When choosing a product to feed our cats, the first thing we need to do is to teach ourselves to read labels of commercial cat food properly. Don’t be distracted by the cute picture of the cat on the front of the bag! Turn the bag over and have a look at the Ingredients list. Pet foods list the ingredients in order of weight, starting with the heaviest. (Remember that tinned food contains 75% water)
- Scan the first 3 ingredients. The first one needs to be an animal protein. Look out for words like “meat” vs “by-product” to get an idea of the quality of the animal protein in the commercial product
- Most cat foods will contain some carbohydrates, but these need to be in small quantities
- Look for Taurine as an individual item on the list. Do not assume that it is included in the “Vitamins and minerals” component
- Look for colourants and flavourants in the list. The colour and flavour should come naturally through the animal protein and not be added in artificially
- Identify artificial preservatives. Fortunately, Vit C and Vit E as well as Citric Acid and Rosemary are now often added as natural preservatives in many products, to replace the chemical preservatives used historically. Look for these, to feel confident about the safety of the preservatives
When choosing your product, ensure that you are feeding for the correct life stage of you cat. 0-12 months is a Kitten. 1-7 years is an Adult and a cat over 7 years of age is considered to be a Senior. Each life stage has different nutritional needs catered for by the product.
When comparing supermarket cat food to veterinary super-premium brands, always calculate the cost of feeding your cat per day, rather than simply comparing the price per bag.
Take the weight of the bag in grams and divide this by the grams fed per cat per day. This will give you the number of days per bag. Take the price of the bag and divide this by the number of days to get the cost per day. You will be pleasantly surprised to find that the cost of feeding super-premium products per day is only marginally higher than the cost of supermarket products. Feeding top of the range products can be affordable.
A few Myths and Legends
Pet Food Companies are only out to make money. While there is profit in the Pet food industry, reputable companies invest millions of dollars each year into research and development to improve their products. They also have a lot to lose if they get it wrong!
Commercial Cat food causes kidney failure. This misconception likely stems from the spate of kidney failure cases that were seen world-wide in dogs, cats and babies during the 2000’s, when unscrupulous raw ingredients suppliers laced their animal protein with melamine (yes, like in kitchen cupboards) to increase the Nitrogen content of the product at low cost. This caused a massive international incident and the culprits were identified and punished. A crime against animals and humanity!
Cats will be fine if they only eat raw meat, as this is what they do in the wild. If we were to follow this principal, we should also be eating like pre-historic man and ignore all the research and information available about healthy eating in humans! With the extensive knowledge now available around the specific nutritional needs of cats, we really should let our cats benefit from that.
Home cooked food is superior to commercial pelleted and tinned food. Home cooking for pets is becoming increasingly popular. This can be a time consuming and messy business and getting the balance right is tricky. Mixing a few ”healthy” ingredients and offering this to our cats as an alternative to pellets may not offer them the balanced nutrition they need. If home cooking is something you are considering (or doing), always ensure that a veterinary nutritionist is supervising this process for you.
We all want to provide our cats with the best nutrition possible to help them live long, healthy lives. This needs to happen in the fast pace of modern living in a convenient, tasty and balanced manner. Discuss your diet choices with educated staff at your favourite Veterinary practice or Vetshop so that you can select the right product for YOUR cat.
Veterinary Super-Premium Kitten Dry Food:
Veterinary Super-Premium Adult Cat Dry Food:
Veterinary Super-Premium Senior Cat Dry Food:
*Each of our stores stock a variety of products, some stores will stock different products to the next to cater for the needs of the clients in that particular area, if you are looking for a specific product please contact one of our stores closest to you, they can inform you if they have the product on hand or will be able to order if it for you.