Evolved as hunters, the physical structure of their teeth, jaws and digestive system scientifically classify cats as carnivores, evolved over thousands of years to operate on an almost exclusively meat-based diet. Since cats have evolved from desert animals, their need to derive the majority of their moisture from their food is evident and it should come as no surprise because of the popularity of dry kibble foods that urinary tract issues and kidney disease are epidemic in our domestic felines. This is directly related to the feeding of kibble pet foods with moisture levels of 5 – 10% compared to raw food diets with moisture levels of 75%. High carbohydrate canned and kibble diets also contribute to various health conditions in our domestic cats.
The whole food, biologically appropriate feeding concept that we recommend is simple: Mirror the freshness and variety of meats that cats would naturally hunt in the wild and for which they are evolved to eat.
Regardless of the type of diet you choose, whole foods should form the backbone of the nutrition your cat derives from the food, not synthetic vitamins. If you read a pet food label you will see the synthetic vitamins listed and they often form 1/3 or more of the ingredient panel. This is because the ingredients in the pet food are so nutrient deficient that all those synthetic vitamin and minerals are needed to meet AAFCO complete diet guidelines. The body does not easily utilize isolated vitamins and minerals and because of this the vast majority are excreted in the urine. Whole food nutrients are easily absorbed and utilized by the body.
Diets should be high in meat protein, not protein from other sources such as grains. The meat should be high-quality, human grade, not pet food grade, which is often referred to as Four-D (dead, dying, disabled or diseased) and forms the base of most supermarket and big box store pet foods.
Since meat is an expensive protein source, grains and other fillers are used to replace it in most commercial pet foods. However, the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ Pet Food Nutrient Profiles show dogs and cats do not require carbohydrates in their diets. According to the National Research Council’s Committee on Animal Nutrition, “There appears to be no requirement for carbohydrates provided enough protein is given”.
These high-glycemic carbohydrates often found in pet foods, such as rice or corn, are associated with obesity and diabetes because they digest quickly, causing blood glucose to spike and fat storage to increase. We feel these commercial diets are responsible for the majority of health issues we see in our domestic cats. It is astounding that many commercial pet foods can contain 50% carbohydrates or more! When poor diet is combined with over-vaccination, the over use of antibiotics and steroids, topical flea and tick pesticides and heart worm preventative it should come as no surprise that we see sick 8 year old cats and dying 12-16 year old cats when a feline should easily live well into her 20’s.
Toward the middle of the 20th century, Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., drawing on the experiments of Weston Price in his treatments of respiratory disease, conducted a study on the effects of heat-processed foods on cats. The controlled feeding experiment took place over ten years, between 1932 and 1942, and over 900 cats were eventually included with one group receiving cooked food instead of raw. The findings were astounding. Within a few generations, the cats receiving cooked food exhibited:
- Facial deformities: narrowed faces, crowded jaws, frail bones and weakened ligaments
- an excess of parasites
- all manners of disease
- female cats became more aggressive while males became docile
- difficulty with pregnancy, and after three generations, pregnancy failed
- kittens born of these pregnancies often did not survive to adulthood
- kittens showed skeletal deformities and organ malfunctions
Because of this study we see a direct link between the cooking of meat and the resultant evidence of malnutrition in Pottenger’s cats.
Recommended Diets for Cats
Raw Food Diets
- Feature whole food nutrients, usually in the form of a biologically appropriate ratio for cats. We do not recommend those “complete” diets with added synthetic vitamins and minerals. If you like, add a high-quality, whole food vitamin supplement such as BioPreparation for extra nutrients and antioxidants.
- Nutrients are in a form easily recognized and utilized by the body
- Maintains healthy gastric hydrochloric acid levels for proper digestion
- No high-glycemic carbohydrates so animals fed these diets usually maintain a healthy weight and avoid disease related to fluctuating blood sugar levels
- Have appropriate moisture content so animals fed these diets avoid urinary and kidney diseases experienced by cats fed dry kibble and high carbohydrate canned food diets
- Some people have a concern with bacteria that may be present in raw pet food. With proper raw meat handling this fear is baseless. The following is my educated response:
The natural pH level of a cat’s stomach is a pH of 2 or lower. Pathogenic bacteria need a pH above 4 to survive and multiply. So pathogenic bacteria will be killed by gastric secretions in a healthy cat’s stomach. When fed a processed diet a cat’s stomach pH can rise to a pH of 4 and above. This makes pets fed kibble and canned foods much more susceptible to bacteria than raw fed cats. This is shown in the number of animals that have been sickened by kibble and canned food diets and the resulting recalls. When you think back to the number of recalls and the thousands of animals that have died or become sickened, what was responsible? The answer is kibble and canned food diets.
I have been feeding raw food diets to my dogs and cats for 15 years now, and I have neither had any of my animals become ill nor have I heard of any consumers whose animals have become ill from a raw food diet. Yet, I have personally spoken with dozens of pet parents who have lost animals or are currently struggling with an animal poisoned by a kibble pet food.
Raw, whole food diets can change a cat’s life, I have personally witnessed this numerous times, so the next time you hear the fear mongering from your veterinarian or a friend or neighbor, realize one thing. Their fear of raw food diets for dogs and cats is based in ignorance.
- These diets can of course be more expensive for obvious reasons – they use real meat and other ingredients – a BIG difference in quality for sure!
Recommended Raw Food Diets
Any other raw food diet you may find locally made with high-quality, human-grade ingredients in a biologically appropriate ratio for cats that does not use synthetic vitamins or other additives.
- A high-quality dehydrated diet is the next best alternative for those that absolutely will not feed a raw food diet.
- Maintain a better, less processed nutrient content than kibble or canned diets.
- Easier to digest than kibble pet foods.
- Reconstitutes (absorbs water) better than freeze-dried foods.
- They are still processed (the meat is heated to 170 degrees or more) although less so that kibble and canned diets. They are not “like raw” as some marketing has indicated.
- Many use synthetic vitamins.
- One that we know of sources all ingredients from China (we do not sell this food), so research the company thoroughly beforehand.
- Not many varieties for cats
Recommended Dehydrated Diets
The one we are familiar with, and have used, is the Honest Kitchen Prowl. Be aware that it does utilize synthetic vitamins.
- Moisture content is too low, especially for cats!
- Usually low in protein and high in carbohydrates. The opposite of what cats need to thrive.
- The vast majorities don’t use human quality ingredients and are made with Four-D animals.
- Processed food diets no longer contain digestive enzymes and naturally occurring beneficial bacteria and other important nutrients because of the high heat used
- Supermarket quality foods are high in grains and other fillers. Many grain free diets must use starches, such as potato, as a binder, that is a high glycemic carbohydrate and some animals may have difficulty digesting it properly.
Recommended Kibble Diets
The only kibble diet we would ever recommend is Orijen Cat Food, or its sister food Acana, both manufactured by Champion Pet Foods. This food has the highest meat content and freshest ingredients of any kibble diet.
- High-quality, meat-based, canned diets are an alternative for consumers that don’t wish to feed a raw food diet because of the higher moisture content found in canned diets compared to kibble. But cooked food diets are not optimal for cats – see Pottenger’s study above.
- Most commercial brands are grain-based and low in meat content.
- Many can liners contain hormone-disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA).
- The vast majorities don’t use human quality ingredients and are made with Four-D animals.
- Processed food diets no longer contain digestive enzymes and naturally occurring beneficial bacteria and other important nutrients because of the high heat used.
- Many contain fillers and soy based palatability enhancers (MSG).
- Many are going to contain synthetic vitamins.
Recommended Canned Diets
Murr (comes in a pouch) – Does not contain liner with BPA
ZiwiPeak – Does not contain liner with BPA
Nature’s Logic – Does not contain liner with BPA
Freeze Dried Diets
- Freeze drying can retain important nutrients close to their original nutritional state.
- Because the freeze-drying process draws so much water out of cells it seems to make the food very hydrophobic (doesn’t rehydrate well). As we mentioned before moisture is extremely important to your cat so we do not recommend feeding freeze dried foods or treats to your cat. They can end up robbing too much moisture from the body that your cat can ill afford to loose.