This article looks at how cat food has evolved from simple prey (now substituted by a made up raw cat food diet) to highly convenient dry cat food and discusses some of the pros and cons. It not really for cat breeders as they have or should have an awareness of the possibility of preparing raw cat food, some do this. Research actually indicates that cat breeders use a range of cat foods including sometimes raw, home made cat food and dry cat food. See purebred pedigree cat breeders (opens in a new window)
Some people think that dry cat food is unnatural and pushed on people who keep cats by veterinarians who benefit directly by selling Hills® dry cat food at surgeries (or on the internet) at good margins. And they benefit indirectly through Hills® sponsoring the American Veterinary Medical Association and being associated with Veterinary colleges. We can’t criticize Hills® for being commercially minded but is it at the expense of cat health? There is no clear cut answer. Their dry cat food is highly convenient and largely liked by cats.
The Cat Food Recipe has changed. Have you seen a cat eat grain (cereal) as his staple diet? Does your cat share your cereal breakfast in the morning? When cats became domesticated some 9,000 years ago, and did their bit to keep the rodents away from the grain storage, did the cats ever eat the grain instead of the mice?
If they did there wouldn’t be domestic cats now as their purpose was to catch rodents (who ate the grain) to help to protect the farmer’s crop.
You must think I’m crazy to ask this dumb question – the answer is obviously, “No”. (except my cat occasionally likes a bit of my oat cereal with a tiny bit of milk at the bottom of the bowl
Actually, though, the answer is,”Yes”. At least to the question, “Have you seen a cat eat grain?”. Because your cat almost certainly eats a lot of it every day despite being a carnivore. How did this come about?
Update: Early 2009: I have built a page on Homemade cat food that contains cat breeder cat food recipes for a well balanced and fully supplemented raw food diet. See the post here: Raw Food Diet.
Dry Cat Food
Dry cat food is in the ascendancy. It is popular because it is convenient for both cats and humans. It is also a product that is easier to handle for the manufacturers. It is therefore a profitable product.
The problem though is that the manufacturing of dry food incorporates an extrusion process that requires starch (sugars) to make it work. Dry cat food is based therefore on foods such as corn and potato, high carb ingredients. The food is made palpable to the cat by spraying it with animal by-products (called meat digests). Cats by the way cannot taste sweet tasting food (new window).
If you were looking at the cat food market a little cynically, you could argue that the companies making dry cat food prioritize profit over welfare. This is to be expected as their raison d’etre is to make profit. The thing is that the thinking is possibly too short term.
Eventually (and this will be a slow process) people who keep cats will turn away from such foods. This is happening but the convenience of dry cat food plus good business pulls people back. Dry cat food recipe is similar to human cereal such as sugar coated flakes. It is moreish.
The effect on a cat eating dry cat food based on grain and corn etc. is that she/he is liable to put on weight.
In part, this is because a cat’s automatic signal to say stop is based upon the amount of protein eaten and not sugars. The cat doesn’t get the stop signal.
And for me, there is also what I would call the “hypoglycemic cycle”. And this applies to humans too (I’ve experienced this). You eat high carb food. You get a sugar high. It wears off plus your pancreas produces insulin to lower the blood sugar level.
You feel dizzy (I do) and/or feel starved. You crave food and eat too much too soon. The cycle continues if you are cat eating dry cat food.
Wet Cat Food
In contrast wet cat food has a more natural cat food recipe not requiring starch in its manufacture or enhancers (meat digests). Although when you read the cat food recipe on the tin, it is, frankly, quite alarming (although to be expected). There is very little actual meat, 80+% “moisture” (water) and vegetable matter (is this canned food a kind of minestrone soup?). Anyway wet food of the right type (please read the ingredients) is preferable.
I think you are going to have to spend more on cat food (I am) to find some quality, which means a cat food recipe that more nearly replicates a feral cat diet.
In conclusion dry cat food can it seems result in an overweight cat, which in turn carries health consequences. There is also the issue of feline diabetes, which I have discussed on this page. Some veterinarians believe that dry cat food rather than helping to clean a cat’s teeth promotes the growth of oral bacteria and gum disease.
I will discuss this subject more in subsequent postings and links.
I have changed my cat’s diet as I believe that a major contributory factor in her weight gain has been her diet.
Update Aug 2008: I have seen very little change since feeding much more wet food for the past year or so. I find this disappointing. She does though seem more active. I still feel that dry cat food is unnatural and perhaps a higher quality wet cat food is needed. I am sourcing this. I actually feed a combination diet of some dry food, some wet food and some microwaved frozen fish with added water. I’d like to try raw cat food but the difficulty of sourcing ingredients and preparation time and risk put me off.
There is no connection as far as I am aware between the cat food illustrated on this page and overweight cats generally or the fat cat illustrated. Neither do I know why the cat illustrated is fat (except for the fact that he must eat too much).
Sources in respect of the above:
These things spring to my mind about a cat food recipe that is in fact raw cat food:
There are downsides to commercial cat food, some of which I mentioned above. The wet food frankly looks very commercial, you know, factory floor scrapings that have been dressed up.
I would expect very few people to try and replicate a true raw food diet, the “prey model”. That means feeding our cat mice and birds etc. at a basic level. This is natural but are wild cats who eat prey healthier because of their diet than domestic cats? The jury is out on that. Prey model diets contain bone and bone can puncture the digestive tract and break teeth. That is one example of a possible downside to a prey cat food recipe. Ground bones would seem to be a wise alternative. Other downsides of using raw meat are the classic bacterial (such as salmonella) and parasitic infections that can be picked up. This is avoided when buying commercially prepared cat food which is treated to high temperatures, one reason why it contains “ash” – see below. People also live with the risk of bacterial infection in preparing a raw cat food recipe. (see for example cat feces and pregnancy [new window])
A raw food prey model cat food recipe contains about 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% internal organs. Supplements are not added except sometimes fish oil to balance the loss of this ingredient in commercially reared animals.
A more refined (perhaps) raw diet is the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food (BARF). This contains 60%-80% raw “meaty bones” (a mixture of bones and meat). The remainder is a mixture of vegetables, offal, dairy foods, meat, eggs. The raw products come from farming and farm foods are made for humans. This may introduce problems such as the medication given to farm animals. These chemicals can remain in body of the farm animal and get transfered to the cat food recipe.
The biggest problem would seem to be creating consistency of quality when making up a raw cat food recipe. There doesn’t seem to be enough control, research, knowledge and focus on this form of cat food for customers to sure that their raw cat food recipe is not only nutritional but better than a commercial product. People will play safe and buy commercial.
It has been suggested that Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards can create a false sense of security in the quality of the diet produced. AAFCO is a commercial enterprise.
Winn Feline Foundation researchers from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, in what appears to be a careful study found that the prey model raw food diet (mimicking prey it was whole rabbit, frozen) failed to provide enough taurine which naturally occurred in the rabbit. This resulted in one cat dying of HCM and 70% of the others suffering heart muscle changes. (see Bengal cat and HCM for further reading). A lack of taurine is known to make cats vulnerable to HCM. And see the “cat food, rice and taurine” post below.
The cats on the raw cat food recipe did however have brighter coats and better feces indicative of better health. However the HCM overrides this obviously. This to me shows the dangers inherent in making up one’s own raw food cat food recipe. It is suggested that people who do take this route should seek veterinarian check ups periodically to make sure all is well. Can vets though advise on diet objectively bearing in mind the affiliations with Hills® mentioned above?
Other reading – links not in bold open new windows, please note:
Update: Click on the link for Homemade Cat Food (new window) advice from Bengal cat breeders in the United States.
Here is a recipe from another website:
Cat Food Recipe Directions:
Feed 3/4 to 1-1/2 cups to your cat with each meal
Oats (2 cups before cooking) rice, or potatoes (4 cups cooked) can be used in place of corn as a grain substitute or a combination
Always add about 500 mg of Taurine to cat recipes if you cook the meats.
This is another study, this time written up on the National Geographic website, which debunks…
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