Ten Myths of Cat Care Busted

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Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Myth number 1: pets live longer today because of the standard of commercial pet food

Some experts in feline health say that cats live longer nowadays. They might put this down to improved commercial pet food.  However, we don’t know for sure that cats live longer today than before.  There is little data on the lifespan of the domestic cat over the preceding 50 or so years.  There are also many confounding factors which muddy the water.  For example, in America, many cats are now indoor cats and indoor cat live longer than outdoor cats.  There is no evidence that modern commercial cat food has ever contributed to longevity.

A better argument is that modern cat food works against longevity and that many other factors increase the lifespan of cats such as better medical care.

Myth number 2: dry cat food (kibble) is the best type of cat food

Thanks to the Internet, I think we now know that this is truly a myth.  Some experts recommend feeding dry cat food because it can be left out for a long time without being concerned about it going off.  But in leaving it out all day cat owners are, strictly speaking, doing something which is unnatural for a cat.  People are providing food on demand.  House cats do not need food on demand.  Some people think that this may be a myth peddled by pet food companies to sell millions of dollars of pet food.  We know that wild cats do not have food on demand but rather go through long periods of time between meals.  This stimulates the natural cycle of feasting and fasting which is part of the wild cat lifestyle. The domestic cat is at heart a wild cat.

On demand feeding of dry cat food creates an imbalance within the cat’s body.  The cat is deprived of moisture needed for bodily functions and it also creates an alkaline urine pH, which can cause disease.  Manufacturers try and overcome this alkaline problem by adding acid to their dried diets.  This can also lead to health problems.  Dry cat food is sprayed with “digests” which can make the food addictive but there are no health benefits.  Dry cat food dumps unnatural amounts of sugar into the cat’s bloodstream.  This upsets the metabolic processes.  It can cause obesity and diabetes.  Dry cat food is the human equivalent of junk food. That said small, managed quantities can have some merit in cat caretaking e.g for nighttime grazing.

Myth number 3: dry cat food is more economical than canned or wet cat food

Some of the experts say that dry cat food is better value for the consumer.  The argument is that the purchaser is buying less water because wet cat food is about 80% water and therefore he or she is purchasing water.  This argument is false.  It is an argument which suggest that a parent should feed their child breakfast cereal all day everyday because it is cheaper.  It is a false economy.  It is a false economy to feed the cat low grade ingredients just because they’re cheaper.  In the long term the cost is almost certainly higher because of health problems created by cheap cat food which can lead to increased veterinary bills.

Myth number 4: dry cat food cleans a cat’s teeth

The pet food companies like to promote the idea that dry cat food has a cleansing, abrasive effect on a cat’s teeth.  It sounds as if it might be correct but it isn’t.  The evidence is in the huge number of cats which continue to attend veterinary clinics due to poor oral health and the fact that most cats in the USA eat dry cat food.  It is obvious therefore that a dry cat food diet is not protective against dental and gum disease.  Gum-line cavities which are called resorptive neck lesions occur in cats on a dry food diet.  In addition, a human dentist has never recommended that a client eats a certain type of food such as dry breakfast cereal as a way of cleaning their teeth.

It is said that dry cat food, once in the mouth, and once mixed with saliva forms a sticky paste which adheres to the teeth and gums more easily than wet cat food.  This paste contains processed carbohydrates and sugars plus the acidic substances added to the food.  This can damage the enamel and cause cavities.

Myth number 5:  The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trials prove that pet foods are safe for continual feeding

AAFCO’s trials can be deficient and therefore they are incapable of proving that pet foods are safe with continual feeding.  There is quite a neat story about this from 1988.  A cat developed a heart condition called congestive cardiomyopathy.  The cat was on a complete and balanced diet of premium commercial cat food.  The cat had been eating “feeding-trial-tested” foods.  The cat was found to be deficient in taurine.  The deficiency in the diet was not spotted because the trials were over too short a period of time.  Because these products were deficient it is said that over the years that the products were sold they caused many deaths in cats until by chance the problem was spotted.  The rigorous testing was not so rigorous after all.

Myth number 6: by-products in pet foods are bad

Not all of them are automatically bad. On the Internet there are a lot of articles and statements that “meat by-products” in cat foods are poor-quality ingredients.  It seems the idea for this came from the fact that some pet food companies marketed their products as being “free of by-products”.  However, some by-products are appropriate in pet foods.  The emphasis is on the word “some”.  In the early days of the production of commercial pet food, ingredients such as feathers and feet or beaks were often used.  Due to public pressure this practice has faded somewhat (or has it?).  Ingredients such as “meat by-products” can, however, be beneficial to cats – for example, the spleen and lungs in beef products.  These organs from a USDA inspected animal are acceptable in the diet of a cat.  Secondly, a product that contains no by-products may, in fact, contain large quantities of third-grade processed cereals, vegetables and fruits.  Some experts would consider these to be useless or harmful ingredients.  The argument is that some by-products are excellent quality meat by-products.

Myth number 7: raw meat is bad for cats

I believe that this myth has been busted many times over.  It certainly has on my website.  Many vets and experts believe that constantly feeding  a cat a raw diet will ultimately lead to food poisoning by bacteria due to mishandling of the product.  It is ironic that in the wild, wild cat species will eat prey that is crawling with maggots and quite rotten.  I wonder how many veterinarians have encountered a patient that has been poisoned by a raw diet.  I had never bumped into that information on the Internet.  I think that it is reasonable to presume that commercial pet food and especially dry cat food has caused far more problems health-wise than home-made raw diets.

Myth number 8:  cats tolerate corticosteroids without side-effects

Apparently, veterinary schools teach students that cats but not dogs appear to tolerate chronic administration of corticosteroids without serious side-effects.  It appears that cats on a dry food diet are most sensitive to side-effects from steroid treatments.  The same cannot be said about wet cat food.  The argument is that corticosteroids stress the cat’s liver and pancreas.  The high levels of sugar and processed carbohydrate in dry cat food are said to stress these organs as well. The combined effect is to produce side-effects on the administration of steroids to a cat.

Myth number 9: all cats should be vaccinated annually

This myth has also been well and truly trashed on the Internet.  We know full well that there is no automatic requirement to administer booster vaccinations annually to a cat unless there is some particular reason for it such as unusual risks.  Perhaps, initially, vets had good intentions in vaccinating annually but it would seem that, over the years, this has turned into a need to generate income.  There are risks associated with vaccinations which goes against the concept of annual automatic vaccinations. There is a slow but steady u-turn by the vets against annual boosters.

Miss number 10: female cat should have a litter of kittens before they are altered (spayed)

This is another myth that has been, in general, busted on the Internet and in good books.  It is a misconception that contributes, perhaps significantly, to the number of unwanted cats at shelters.  There is no evidence that there is any benefit to allowing a female cat to become pregnant and have a litter before she is spayed; quite the opposite.  Cats altered before they reproduce are at less risk of some serious diseases.  Veterinarians recommend that female cats are spayed within the timeframe of 3 to 6 months of age.

I am indebted to the book Your Cat by Elizabeth Hodgkins DVM for this page. I highly recommend the book. The picture heading the page is of Gabriel, my cat companion. There are no myths in his life.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

14 thoughts on “Ten Myths of Cat Care Busted”

  1. Michele,
    Thanks for your comments. I do think it’s wise to get those vaccines that are recommended, especially since so many cats there are allowed to go out, and more easily have contact with other cats.

    As for the question on risk factor for live or dead rabies vaccine, that statistic may be available. although most of my decisions aren’t based on statistics. Actually, probably none are!

    • I wasn’t only thinking of the rabies vaccination when I raised the question about live/dead vaccines. I’ve read numerous posts from Americans raising concerns about the FeLV vaccine, but haven’t come across that here.

      Vets don’t use the same brands worldwide and I’m simply curious to know if either type (live or dead) is considered to have less side effects or whether is one is considered more effective than the other.

  2. I wonder what research might show about reactions to the rabies and other vaccines.

    I think if a cat is strictly indoors, the chances of getting rabies is pretty slim. Another reason to keep unvaccinated cats inside.

    I live in a senior community where all cats must be licensed, therefore needing a rabies shot or yearly booster. I’ve read enough about pet and human vaccines to decide not to do this.

    I think some people and pets can be harmed. I just received a renewal from from the city licensing dept. that I need to submit a current rabies vaccine report. I will not give the rabies vaccine, and have found a way around it, but can’t reveal how.

    Regarding the vaccine manufacturer’s statement that the vaccine must be given every year or ” if anything went wrong, such as failure of the vaccine or an adverse reaction, there would be no help or come back from the vaccine company because proper directions were not followed.”

    Does anyone believe that this statement is actually for “health and safety” reasons, or profit? And how many cases of vaccine failure or adverse reaction have received help from the vaccine company? Another topic of research….

    Considering that there are so many feral cats vulnerable to rabies that don’t get shots, I wonder why the rate of rabies is so low in the US? Outdoor cats come in contact with feral cats, and males especially sustain bites.

    Bats can be a problem, depending on where you live. This story is truly very sad, and the decision to euthanize rather than confine, was heartbreaking.

    For me, the risks of letting my cat outdoors, outweigh the benefits she might enjoy. Although, she does go out on an enclosed porch. Now, I’m wondering if we have bats…..

    • As the UK has been rabies free for 100 years, we are not required to vaccinate our pets against it unless they will be travelling to another country.

      Since the vast majority of cats here are allowed access to a garden during the day, vaccinations against Feline Infectious Enteritis, the 3 main strains of cat ‘flu (Calici, Herpes & Chlamydophila) and FeLV are strongly recommended.

      As my last 3 cats had pet passports they also had the rabies vaccination and having read lots of horror stories on-line I decided to ask my vet about the risks. He told me that in his 30+ year career, he’d only ever seen 4 cases of severe adverse reaction. Sadly he had seen many cats become very ill or die as a result of contracting one of the infectious feline diseases.

      I wonder if there’s a difference in the risk factor, dependent on whether the vaccine is live or a dead one?

  3. Glad to see the myths about dry food being exposed. Far too many people have no idea how inappropriate that diet is for cats or the serious consequences it can have on their health.

    Totally agree that by-products have been given a bad press. Especially when you consider that they are a natural part of a carnivore’s diet and can be rich in nutrients. Of course it depends on whether the manufacturer uses organ meats or poor quality by-products such as you’ve described. (In the UK, pet food manufacturers only use animals passed fit for human consumption).

    Despite the WSAVA recommendation for vaccines to be given every 3 years, currently all brands of UK licensed vaccines have to be given annually. This is based on the vaccine data sheet and thus required by law unless good justification can be provided by the vet and the pet’s owner is prepared to sign a waiver.

    • currently all brands of UK licensed vaccines have to be given annually

      I am surprised to hear that. Michele, are you saying that the regular vaccines have to be given annually in the UK?

      • In the UK, the vaccine manufacturers specify they must be given annually. This quote is taken from the web site of a UK vet;

        “For legal and safety reasons, these specifications have to be followed by the vet unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. Otherwise, if anything went wrong, such as failure of the vaccine or an adverse reaction, there would be no help or come back from the vaccine company because proper directions were not followed.”

        Strangely enough, vaccine manufacturers only require 2 sets of vaccinations for kittens, yet there’s growing evidence to suggest that this doesn’t provide sufficient immunity for them. Not only would a 3rd set of injections ensure they are fully protected, but it could increase the chances of the vaccinations offering life-time protection. (I guess this protocol would dramatically affect their profits and is probably why it’s the regulations haven’t been changed.)

  4. With the exception of No. 9, I think you did a great job busting these myths. While it is most likely beneficial to over-look vaccinations on a yearly basis, the rabies vaccine is one that cannot be overlooked.

    To elaborate:
    A friend had a cat who was very “needy” and preferred almost total contact with her “mom”. She liked to be held and would snuggle against Mom’s neck, etc.

    One morning the cat brought a baby bat to the owners. She seemed to limp when jumping down from the washer. Her Mom wasn’t sure if the cat had been bitten by the bat, so she took the bat to the local health department for rabies testing.

    After submission to the local health department, supposedly the bat tested positive for rabies. After much research by their trusted vet, the choices of either six months in quarantine with no human contact (it seems rabies can take longer than 10 days to show symptoms) or euthanasia.

    Because six months in solitary confinement would have been an emotional death for the cat, the decision was made for euthanasia. My friend was devastated and a very large piece of her died that day along with her “baby”.

    Several years later, the news reported that particular health department was so overwhelmed with work, that they could not process all lab requests and many were going undone. This information is quite devastating for pet owners everywhere, knowing what that implies for their pets.

    • I agree about the rabies vaccine. I was simplifying things. In the USA it is obligatory as you probably know. Yes, if a cat is suspected of rabies it is a very serious matter. The incidence of people getting rabies from cats in the USA is very, very low. Bats are the biggest worry.

      Your story is very sad indeed.

  5. I agree with these myths for the most part. However, regarding by-products in commercial pet food: What pet food is actually inspected by the USDA? Most by-products in commercial pet food would indicate euthanized animals with drugs and diseased animals not fit for human consumption. I do agree that organ meats are beneficial for pets, especially if used in home prepared diets.

    I don’t trust the USDA or The Association of American FEED(not FOOD!)Control Officials (AAFCO).


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