A moisture-rich diet: your cat’s health depends on it!

See catinfo.org for the full version of this great article by Lisa Pierson, DVM.

Meaty, wet food is best for your cat!

Meaty, wet food is best for your cat!

Why are we feeding our cats a carbohydrate-laden diet?

In their natural setting, cats—whose unique biology makes them true carnivores–would not consume the high level of carbohydrates (grains, potatoes, peas, etc.) that are in the dry foods (and some canned foods) that we routinely feed them. You would never see a wild cat chasing down a herd of biscuits running across the plains of Africa or dehydrating her mouse and topping it off with corn meal soufflé.

In the wild, your cat would be eating a high protein, high-moisture, meat/organ-based diet, with a moderate level of fat and with only 1-2 percent of her diet consisting of carbohydrates. The average dry food contains 35-50 percent carbohydrate calories.  Some of the cheaper dry foods contain even higher levels. This is NOT the diet that Mother Nature intended for your cat to eat.

Many canned foods, on the other hand, contain approximately less than 10 percent carbohydrates. [Please note that not all canned foods are suitably low in carbohydrates.  For instance, most of the Hill’s Science Diet (over-the-counter) and the Hill’s ‘prescription diets’ are very high in carbohydrates and are not foods that we would ever recommend.]

Cats have no dietary need for carbohydrates and, more worrisome is the fact that a diet that is high in carbohydrates can be detrimental to their health. With this in mind, it is as illogical to feed a carnivore a steady diet of meat-flavored cereals as it would be to feed meat to a vegetarian like a horse or a cow, right?  So why are we continuing to feed our carnivores like herbivores? Why are we feeding such a species-inappropriate diet?  The answers are simple.  Grains/potatoes are cheap.  Dry food is convenient.  Affordability and convenience sells.

Obligate carnivores are designed to eat meat/organs – not grains/vegetables – and they need to consume water with their food as explained below.

Cats need plenty of water IN their food

Water is an extremely important nutrient that contributes to overall health in every living creature.  Couple this with the fact that cats do not have a very strong thirst drive when compared to other species, and you will understand why it is critical for them to ingest a water-rich diet. The cat’s lack of a strong thirst drive can lead to low-level, chronic dehydration when dry food makes up the bulk of their diet.

A cat’s normal prey contains approximately 70-75 percent water.  Dry foods only contain 7-10 percent water, whereas canned foods contain approximately 78 percent water.  Canned foods therefore more closely approximate the natural diet of the cat and are better suited to meet the cat’s water needs.

“But my cat drinks lots of water so dry food is ok for him!”

A cat consuming a predominantly dry food diet does drink more water than a cat consuming a canned food diet, but in the end, when water from all sources is added together (what’s in their diet plus what they drink), the cat on dry food consumes approximately half the amount of water compared with a cat eating canned food. Put another way, a cat on a canned food diet consumes approximately double the amount of water consumed by a cat eating dry food.

This is a crucial point when one considers how common kidney and bladder problems are in the cat. Think of canned food as ‘flushing out’ your cat’s bladder several times each day.

“My cat seems just ‘fine’ on dry food!”

Every living creature is “fine” until outward signs of a disease process are exhibited. That may sound like a very obvious and basic statement but if you think about it …

Every cat with a blocked urinary tract was “fine” until they started to strain to urinate and either died from a ruptured bladder or had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency catheterization.

Every cat with feline diabetes was “fine” until their owners started to recognize the signs of diabetes.

Every cat with an inflamed bladder (cystitis) was “fine” until they ended up in pain, passing blood in their urine, and missing their litter box.

Every cat was “fine” until the feeding of species-inappropriate, hypoallergenic ingredients caught up with him and he started to show signs of food intolerance/IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).

Every cat was “fine” until that kidney or bladder stone got big enough to cause clinical signs.

The point is that diseases ‘brew’ long before being noticed by the living being.

Of course, in order to be on board with the preventative nutrition argument, we must understand the following facts:

1) All urinary tract systems are much healthier with an appropriate amount of water flowing through them.

2) Carbohydrates can wreak havoc on cats’ blood sugar/insulin balance.

3) Cats inherently have a low thirst drive and need to consume water *with* their food.  (A cat’s normal prey is ~70-75% water – not the very low 5-10% found in dry food.)

4) Cats are strict carnivores which means they are designed to get their protein from meat/organs – not plants.