What to Feed Cats

I’ve just read Your Cat by Elizabeth Hodgkins who is an American vet who specialised in treating cats before she retired, particularly seriously overweight and/or diabetic cats. She’s not advocating raw food, although she says it’s good for cats, but she is advocating wet food.

Her reasoning is that the majority of dry food is made predominantly of carbohydrate, plant sources coated in fat and flavour to make it palatable to cats. But cats’ natural diet is protein and fat from killed animals, with very little plant material or other carbs, and dry food doesn’t replicate it at all. She says that wet food is much more suitable for cats and replicates their natural diet better.

She gives multiple case studies throughout the book of overweight and/or diabetic cats who were fed predominantly on dry food, including “diet” or “light” food. She reports that switching the cats to wet food facilitated much better weight loss and in most cases, got their diabetes under control so well the cats no longer needed insulin, and when they did still need it, their blood sugars were more stable and they needed lower doses.

I’ve lent the book to a friend so I can’t give more detail, but it’s worth a read if you’re interested in cat diets. It’s convinced me to switch Pete from dry breakfasts and wet dinners to two wet meals with a small amount of high protein dry food in his activity feeder.

It’s also worth looking at the calorie and nutritional content of dry food compared to wet. I emailed Iams, Purina, Pets at Home and Go Cat about the calorie content of their food (which isn’t on the packaging) and even the diet stuff is over 300 kcal per 100g, with protein content of under 30% for most of them. On the other hand, Thrive 90% chicken dry food is 186 kcal per 100g and has a protein content of over 80%. The wet foods I’ve investigated – Felix, Kitekat, Iams, Whiskas and Tesco – are all between 70-95 kcal per 100g pouch, with well over 80% protein.

As far as raw food goes, she says that many people worry about food poisoning for cats who eat raw diets, but she points out that cats who would otherwise be killing live prey and eating it, perhaps caching a large kill and eating it over several days, are unlikely to get food poisoning from meat.

The book made sense to me, and I’m comfortable that a wet food diet with a small amount of dry, and raw meat with the bone in once or twice a week is the right thing for Pete. I’ve also scrapped the Dreamies after I saw him gagging on the dryness of one but still desperately trying to eat it, and his treats now are Thrive freeze-dried meat and fish pieces.

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Pete’s On A Diet

For the first few months I had Pete, I gave him a wet pouch night and morning and let him have free access to dried food, hoping he would get used to regular food, feel more secure, and eventually learn to regulate his intake.

Didn’t happen.

When we went to the vet the other week for his split ear, the vet weighed him. From the healthy 5.8kg he was in July, he’s now hovering around 7kg, which is too much for him. So he’s on a diet. I’m still giving him two wet pouches a day, but I’ve decreased his biscuits gradually to 10g, at bedtime. I was worried he’d be really hungry, but he tells me he’s hungry all the time anyway, so it’s hard to tell. Even after he’s just eaten a pouch and he’s having a snooze and digesting it, if I make the slightest move towards the kitchen he follows me and begs for food. He still does it, but not any more than before diet started.

The hardest thing has been working out how much to feed him. He gets a mixture of Felix, Kitekat, Whiskas and Tesco pouches, but only the Kitekat has the calorie content on the packaging. (And once a week I replace a pouch with a raw chicken wing or drumstick with the bone in, to give his teeth and jaws a workout). By the power of the internet I worked out that to get him down to 6kg, he needs 200-220kcal per day. So I emailed Felix, Whiskas and Tesco to find out their cat food calories. Felix and Whiskas have got back to me – Felix is 70-75kcal per 100g pouch, and Whiskas is 80-85kcal per 100g. So he’s getting 150-170kcal from wet food every day, and has 30-50kcal left over for dry food. Again, the dry food manufacturers don’t put the calorie content on their packaging, not even on the diet food. So I used this site to work it out. This one does it too. I give him a mixture of biscuits – diet, hairball and normal ones all mixed together in a tupperware, in a ratio of about 3:1:1, so I’m basing the calculations on the diet food and then adding a little bit. So he can have 10-15 grams of biscuits per day, which is less than half of what he was eating when he had free access. No wonder he’s put weight on!

It’s important that cats don’t get too fat. Apart from the risk of heart disease and diabetes, carrying extra weight can damage their joints when they’re running and jumping, and in extreme cases they can get too fat to groom and clean themselves and can end up with nasty urine sores.

So I’m going to keep him on 2 pouches and 10 grams of food, plus the occasional treat, for a couple of months and see how he goes. If he hasn’t lost any weight by the new year, then I’ll think about taking him to the fat club his vet runs for cats.

It’s interesting that all the cat food packaging says a 4kg cat should have 3-4 pouches per day which is more calories than even a 6kg cat needs to maintain a healthy weight.