Cats and Carbs
Recently I overheard some people discussing their fat feline friends. One person was convinced that the cause for this full figured feline was early age (between 8 and 12 weeks) spay/neuter. While this may be a contributing factor, the more obvious cause is the diet.
Let’s start with some basics. Cats are carnivores (strict meat eaters)—just look at their teeth. They have sharp pointed teeth (and claws) that are perfect for catching and eating small prey, mostly rodents and birds. Now look at your teeth. People have flat, grinding teeth that are perfect for chewing vegetables and grains. We have to cook and cut up our meat in small pieces to even be able to eat it! But not so fast…. People get fat too by eating grains and other carbohydrates (both complex and simple sugars). This is likely due to imbalances in our microbiome, the vast collection of bacteria that live in our bodies (see the article on probiotics), over eating, and too much screen time. Indoor cats generally lead a more sedentary life and this often compounds the problems with eating carbohydrate rich foods.
So what can be done to help our fat feline friends? Stop feeding dry food. All dry cat food is at least 50% carbohydrates. Companies cannot make an extruded (i.e. kibbled) cat food without carbohydrates. What about grain-free dry cat foods? These foods are just a form of marketing that plays upon people’s ideas that grains are bad. Grain-free dry foods still have at least 50% carbs, usually in the form of pea starch or potato starch. Cats will eat until their protein and fat needs are met. If they eat a food with 50% carbohydrates, they will over consume calories to meet their protein needs and therefore get fat.
The best food to feed your frisky feline is a raw food diet. A raw diet most closely resembles their natural diet. These diets have become more user friendly for cat owners by coming as frozen nuggets or patties. The most common companies in New England are Primal, Bravo, Stella and Chewies, and Nature’s Variety. Most of these companies make a freeze dried version of their raw diets also. For some cats this makes the transition from dry food to raw food much easier because you can avoid rehydrating the freeze dried food so it retains that crunch factor that some cats prefer.
If you do plan on changing your cat’s diet, do it very slowly (over 2-3 weeks). Using all-meat baby food or canned food to introduce a raw diet is helpful or mixing the freeze dried food into the current dry food is another approach. Persevere in your quest to change your cat to a more natural and healthier diet. In the end, they will thank you for your effort.