For cat month, we’ll explore everything from necessary nutrition for cats at various life stages to socialization and engaging their natural tendencies to help them feel their best.
Why are carbs and dry food bad for cats?
Cats are considered obligate carnivores (meat eaters), where dogs need meat, fruits and veggies (opportunistic carnivores). Cats have adapted to be better hunters, so their nutritional needs are meat and moisture. Cats first use animal fats for energy and carbs last. If they are not active enough to burn off the carbs they consume, their bodies first convert them to sugar and then fat. When cats don’t get enough protein in their diet, they crave more food until they feel sated. They will then continue to consume carbs they don’t need, trying to get to the protein that they do need.
The addition of sugar to the body means the pancreas has to work harder to regulate insulin levels. Over time, this process can break down and cats can develop diabetes or an inability for the body to regulate blood sugar levels through insufficient or overactive insulin levels.
The sugar can exacerbate other issues in the body like bacterial and fungal infections. These frequently manifest themselves as urinary tract infections (UTIs) in cats. This is why a less processed diet with minimal carbs is ideal for cats. A food that is heavily processed and carb-rich can contribute to future health issues.
Why do cats get UTIs more often, especially males?
If cats are eating dry food and not drinking much water, they can become dehydrated. Yet, if they drink water, it goes through their digestive system separately from their food, which can dilute their urine, changing the pH. Both of these situations can cause an inefficient flushing of urea, magnesium, ammonia, and/or phosphate from the body, which can crystalize. These crystals can become stones that become lodged in the bladder, kidney or urethra. Any of these are extremely painful and will not allow the cat to urinate. That can lead to a burst bladder, if it is not addressed in time. The cat will usually need an emergency catheterization, which is very invasive and expensive ($3,000 on average). Male cats tend to have more narrow urethras than females, so they are more prone to developing blockages. So why does all this happen?
Cats are not adapted to drinking a lot of water. They originate from an arid climate, where water is hard to come by and standing water is most likely stagnant. Thus, cats get the majority of their moisture from their food. Interestingly, cats can see moving things better than still things, so still, clear liquids are practically invisible. Many cats don’t like to drink from bowls and will use their paw to move the water first. Moving water is fresher and easier for cats to see, which is why Natural Pawz recommends water fountains. Cat owners will need to allow time for cats to get adjusted to the sound of the fountain motor with an adjustment period of up to a week.
Without proper moisture acquired optimally, cats’ organs are not flushed properly. Coupled with extra sugar in the diet from carbs, the bacteria and fungus find it easy to invade the urinary tract. This leads to recurring UTIs. By changing the diet to a canned or raw food, most of these problems can be avoided. A diet high in meat content, low in carbs and proper amounts of moisture, coupled with veterinarian care can help get cats over UTIs more quickly.
But I think my cat looks cute when she’s fat!
Cats have high incidences of diabetes and heart disease, which is compounded with excessive weight. Additionally, lots of water is needed to flush out kidneys and liver. The more cats eat, the more junk is processed by the kidney and liver. So if cats do not drink a lot, the organs do not get flushed out and it causes future health issues. Of course, as cats age, their bones become more brittle and joints break down. Arthritis problems are compounded when they carry more weight.
What is taurine and why do cats need it?
Taurine is an essential amino acid that cats cannot produce for themselves. Cats’ bodies have adapted to expect to get certain amino and fatty acids from the food they eat. Taurine, needed for maintenance and functioning of muscles, is found only in meat, but is deteriorated by heat and lost in the typical meat grinding process. Lack of taurine will cause heart failure and loss of vision. Reproductive failure and abnormal growth in kittens is also typical.
Low or no starch canned or raw food is best, which can also help prevent dental issues. Good options include duck feet (Barkworthies or Bravo), fish skins (Beams or ABO salmon skins) or chicken necks (frozen from Primal or freeze dried from Barkworthies).
Socialization for Kittens
The kitten stage is the best time to socialize and desensitize your feline. Cats afraid of people were most likely never
properly socialized. Many people mistake this behavior for having been mistreated earlier in life. If you want a cat that approaches people in your home, isn’t afraid to go out on a leash and not be afraid of the vacuum, expose them to these experiences when they are kittens. Most cat owners do not often have people over, take the kitten out of the house except for vet visits or expose their cats to potentially frightening experiences. However, starting early with kittens allows pet parents to condition cats to feel positive toward things they will encounter later in life.
Similarly, if you plan to bathe your cat or trim their claws, you need to start getting them used to it early. Use treats, get them tired before grooming and give them something to chew on afterward as a reward.
Cats are very easily set in their ways when they get older. If you start when they are young, you can have a cat that isn’t afraid of people, dogs or sounds, and is more likely to try different foods and continue chewing. You can start behaviors that will make them happier and more well-adjusted for their entire life.
The average lifespan of a domestic cat is about 12-15 years, but a well-kept indoor cat can live as long as 20 years or more. With advanced knowledge about cat health and nutrition, many cats are living much longer. With advanced age comes the problems that any living mammal might experience such as arthritis and cognitive degeneration. There are a lot of products available to help cat owners make this time in their senior cat’s life more comfortable.
Cats have high incidence of health problems later in life, most likely because they have been fed only dry food, but there are genetic and epigenetic factors that can contribute to developing chronic conditions or diseases. Feeding only dry food can lead to dental issues, obesity, diabetes, digestive problems and/or renal failure. Many people will say that their cats have eaten the same thing for years and are fine. Dr. Lisa A. Pierson said it best in her paper on cat nutrition basics: “Every living creature is ‘fine’ until outward signs of a disease process are exhibited.”
Senior cats are considered “picky” eaters, usually because they have not had much food variety up to that point and are set in their ways. Here are some suggestions:
- Stop free-feeding. Start your cat on a schedule. This is the most painful part, for both of you. This can take a few weeks to a month for your cat to adjust.
- Place a small amount of the new food next to their bowl when you feed them. They might not eat it right away, but will start associating it with food. This might take weeks.
- Start adding small amounts of the new food mixed into their old food. Gradually change this mix. For dogs we recommend 7-10 days because of digestive irritation. For some cats, this can take up to a few months. Really.
- As always, consider adding freeze-dried food to encourage appetite.
Most aspects of typical cat behavior can be boiled down to the fact that they are highly skilled hunters with an instinctive yearning to exercise those skills, but most have no outlet for those drives. The best thing a cat owner can do is to understand their desires and try to create an environment that allows them to use that energy. Not only does it make them more playful, it makes them less stressed and less moody.
Interactive cat toys are the best way to play with your cat. They stimulate cats’ natural need for hunting and play to cats’ strengths. Consider cat toys such as:
- Interactive cat toys
- Cat scratchers – a great way to expel energy and keep those nails in check
- Anything that moves
We love our feline family members and with a lot of love and a less processed diet, you will have them not only purring but healthier too.