Feline Nutrition

Cats

  • What recommendations do veterinarians have for switching kittens to adult-type foods?

    Many veterinarians recommend changing from a growth food to an adult-type food at the time of spaying or neutering which is usually between six and nine months of age. Neutering reduces the energy needs of kittens. A veterinarian may recommend feeding fewer calories, such as adult-type food, to help reduce the chance of kittens from becoming obese. Other veterinarians recommend waiting until the kitten is at least 12 months old. Probably the two most important criteria to keep in mind are to choose a product which has a complete and balanced claim for the appropriate life stage and to closely monitor the animal's body condition as it matures. These two factors should always be considered when you are discussing when to change your pet's diet with your veterinarian.

  • Are there any special concerns when switching a cat's diet?

    Yes, these concerns apply anytime a change in diet is made for cats (young or old). Whenever a change in diet is made, it must be done gradually. This helps avoid the digestive upsets and food refusals which can occur if a diet is changed too quickly. The best method for switching foods is to gradually mix an increasing amount of the new product with the old product over a seven to ten day period until the animal is receiving only the new product. Also, keep in mind that while there are appropriate times to change a pet's diet, frequent changes are not necessary or recommended. It can contribute to finicky eating habits and increase the potential for stomach upsets.

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  • Are there special requirements for feeding "geriatric" cats?

Specific nutrient requirements for "geriatric" cats are not known. For this reason, older cats should be fed as individuals, based upon their health, body condition, and level of activity.

  • Do pet food labels tell you all you need to know for choosing a pet food?

Labels contain a lot of information, but they do not tell consumers everything they might want or need to know. It is important to rely on the manufacturer's testing, research and overall reputation to ensure the food is of high quality and provides complete and balanced nutrition. For this reason, perhaps the most important item on any pet food label is the 800 number or address of the manufacturer or distributor. While this is not a required element, it is the consumer's best source for information not available on the label.

  • What are the differences between dry, canned, and soft-moist foods?

Each type can provide complete and balanced nutrition. The major difference in the products is their moisture content, which gives them unique characteristics. Dry pet foods are the most economical. They are convenient to store and serve and the crunchy kibbles help reduce buildup of plaque and tartar on the pet's teeth. Semi-moist foods are higher in moisture and are generally more palatable than dry. They are convenient to store and serve, and require no refrigeration. They are, however, more expensive than dry products. Canned pet foods have the highest moisture content. This means they deliver fewer nutrients per pound and require a larger serving size. Canned foods are highly palatable but are less convenient to serve. Once a can is opened, any unused food must be stored in the refrigerator. And finally, canned foods are the most expensive type of product to feed. Pet owners should choose the type of product to feed their pet based upon their preferences for palatability, cost, and convenience.

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  • Why are there so many different kinds of pet food?

Pets have different nutrient needs depending on their life stage. Products are designed to meet these different needs. Each pet food label carries a statement indicating the life stage for which that product is intended. In addition to life stage, pet foods are designed for other characteristics, including palatability and digestibility. Palatability indicates how good the food tastes and digestibility measures the availability of nutrients in the food. That means the more digestible a product is, the more nutrients can be absorbed, and in turn, less waste generated.

  • How are pet foods different and how are they alike?

While no fixed definition of super premium, premium, or non-premium pet foods exist, these three broad categories are generally characterized by cost, and characterized nutritionally based on palatability, digestibility, and nutrient density (or number of calories per pound of food). Although the characteristics of products can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, super premium products are generally regarded to be on the high end of the spectrum, premium products are in the mid-range, and non-premium products are generally in the lower end of the spectrum. Super premium, premium, non-premium, and palatability products are all available in the store brand category. Store brands are typically designed to offer similar performance to the national brands at a lower price.

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All of the above categories can offer complete and balanced nutrition. Choosing one over the other is like choosing to drive from New York to California in a compact car or a luxury car. Both are dependable and will get you from point A to point B, but the style, comfort, and speed with which you travel will be different. The same is true for pet food. As long as the product offers 100% complete and balanced nutrition, the animal's nutritional needs will be met. Choosing a highly palatable food merely changes the pet's enjoyment of the food and choosing a less digestible food means you may have to feed more.

  • Isn't animal protein the best source of protein?

Not necessarily. The quality of protein in a pet food is determined by the balance of available amino acids. Soy protein is an excellent source of most amino acids. Used in a diet with complementary proteins, it can be part of high quality dietary protein. Because animal source proteins can vary widely in amino acid content and availability, they also can vary in quality. The protein digestibility of a pet food (i.e., the percentage of protein absorbed by the dog or cat) varies according to the quality of the protein source used in the pet food as well as the processing of the food. Poor quality meat or poultry meals are substantially less digestible than soybean meal. The only assurance of digestibility in a pet food is to be certain that the product has undergone controlled feeding studies. For information about feeding studies for a particular pet food, contact the manufacturer.

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  • In this health-conscious world, where many things we eat are available in fat-free alternatives, can't we buy a fat-free formula for our pets?

The answer is no for several reasons. Pet foods are different than human foods in that one pet food supplies all the nutrition the animal receives, whereas people eat a variety of foods. Fat is an essential nutrient and a certain amount of fat in the pet's diet is critical. Eliminating it from pet food would remove it from that animal's diet completely.

Reduced calorie or "lite" foods are available for dogs and cats. For those people interested in comparing products, the manufacturer should be contacted and the fat (dry matter basis) and kcals/lb. (M.E.) should be requested for specific products.

  • What happens when cats develop dietary allergies to proteins?

Allergies are hypersensitivity reactions by the body to foreign substances or organisms. Anything that provokes an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Allergens can come from just about anything ranging from plants to carpets to insects to feeding dishes. In order to treat an allergy, the allergen must be identified. This can be a complex process requiring time and patience. The most common allergies affecting dogs and cats include flea bites, inhalants such as plant pollens, dust, and molds, or contact with soaps, insecticides, wool nylon carpets, poison ivy, and wood preservatives.

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Some pets develop allergies to food, although this is rare. A food allergy results from an abnormal reaction to an ingredient found in the animal's diet (from pet foods, snacks and treats, or table scraps). Food allergies usually appear as skin problems or as gastrointestinal upsets. A variety of diseases have similar signs, therefore, other causes should be excluded before the diet is blamed.

No food source is non-allergic. The only foods that can be considered "hypoallergenic" are those which the animal has never eaten before, because allergies usually occur in animals exposed to an offending ingredient in some previous diet. Owners that suspect their pet may be suffering from a food allergy should take their animal to a veterinarian. Identifying the cause of an allergy requires a detailed medical and diet history, a complete physical examination, and eliminating any other potential causes before trying a new diet.

If a dietary ingredient is suspected to be causing a food allergy, dietary restriction is the only way to isolate that ingredient and determine if it's causing a problem. Restricted diets should be fed for at least 2 to 3 months, and once an animal is placed on a special diet, it is important that no rawhide chews, snacks, treats, table scraps, or other pet foods be offered. If the ingredient to which the animal is allergic can be identified, a more appropriate diet can be recommended.

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  • What should I do if I suspect my pet is gaining weight?

Many times it is the owner who's the last to realize their pet is gaining extra weight, and it takes a trip to the groomer or veterinarian to help you see what's happening. Feeding directions on pet food packages should be used as a starting point or guideline. The best way to determine how much you should be feeding your dog or cat is by putting your hands on the animal and evaluating its body condition.

Your pet's body condition can be categorized into three broad ranges: very thin, just right or "fit" condition, or overweight. Most of us could easily agree on what is meant by very thin and what is overweight, but judging whether your pet is truly fit can be difficult to perceive. On your next visit, ask your veterinarian to help you determine your pet's body condition. The simplest rule of thumb for assessing your pet's body condition is to be able to feel the ribs, but not see them, and to feel and see a waistline or hourglass shape when viewed from above or the side.

After using the feeding directions on the pet food package for 1 to 2 weeks, you should evaluate your pet's condition with both your eyes and your hands. To help your pet maintain a healthy body condition, adjust the amount of food you offer. By continuing this process every couple of weeks, you can quickly learn to "feed the animal and not the food bowl."

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  • What can owners do to prevent their pets from gaining too much weight?

Pet owners can take several different steps to help control their pet's weight. The first is to cut back on treats and snacks. These are generally high in calories and may contribute to weight gain. The second step can be to feed less of the animal's regular pet food. This usually means measuring the amount of food that's put into the pet's dish to prevent the serving size from increasing over time. Third, owners can increase a pet's exercise with additional walks or playtime each day. This helps the pet owner as well as the pet, and has the additional benefit of increasing the amount of time the pet and owner spend together. Finally, a pet owner could consider switching to a low-calorie food. These products are designed to allow an owner to serve a nice-size portion while still reducing the calories the animal eats. It is always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian before putting a pet on a weight-loss program. The veterinarian can help tailor a weight-loss program for an individual pet and can track progress and help troubleshoot along the way.

  • What is the role of magnesium in Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease?

The answer to this question is complex. Struvite crystals found in some cases of FLUTD contain three elements: magnesium, ammonium, and phosphate. This led to the belief that the more magnesium in the diet, the greater the chance of struvite crystal formation, and the higher the risk of FLUTD. Research in the 1970s showed that very high magnesium diets could cause obstruction in cats, if the magnesium was in the form of magnesium oxide. Based on this research, the magnesium was identified as the cause of blockage in cats. However, this research failed to identify that the magnesium oxide has another effect. It causes alkalization of the urine in the bladder.

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Other researchers continued the magnesium study by feeding diets using magnesium in the form of magnesium chloride at high levels. No struvite crystals formed and no blockages occurred. This form of magnesium acidified the urine. This research showed that while magnesium may play a role in struvite stone formation, it is not the whole story! What is important is the acidity or pH of the urine of the cat. Acidity interferes with the formation of struvite crystals and alkalinity contributes to crystal or stone formation. Today, diets intended to prevent formation of struvite stones ensure appropriate amounts of magnesium and help acidify the urine. However, this addresses only a portion of cats with FLUTD. This remains a medical condition against which much research is focused.

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