Ideas, profiles, products & news for all things animal. Special this month: Feline nutrition. (And what to do if you encounter a cougar.)
I sat down with Dr. Nancy Larsen DVM, owner of Dancing Cats Feline Health Center, to discuss feline nutrition. Much of what I learned was surprising, and challenges the murky information the cat food industry has fed us through the years. Here’s what Dr. Nan had to say:
Cats are obligate carnivores; their natural diet consists primarily of protein, animal fat, vitamins and minerals. A healthy diet is either all canned or raw food, no dry food. Cats descended from desert felines who hunted mice, snakes, birds and insects. By nature they are not big water drinkers and got their moisture from eating their prey. Their urinary tracts are made to concentrate urine to conserve fluids. Dry diets do not provide the moisture cats need which leads to dehydration, urinary crystals and stones (feline lower urinary tract disease). Dry diets do not mimic a cat’s natural diet; they do not hunt corn, rice, wheat, etc… Dry diets also lead to obesity and its complications such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, lipidosis, allergies, diarrhea, vomiting and inflammatory bowel disease.
Since an all-canned diet can lead to plaque and tartar buildup, it is important to brush your cat’s teeth. DancingCatsVet.com has a link to a video from Cornell Feline Health Center that will help human caretakers learn how to do that. If you can’t brush your cat’s teeth, add a little dry food (10% or less), the kind formulated to make cats crunch the food apart before they swallow. Cats do not chew small kibble, they mostly swallow it whole as evidenced by that wet pile of vomitus that appears in the night. Another option is chicken gizzards; this tough organ requires shearing and tearing to devour, which helps keep the cat’s teeth and gums clean and strong. If starting out with a kitten, train it to let you brush its teeth.
Regarding cat food ingredients: Watch out for carbohydrates and grains. Cats are not vegetarians so vegetarian and vegan diets are not appropriate, and in fact are a health hazard. Cats must have meat. They should eat a high protein, low carb diet.
Ingredients that need to be included are amino acids and vitamins that the cat’s body cannot manufacture for itself or does not manufacture in high enough quantities. Cats get these nutrients from eating not only the meat of its prey, but also the bones, organs, stomach, and stomach contents. Taurine is especially important as is arginine, vitamin A, vitamin D, niacin and arachadonic acid.
Making your own cat food is a good alternative to commercial food provided a good balanced recipe is followed that supplies all the cat’s dietary needs. Crucial ingredients for homemade food include appropriate vitamins, minerals, animal fats and supplements that require a variety of meat types, organs, enzymes, omega fatty acids, and supplements. If feeding a raw diet, I prefer commercially balanced products such as those available at Ma & Paw’s Bakery and The Dog’s Meow.
You can find good homemade recipes through several websites and books: CatInfo.org, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs and Cats, drpitcairn.com, and Celeste Yarnall’s website celestialpets.com and book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care. There are also commercially available “basic supplements” for adding to raw meat such as Feline Instincts found at felineinstincts.com.
I don’t think there is an ideal commercial cat food available, but if this is preferred, some of the brands I recommend are Nature’s Instinct, BG, Blue Buffalo, Merrick, Weruva and Wellness.
—Dr. Nan received her DVM from Colorado State University in 1993. Unconvinced that western medicine was the best option for her practice, she became a Reiki master and veterinarian acupuncturist. She opened Dancing Cats Feline Health Center on 1760 S 1100 E, Utah’s first and only all-cats veterinary clinic, in 2004.
Myth buster from Dr. Nan: Your cat needs a flea collar. False! Northern Utah does not have a significant flea problem because of our high altitude and cold winters. Flea collars are not necessary and in fact are dangerous; cats can get “hung up” on these collars while doing their favorite activity, climbing. Even if we did have a flea problem here, flea collars are not very effective. Fleas love to run around near the tail and under rear legs, far from the effects of a flea collar.
• The ASPCA has given a $100,000 grant to the Center for Science and Conservation in Billings, Montana for training and administering the Environmental Protection Agency approved PZP fertility control vaccine to wild horses.
EPA approval of PZP, along with increasing the number of people qualified to administer the vaccine will make it harder for the BLM to resist accepting this population management alternative to costly and inhumane roundups.
• Four eggs in the peregrine falcons’ nest at the Joseph Smith Memorial building! See them live at wildlife.utah.gov/peregrine.
Seeing a cougar is a rare delight. Attacks are unlikely. But what’s social protocol when encountering a cougar? With the recent sightings in the Logan area, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials offer this information and advice:
• Cougars avoid groups of people, especially noisy ones.
• Cougars ambush from behind so keep young children and pets (more vulnerable targets) in front of the group while hiking.
• If you encounter a cougar, DO NOT RUN. This invokes an instinctive prey response and it will pursue you. Also, DO NOT CROUCH OR BEND OVER, this looks to the cougar like four legged prey and it will attack.
• Do all you can to appear large to the cougar. Open your jacket, raise your arms and wave them. If you have children, pick them up, keeping eye contact with the cat. Do this before the children panic and run. Throw things at the cougar if it approaches you.
• If you are attacked, fight back.