Feline Obesity and the Dietary Link
Pets rely on their owners to take care of them; this is, obviously, a huge part of the responsibility of owning a pet.
Why is it, then, that so many pets are overweight? Are they fed too much? Fed the wrong types of food?
The answer, most likely unbeknownst to the owner, is “yes.” Let’s take a moment and focus on cats in particular.
The Carnivorous Cat
Lisa A Pierson, DVM, explains in her article “Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition” that cats are “obligate carnivores,” extreme meat-eaters–no vegetarians here–which makes sense. Big cats eat prey, and the whole darn thing. This propensity for meat transfers down to their smaller, more domesticated counterparts, which eat mice, squirrels, birds, whatever they can find.
Cats garner all the nutrition they need from these smaller animals. Dr. Pierson explains that the feline’s enzymatic pathways simply don’t process plant proteins as efficiently as animal protein; the cat’s carnivorous nature needs the amino acid profile contained in animal tissue. Why is it, then, that most commercial and prescribed diets contain carbohydrates such as corn or rice as primary ingredients? This question is hard to answer. One thing is certain, though, and that is the feline body reacts to these unhealthy ingredients the same way we do.
The Carbohydrate Connection to Feline Obesity
Yes, cats are becoming carbohydrate junkies, craving the crunch and comfort of ingredients that not only boost their blood sugar levels, but also add unnecessary weight and a host of associated health problems. We can certainly relate, who wants to eat a piece of spinach over a big plate of fries or pasta? Why would the feline be any different? They aren’t, and that is where the cat’s owner comes in.
Carbohydrates are particularly prevalent in dry food, with the average commercial dry food containing upwards of 45 percent more carbohydrate calories than a cat needs. Not necessarily good news for the cat’s owner, as dry food is not only cheaper and easier to feed, but questionably recommended by most veterinarians. Why not feed the cat dry food then? In actuality, it’s detrimental to the cat’s health.
Dr. Pierson lists several concerning illnesses directly related to improper diet. They include: diabetes, kidney disease, compromised feline urinary tract health, inflammatory bowel disease and, one of the primary health risks for humans in the U.S. today, obesity. It makes perfect sense. The cat, much like the human, cannot be healthy if it is not eating a proper diet. The foods that are processed with unhealthy ingredients and fillers are calorie and carbohydrate-laden and, just like humans, kitty gains weight.
Feeding the Feline the Proper Diet
What can the cat owner do? Dr. Pierson recommends a raw food diet most closely related to the feline’s natural dietary habits and nutritional needs. This can be tough, however, for the cat owner. Bringing a cat down off of its carbohydrate addiction is hard sell, and the finicky feline is most likely not going to attack the raw food with the same verve it does the crunchy kibbles of feline “corn chips.”
Raw food can also be fairly expensive. That said, the transition is possible and can (and should) be made. At the very least, the cat owner can slowly remove the dry food and replace with a commercial wet food that does not contain any grain. This not only provides the cat with higher levels of protein and lower levels of carbohydrates, but also usually accounts for approximately 75 percent of the felines daily water intake needs as well.
Overall, perhaps the most important thing the cat owner can do is learn how to calculate their cat’s daily caloric needs and read pet food labels to ensure the animal is getting the most appropriate nutrition without too many calories. This information can be found in Dr. Pierson’s referenced article.