Do cats really need to eat CAT food? What is different about a cat's nutritional requirements and a dog's or human's? Which diet should you buy for your cat? Should you buy Hill's prescription diet or stick with Iams? Does prescription pet food in general really make a different in your cat's health?
There are many factors involved in answering those questions and first, it's good to get an understanding of what a cat's nutritional requirements are.
Just like us, cats need protein. However, they shouldn't get it by drinking milk. There are many cats with a lactose intolerance. If it doesn't give your cat soft stool or downright diarrhea, then a sip from your cereal bowl when you're finished is ok, but don't overdo it. After all, cow's milk is really for cows.
However, Cats absolutely need protein. In fact, they need more protein than dogs do or than we do. Cats are obligate carnivores. They must eat other animals to survive. This must be their source of protein. The protein in their diet is necessary in order to supply the amino acids that cats require for many functions in their bodies.
While protein can come from meat, poultry, eggs, and fish, that doesn't mean you should feed all types of meat and fish to your cat. Many cats these days have food allergies and develop feline inflammatory bowel disease and it may be related to the consumption of beef and fish. It is better to feed your cats turkey and chicken and rabbit.
I was very disturbed to read not long ago that a celebrity is working on a vegetarian diet for cats. It's not the first time I have heard of vegetarians or vegans wanting to turn their cats into the same. It seems that they think that because a vegan diet is better for people, then it should be better for cats as well. That is absolutely not true. Again, cats are obligate carnivores. They must have meat. They do not have problems with blockage of arteries as people do. The proteins contained in plants are incomplete proteins and do not give cats all the essential amino acids they require. Meat supplies COMPLETE proteins which in turn supplies cats with the amino acids they need for good health.
Cats cannot be vegetarians! And I don't say that because I have anything against the vegetarian lifestyle for people. I am actually a very strict vegan myself and also consume no oil of any kind. I eat what I think is healthy for me and just want the same for cats and there is absolutely no reason for me to think that what I need and what my cat needs are the same.
Years ago, cats were developing blindness and a type of fatal heart disease and it was discovered that this was due to a deficiency of taurine in their diets. Taurine comes animal protein and many of our commercial cat foods did not have enough taurine. Although, this problem has been resolved because now the foods have added taurine, most of our commercial cat foods, especially the dry ones, still do not have the right amount of animal protein in them. To save money, they are filled with grains and vegetables and fat in ratios that are not appropriate for cats. So today, the problem may not be taurine, but it could be something else.
We have an epidemic of cat diabetes in this country as well as an increasing number of cases of hyperthyroidism in cats. I have long thought the excessive thyroid disease had to be in response to something wrong in cat food. Now, Hills has come out with a prescription diet for cats with hyperthyroidism that is reported to eliminate the need for medication. That sounds to me like evidence that food has been an important part of why these cats developed the disease in the first place, wouldn't you agree?
We have an increasing number of cat diabetes because we feed our cats diets that are too high in carbohydrates. Again, cats need to eat meat. If you look at an analysis of the protein to carbohydrate to fat ratio in all dry foods and many canned foods, you will see that they are far too high in carbohydrates and we have created obese, diabetic cats.
If you don't change your cat's diet in any other way, cut out the dry food altogether and consult Binky's Page for a list of low carbohydrate canned foods.
Yes, fat is indeed an important part of the diet for cats. It provides an important source of energy for cats and essential fatty acids. Again, animal products are the source cats need from which to obtain this saturated fat. Cats' bodies do not have the mechanisms needed to get the essential fatty acids they need from plants.
The bottom line again is that cats are carnivores. Cat food nutrition MUST include animal protein and animal fat.
Minerals must also be included. They are essential to the cat. They are stored in bone and muscle tissue
Vitamins are necessary for many functions in a cat's body. Some vitamins must come from diet although some are made by the body. Again, cats are much better at getting their vitamins from an animal diet than a plant diet.
Any discussion of the dietary needs of cats would be inadequate without mentioning water. Have you ever noticed that your young, normal, healthy cat doesn't seem to ever drink water? I have received calls and letters many times from concerned cat owners who are worried that they never see their cat drinking. This is usually a good sign. The time to be concerned is when you see your cat suddenly drinking more. In general, normal healthy cats have low thirst. That's because they were made to get their water from eating fresh meat. Another reason why eating dry food is horrible for cats. Many "normal" cats walk around slightly dehydrated all the time because they are on an all dry food diet. This is not good for their urinary tract.
This is easily remedied. Feed your cats canned food and always provide plenty of FRESH, clean, quality water. Avoid tap water if you can. Providing your cat with a cat drinking fountain has been shown to increase a cat's interest in water. I recommend them to all my patients.
I imagine you're starting to see why cats need a very specific diet and why cat food nutrition is not the same as that of dogs or people. Cats have higher requirements for some things and they cannot break down some things into the parts they need for the proper functioning of their bodies. It is, therefore, essential to feed your cat CAT FOOD.