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Is your cat eating a healthful, balanced diet?

Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Is your cat eating a healthful, balanced diet?

Cats require taurine from animal-based protein We spend so much time thinking about the foods we put into our own mouths, but what about the chow we put on our pets' plates? I'm guilty of feeding my cats things I know they shouldn't have (the odd saucer of 10 percent cream, despite the fact that felines are lactose intolerant), but that doesn't mean I don't want them to be the healthiest they can be. Well before I became a pet parent, I knew the grocery store pet food varieties were considered subpar diet staples by many shelters and veterinarians. What I didn't realize was these pet professionals often peddle brands for self-preserving motivations. (Many vets receive kickbacks for pushing certain products, while shelters often promote the brands their sponsors supply them for free.) Not that any of that means what pet professionals promote isn't appropriate; it just indicates this advice isn't always tailored to each animal individually. And every animal is different, with different tastes and gastrointestinal needs. After learning all of this, I began doing my own research. I read about daily nutritional requirements, including carbohydrates and protein intake. What I found out led me to change my approach to feeding altogether. For optimal health, cats require 11 essential amino acids—including taurine, an amino acid that's only found in animal tissue—from their dietary protein. These amino acids promote cardiovascular and reproductive health, as well as vision. Since cats aren't able to metabolize plant proteins (soybean meal or corn gluten meal) properly, they rely on animal-based proteins more strictly than humans or dogs. If felines don't consume adequate amounts of taurine, they can become susceptible to blindness and cardiovascular decline. For this reason, cat guardians should look at supplementing high-carb kibble— comprised of more plant and grain content than wet and raw varieties—with wet or raw food, both purer sources of protein. This added protein means your cat is also consuming fewer carbohydrates, which can be problematic for blood sugar and insulin production, and lead to feline obesity in sedentary house cats. In the wild, felines derive only three to five percent of calories from carbohydrates, while the average dry kibble can contain upwards of 30 percent carbohydrate calories. (Cats can tolerate foods that have starch levels as high as 35 percent of dry food matter.) Comparatively, quality canned food falls within that preferred three to five percent range. Wet and raw don't just boast a better protein-carb ratio, either. It's also a source of water for cats, which, historically, aren’t big drinkers. The ancestors of modern domestic cats got most of their water intake from feed—fish prey that contains more than 70% moisture. That's why many house cats run into urinary tract problems, liver and kidney disease, and constipation; like their predecessors, domestic cats often don't drink enough, leading to digestive complications. While water consumption is the obvious way of keeping these problems at bay, cat owners know it's difficult to get these finicky pets to do what is desired of them. If water intake is a problem for your pet, try adding high-moisture foods like wet and raw varieties to his or her diet. Canned cat food's water content is 75 percent or higher, while dry food comes in at a meager seven to 10 percent. While most pet foods are balanced and complete, each ingredient in these products has a unique nutritional profile. To ensure your pet's receiving all the nutrients he or she needs, try a rotating diet with both kibble and wet food that contain various sources of protein (chicken, beef, lamb and, possibly fish). Changing a pet's diet too quickly can lead to gastrointestinal complications, so be sure to make the change gradually, replacing no more than 25 percent of the old food with new daily. Photo courtesy FlickrCC/ Jan-Erik Finnberg  
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Is your cat eating a healthful, balanced diet?

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