CHECK IN WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN FOR CAT'S NUTRITIONAL GUIDANCE
This week's column is an excerpt from the just-released book, "Your Cat: The Owner's Manual." To get the entire first chapter free, visit www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker.
Nearly everything about your cat's anatomy suggests her genetic heritage to hunt, and hunt well. Her feet are designed for silent stalking; her claws can hook anything and won't let go; her teeth are long, pointed and razor-sharp.
So what do you feed a creature who is so obviously designed to fend for herself?
Choosing a cat food should be simple business, but with so many options available, it can be tricky to find the right diet for your cat's best health. Even after 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, I have to admit I sometimes find myself a little staggered by today's pet food aisle.
When I was a kid, we fed our cats in the barn from a 50-pound bag of generic, feed-store kibble. Now, I go to the grocery store that sells my own food, and see row upon row of dry, canned and even refrigerated fresh foods for felines -- something for every taste, dietary need and preference.
As a consumer, it's great to have choices. But you have to be able to sort through your options, weigh costs vs. benefits, and know how to compare to do your cat justice. After all, selecting a healthful, appropriate diet for your cat and feeding right-sized portions is one of the most important things you can do to ensure her good health and longevity.
Knowing how your cat's nutritional needs differ from your own may help put her very distinctive dietary requirements in perspective:
-- Must have meat. The feline system is designed to depend on the consumption of other animals to survive and thrive. Unlike humans and dogs, who are omnivores and can stay healthy on a variety of diets, cats are "strict" or "obligate" carnivores. Just like their distant cousins the lion, the tiger and the cheetah, house cats not only prefer meat, they can't maintain good health without it.
-- Pound for pound, cats need far more protein. A cat needs more than double the amount of protein per pound of body weight that a person requires. And even though we omnivores can meet our protein requirements with non-meat foods like dairy products, nuts and beans, cats don't have that luxury -- animal protein is the only kind that fulfills their nutritional needs. If a cat doesn't get enough protein in his diet, his body will actually break down his own muscle tissue to get the nutrients he needs.
-- Cats sponge vitamins and amino acids from their prey. There are some nutrients that an omnivore can produce or convert from food that cats have to get ready-to-use from their diets. Unless your cat is dining on a whole, fresh vermin several days a week, you need to provide a diet that provides these nutrients in usable form.
-- Many cats don't get thirsty. Cats are descended from desert hunters, and many scientists believe this is the reason they don't seem to have a strong thirst drive. In the wild, this isn't too much of an issue -- any fresh prey a cat would catch is mostly made of water. In a world of indoor cats eating dry kibble, however, this can become a big problem. Cats need plenty of water, whether they drink it directly or get it from their food. Without enough water in their diets, cats are susceptible to urinary tract problems. To help prevent problems with dehydration, make sure your cat absolutely always has fresh water available. A better solution is a pet-sized water fountain -- these encourage your cat to drink more, and more often.
Your cat's veterinarian is the best resource for advice on choosing a food that's best for your pet. Whether you shop for pet food in a grocery store, pet boutique or big-box retailer, your veterinarian will be able to point you in the right direction.
Dog park rules keep
the fur from flying
Q: I got into it with someone at the dog park two different times over breaking the rules on bringing my daughter and our poodle mix in. Seems to me that if it's a public park, it should be open to everyone. What do you think? -- via email
A: I think the safest dog parks are that way because of sensible rules for their use. You need to respect those rules, because if you don't, it's your child and your dog you're putting at risk.
Here's the rationale for three common rules at dog parks:
-- Children. Some who are looking for an outing with both their children and their pets want dog parks to be open to children. Proponents of "child-free" dog parks argue that children -- who tend to behave in ways that encourage dogs to chase -- could get knocked down or bitten. If a child gets hurt, the dog will get blamed, they say, so it's better to leave children outside the gates.
-- Small dog/big dog. Some small dogs think they're big dogs. Some big dogs think small dogs are edible. The clash of attitudes does not work out well for small dogs. Many dog parks are now adding a separate area that's just for small dogs. That's a far better plan.
-- Unneutered male dogs. Young male dogs who have not been altered are generally more territorial and more likely to fight. And even well-behaved unneutered dogs are often goaded by neutered ones. Not good, in either case.
Of these dog-park controversies, only the small dog/big dog issue seems to be easily remedied to the satisfaction of all sides. While arguments continue over who should be allowed in, savvy dog-park users sensibly vote with their feet, taking their animals out whenever any situation starts to develop that could spell trouble. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flea and tick control
safer for people, too
-- Keeping fleas and ticks off your pets is undeniably good for their health. New research suggests it's good for yours, too. According to Vetstreet.com, a team at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine has connected the Bartonella infection to rheumatoid illnesses in people. Bartonella is a bacterium found in fleas, ticks and other biting insects. The team's study, published in the current edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, showed 62 percent of nearly 300 people suffering from a variety of rheumatoid illnesses were found to have antibodies against Bartonella, and 41 percent had DNA evidence of the bacterium in their blood. The majority also had contact with dogs and cats. The study makes controlling parasites a high priority for pet lovers, so talk to your veterinarian about effective parasite control for your pets -- and, by extension, you.
-- Tired of cleaning up hairballs? Add some fiber to your cat's diet. A little bit of canned pumpkin -– plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling -- added to your pet's regular meals will help the fur ingested by grooming to pass through the digestive system, instead of being thrown up onto your carpets. Combine it with canned food for palatability, or mix it with a little water from canned tuna or clams.
-- While occasional cross-species theft by the cat from the dog's food bowl isn't a cause for alarm, giving dog food to cats long-term isn't a good idea. That's because dog food may lack a substance cats can't synthesize on their own -- taurine. The lack of taurine in the feline diet can lead to heart problems and blindness. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.