How and what should your cat eat? Experts weigh in
By Kim Campbell Thornton
How hard can it be to feed a cat? You just set down a bowl of dry food and go, right? Wrong. Feline experts would prefer that you feed cats on a schedule, measure their food so they don't eat too much and switch them to canned food for a healthier diet.
What's wrong with free-feeding -- setting out a bowl of dry food and refilling it as needed so cats can snack at will?
"Pouring a bowl of dry cat food and topping it off is the way to diabetes," says Deb Greco, DVM, senior research scientist at Nestle Purina. "It's unlimited food, and cats often never get satiated. If you're eating constantly, you never have time to burn fat."
Measuring an appropriate amount of food and giving only that amount per meal is one way to ensure cats don't take in too many calories. For the average cat, that might be one-quarter cup twice a day. Use a measuring cup rather than a scoop so you know exactly how much you're giving. The amount recommended on the package is a guideline. Don't be afraid to adjust it up or down depending on your cat's weight.
Why canned food? Cats need high levels of protein and plenty of water. A canned diet provides both. While dry food is convenient and can certainly meet a cat's dietary needs, it has drawbacks.
Dry food is high in carbohydrates, and cats' teeth aren't made for eating it. Their sharp molars are made for tearing meat off bones, not grinding pieces of kibble. A cat's digestive system isn't suited to dry food, either, says Kristi Krause, DVM, a feline medicine specialist at Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital in Lake Forest, California.
"They don't have the salivary amylase to start breaking down the carbohydrate portion of the food," she says. "They preferentially use protein, preferentially use fat, and store the carbohydrates. That's where we start getting our fat cats and diabetics because they eat these higher carbohydrate diets and automatically store the carbohydrates."
Cats who do eat dry food need plenty of fresh water, so make it attractive to them. It's difficult for cats to see still water, Dr. Greco says, so simply setting out a bowl of it may not be enough. Running water is a better option because cats can hear it. Consider leaving a faucet dripping in a bathroom or providing a pet fountain.
Water placement is another important consideration. "They may feel vulnerable sitting at a bowl, especially one that's in a corner with their back to other cats that might jump on them," Dr. Greco says.
Dr. Greco and Dr. Krause advise new kitten owners to give canned food from the start, but if your adult cat has the munchies for his crunchies, or you can't give up the convenience, they recommend giving some canned food every day as a treat or a topper to dry food. That's because cats may require a canned diet at some point in their lives.
"If your cat ends up with some kind of bladder condition, kidney disease or diabetes, I'm going to tell you that he can no longer eat dry food," Dr. Krause says. "I want that cat to at least be accustomed to eating canned food."
And if you feed primarily dry food, give your cat a workout by placing his kibble inside a food puzzle so he has to work to get at it throughout the day. That will help keep him from gorging and ensure that he gets plenty of activity.
Chew on this,
Q: We have a new addition, a chocolate Lab. He is now 9 months old, but he still wants to chew. He has every kind of chew toy, but his favorite things to attack are the shake shingles on the side of our Cape Cod house. I've tried sour apple and a hot pepper that I diluted with water, but he seems to like them more. Someone said he needed more exercise. He gets plenty of that. Any ideas? -- via email
A: Dogs do love to chew, and Labs are especially talented at it. Young puppies have a physiological need to chew. It helps them to exercise, develops their jaws and eases the pain of teething. Adolescent dogs like yours chew because it's fun. Chewing keeps them occupied when you're not around to play with them. Some dogs chew when they're feeling anxious or stressed.
But your dog needs to learn to limit his chewing to acceptable objects. He has plenty of chew toys, but have you made it clear that you want him to chew on them? Make a habit of praising him every time you see him chewing on a toy. If he has toys such as Kongs, which can be stuffed with treats, make sure they are always loaded with goodies so that he's drawn to them.
If you catch him chewing on the shakes again, call him and reward him for coming. Then offer him a chew toy and play with him for a few minutes. If you are consistent, he should learn pretty quickly that you want him to chew on his toys, not the house.
Finally, if possible, try to bar his access to the shake shingles so he doesn't have the opportunity to chew on them. By doing that and rewarding chewing on appropriate objects, you can help to remodel his behavior. And in another couple of years, he may be over his gnawing obsession. -- Mikkel Becker Johnson and Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dog gone? There's
an app for that
-- A free smartphone app called Finding Rover uses facial recognition technology to reunite lost dogs (and now cats) with their people, reports Elizabeth Miller for National Public Radio. Pet owners upload a picture of their lost dogs. Shelters and other Finding Rover users upload pictures of found dogs. The app's software, using facial recognition technology, develops algorithms for pets, identifying their unique facial features. When a found dog photo is matched with a lost dog photo, the owner is notified. So far, more than 600 dogs and people have been reunited.
-- How much do you spend on your pet annually? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates first-year costs ranging from $1,035 (cats) to $1,843 (large dogs). Expenses you might pony up for include premium pet food; veterinary visits, vaccinations or titers, and heartworm and flea and tick preventive; pet health insurance; training or activity classes; toys and treats; litter for cats; and carriers. Pocket pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs, small birds and aquarium fish have annual costs ranging from $235 for fish to $1,055 for bunnies. Good thing our pets are worth their weight in gold.
-- Hot weather can bring wildlife closer to pets and people as deer, bobcats, coyotes, squirrels and other animals seek out water, shade or food that they may find in your yard. It's also the season when people and pets are more likely to be in wilderness areas where they might encounter wildlife. Keep pets on a leash or otherwise separated from wildlife to protect all involved. If they feel threatened, seemingly timid animals such as deer and rabbits can deliver powerful kicks, and other animals may use their teeth and claws. Your dog can also cause harm to wild animals if he chases or attacks them. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker Johnson. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker Johnson is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Feline dietary requirements and the human love of convenience can sometimes be at war with each other. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Shelters and individuals are using an app to help get lost pets back to owners. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1