Myth one: It’s fine for dogs and cats to eat each other’s food

Cats and dogs have different dietary needs.  As omnivores, dogs have the digestive capacity to build essential nutrients from a number of different dietary sources.  For example, dogs can utilise plant proteins to build muscle and fuel their body.  Cats are strict carnivores, however.  For cats, there has been no evolutionary need to develop the digestive capacity to convert nutrients in plants to what they need, when these are already present in the animals they prey on.

This means cats need a very specific diet and dog foods are not designed to meet these specific dietary needs.  Cats need more protein in their diet, specifically meat-based protein.  While dogs can make their own taurine, an amino acid that is essential for the heart and many other body systems, cats must get taurine from their meals.  Often dog foods can be lacking in taurine and a taurine-deficient diet can lead to deadly health problems for a cat. Cats must also get vitamin A and arachidonic acid directly from their diet; cats cannot make these essential nutrients themselves like a dog can.

So, it is vital for a cat’s health for them not to eat a significant amount of dog food in place of a good quality cat food.

Myth two: Homemade diets are superior to commercial diets

For some cat owners, taking the time to prepare a homemade diet is a way to show their cat real care and affection.  A homemade diet contains no hidden surprises or perceived nasties and owners can have full control over the quality of the ingredients going into their cat’s daily meals.

But creating a diet at home for a cat can have many pitfalls.  As obligate carnivores, cats lack certain digestive pathways to process essential nutrients from many of the dietary sources that omnivores like dogs or humans can.  Because of their unique and special dietary requirements, cats are extremely tricky diners to cater for.   Homemade diets frequently overlook the need for certain essential components, with a 2005 study finding that nearly 70% of homemade diets were deficient or unbalanced in key nutrients.  With this in mind, feeding a good quality commercial cat food at least as the major part of the diet may be preferable.

Myth three: Cats can drink milk 

Drinking milk or eating dairy products like cheese, cream and yoghurt often lead to diarrhoea for cats; unpleasant for both the cat and the owner to have to deal with!  Cats are actually lactose intolerant.  Once weaned from their mother’s milk, they lose the digestive enzyme lactase from their intestine.  This enzyme is needed to digest the major carbohydrate lactose, which is present in milk and other dairy products.  This doesn’t stop most cats from wanting to give dairy a try though, and many would lap up that delicious bowl of milk if given the chance.

But if the idea of cleaning up after an upset stomach isn’t enough to dissuade you from allowing that illicit dairy treat, consider how that saucer of milk could be expanding your cat’s waistline.  Just a few tablespoons of full fat milk could contain as many as 70 calories, which may not sound like much, but when you consider an average cat’s daily calorie requirement is closer to 160- - 200kcal, you can see how the pounds can quickly pile on.  With around 40% of cats in the UK now thought to be overweight or obese, it’s becoming more important than ever to take action to avoid excessive weight gain for our cats. 

So what should cats be drinking?  Well, plain old water!  Cats can be fussy about drinking and their desert-dwelling ancestors had certain adaptations to help them cope with dry conditions.  Cats have the ability to super-concentrate their urine and as a result it can take longer for their ‘thirst centre’ to be activated. However, all cats should have free access to water so they can drink as soon as they feel the need.

Some cats prefer running water and water fountains can be a great way of encouraging cats to drink.  Old cats may develop illnesses like kidney disease or cystitis, which may mean that drinking should be actively encouraged.  Occasionally, ‘cat milk’ may be useful in encouraging fluid intake for a fussy older cat.  Although ‘cat milk’ is lactose-free, care should still be taken to avoid any excessive weight gain and to offer this food stuff as part of a balanced diet.

Myth four: As descendants of wild animals, domesticated cats should only eat raw meat

Raw food diets contain raw meat, usually with bones included.  There are a few commercially prepared raw diets on the market or owners may choose to prepare their cat’s raw diet at home.  Most, but not all, healthy adult animals will tolerate a raw food diet.  Many owners who feed their cats a raw food diet subjectively find the diet is more palatable to cats and that their cats have better fur coats and better stool consistency.

However, there is currently a lack of reliable evidence to substantiate these claims.  As yet there are no published studies to compare the health of cats fed a raw food diet to those fed on any other type of diet (dry food, canned or home-cooked).

There are a couple of concerns relating to raw food diets; namely food safety and nutritional adequacy.  Raw animal products can contain bacteria and parasites that can pose a small risk of illness to both the pet and the owner who is handling and preparing the diet.  There are very few commercially available raw food diets that have undergone animal feeding tests for nutritional adequacy, and many have also not been formulated to be complete and balanced.

If you are considering feeding your cat a raw food diet, be aware that one raw diet is not necessarily the same as another and that raw food diets may not contain sufficient nutrients to prevent health problems.  Recipes should be evaluated by a nutritionist, bones should be ground and never fed whole or in pieces and safe food handling practices are essential in minimising the risk of contamination.

In short, there are no clinically proven benefits of a raw food diet, but there are documented hazards and risks.

Myth five: Supplementing the diet with garlic can help repel fleas and worms       

Have you ever come across the old anecdote that a bit of added garlic in the diet helps to rid dogs and cats of their parasites?  This may repel Dracula, but other blood suckers will quite happily enjoy a garlic-flavoured meal!

Garlic can actually be very harmful for cats and even small amounts of garlic in their diet can lead to the destruction of their red blood cells.  This can develop into life-threatening anaemia.  Luckily, cats usually find the smell of garlic repellent and will naturally avoid eating it as a snack.

If your cat does have fleas or worms, chat to your local veterinary practice who can point you towards one of the many safe and effective anti-parasitic options available commercially.

By Dr Sarah Elliott, BVetMed MRCVS

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of The Cat magazine.  My thanks to Francesca Watson for giving me permission to use it on the Daily Mews website.



A Morning Kiss

A morning kiss, a discreet touch of his nose landing somewhere on the middle of my face.
Because his long white whiskers tickled, I began every day laughing.

Janet F Faure

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