We don’t need to show our love through food


Myth six: Cats are often allergic to grains like wheat, so they should eat a grain-free diet

Grain-free also means gluten-free and these labels are becoming more commonplace in our supermarkets.  These diets are particularly helpful for people that have coeliac disease, gluten intolerance or wheat allergy.  A glance at the pet food shelf in the local supermarket may reveal that grain-free diets have now become accessible to dogs and cats.  But do cats also suffer from these gluten-related ailments, and would they benefit from a grain-free diet?

While cats can certainly develop food allergies, grains are by no means the most common food allergens to blame.  The top food allergens for cats include beef, dairy and fish proteins.  A relatively small proportion of cats may develop an allergy to grains.  Cats that have developed a food allergy develop unpleasant signs such as skin disease and gastrointestinal upsets. In the event of a suspected food allergy, your vet will be best placed to help determine the right type of diet specific to your cat’s dietary needs.

Another reason that owners may be attracted to feeding a grain-free diet is a desire to feed their cat a high protein, low carbohydrate diet.  These types of diets can be very helpful in the feeding of diabetic cats and in tackling obesity.  However, grain-free is not necessarily synonymous with low carb.  Many grain-free diets can actually be quite high in carbohydrates, as grains are replaced with other sources like potato.

Myth seven:  Table scraps are ok for cats (especially tuna!)

Cats are part of the family and it’s only natural that we would want to share our food with them. It certainly feels good for us to treat our cats to a bit of what they fancy, but is this good for them?

As mentioned previously, cats are more delicate than most in their dietary needs.  Any food not specially formulated for cats can cause vomiting, diarrhoea or a loss of appetite.  There are also a few foods of particular concern that owners may enjoy but can be hazardous to cats.

Alcohol, chocolate and caffeinated products are a definite no-no for cats.  As mentioned in Part one, cats are lactose-intolerant and dairy products can lead to stomach upsets, while onions and garlic can lead to life-threatening anaemias for cats.

Tuna can be a great option when it is specially formulated as cat food, however tuna sold for human consumption can cause digestive upsets.

It is also really important to remember that human food often contains more calories than we think.  With feline obesity on the rise, it is important to recognise that the odd human food treat soon mounts up for an animal as small as a cat.  We don’t need to show our love through food.  Often just spending some time playing or fussing your cat can be a great alternative to feed their need for attention!

Myth eight: Canned food is more likely to make cats overweight   

For a recent study, cats with an equal body weight were feed a food containing identical nutrients in either a canned (high-moisture) or dried (low-moisture) form.  The study found that the cats fed the canned variety had a significantly lower body weight and concluded that it may be that the increased water content of a canned diet could help promote weight loss in cats.

Although, ultimately obesity is caused by an overconsumption of calories (something that can happen with any diet we choose to feed our cats), it does seem that wet food may have a role to play in tackling weight loss.

Myth nine: Canned food causes dental disease

Dental disease is common in dogs and cats of all ages and nutrition can play a role in its development.  It is often believed that dry foods can help clean the teeth and are therefore better for dental health than wet foods.  Although consumption of soft foods may promote plaque accumulation, a large survey in dogs found that consumption of dried food alone did not consistently demonstrate improved tooth health.

But what about specially formulated dry dental diets? Studies have shown that such dental diets can decrease the build-up of plaque.  However, they are most effective at preventing plaque and tartar on the tooth tips, not at the gum line of the tooth.  Cats often don’t chew the kibble effectively for a whole-mouth clean.

The take-home message?  Nothing beats the good old toothbrush!  Once a day brushing would be ideal to stay ahead of plaque formation, but this can be a tall order for most owners! Brushing three days a week is considered the minimum frequency for cats in good oral health.

Myth ten: Cats need grass in their diet

Cats may be committed meat-eaters, but you’ve probably noticed your cat is not above having a little nibble on some greenery now and again.  This can seem like strange behaviour, particularly when your cat vomits afterwards!  Cats regurgitate when they eat grass because they lack the necessary enzymes to digest vegetable matter.  Its unlikely cats do this because they enjoy the act of vomiting, but the behaviour may serve an evolutionary purpose in purging the cat’s digestive system of other indigestible items such as fur and feathers from their prey.  When grass doesn’t induce vomiting, it acts as a laxative.  It may be that grass acts to rid the gut of indigestible items by aiding their passage out the other end too.

Ingesting grass is not necessarily a bad thing for cats.  However, as most cats are now fed a modern cat food diet, it is no longer so important for grass or other vegetation to be consumed.  It is worth bearing in mind that it is not unusual for cats to find themselves at the vets because a blade of grass has become lodged up behind their noses; so, there is no real need to invest in grass grown especially for your cat.

Dr Sarah Elliott, BVeTMed MRCVS


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