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Tales from the Pet Clinic

with Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, DACVIM

This blog has been retired. We appreciate all of the insights that Dr. Hohenhaus shared with our readers.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cat Food Myths Debunked

cat eating

A few months ago I wrote about cats and “cat salad.” Since we are at the end of Adopt–a-Cat month, I hope there are many new cat owner readers who will be interested in these food myths about cats.  These myths have come from conversations with my cat-owning clients at the Animal Medical Center.

All cats like fish.
Partial myth. Cats’ food preferences are strongly influenced by those of their mother.  If the mother liked and ate fish, the kittens are likely to crave fish as well.  But the food preferences of the finicky feline are not so simply categorized.  Despite the daredevil behaviors of young cats – flying from cabinet to refrigerator and scaling bookshelves with abandon – they are not so adventurous when it comes to food.  Young cats fed the same diet consistently are often reluctant to eat a different diet if one is offered to them later in life.  A cat food with a “good” smell is more likely to be chosen by a finicky feline, and if your cat doesn’t find any of the food attractive based on smell, it may taste several before choosing one.  One fun fact about cats’ food preferences is cats probably don’t chose food based on salty or sweet flavors since their taste buds are insensitive to salts and sugars.

Cats should have milk to drink.
This is a companion partial myth to “cats like fish.” Some cats like milk, some don’t.  Most cats lack the digestive enzyme, lactase, responsible for digestion of lactose, or milk sugar.  A bowl of milk may lead to an upset stomach or diarrhea in cats.  This situation can be avoided by treating your cat to a bowl of low fat lactose-free milk or one of the cat milk products available at the pet store.  Since treats should comprise only 10% of the daily caloric requirement, keep the amount of milk to about 1/3 of a cup, or roughly 30 calories per day for the average 8 pound cat. Cat milk products have the added advantage of supplemental taurine, an essential amino acid for cats.

Cats can be vegetarians.
This is a myth, and a dangerous one. Nutritionally speaking, cats are obligate carnivores.  Everything about their physical structure says “meat eater” from their sharp pointy fangs to their short digestive tract.  Veterinarians will discourage owners from preparing vegetarian or vegan foods at home for their cats.  Without the input of a specialized veterinary nutritionist, homemade vegetarian and vegan diets for cats are frequently deficient in taurine, arginine, tryptophan, lysine and vitamin A.  Taurine deficiency leads to heart failure and a cat fed a diet without arginine may suffer death within hours.  Both taurine and arginine are found in meat.

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Ann Hohenhaus, DVM at 9:34 am

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