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Basic Nutrition: What Your Cat Needs
These scenes may be familiar: your beloved Simon was “fine” until one day you woke up and he couldn’t pee, and you had to rush him to the veterinary clinic. Or Samantha was “fine” until one day she stopped eating; then she began to lose weight, and when you got her to the veterinarian, he announced she had diabetes. Or Marco was “fine” until he began scratching so much he was drawing blood and risking infection.
What do all of these scenarios have in common? An underlying cause of the problem in each case could be diet. Let’s face it: cat food makers have done a good marketing job of convincing the public that everything their cats need can be found in a bag of kibble or in a can with a picture of an adorable cat on the label. You may have a pretty good idea how much vitamin C you and your family need or how much protein you should get per day, but can you say the same for your cat?
Your cat depends on you to provide her with the nutrients and overall diet she needs, and that includes knowing how much and which kinds of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and different nutrients are necessary to safeguard her from illness and disease and keep her content and functioning at her very best. So before you dish out her next meal, take a little time to learn what should be in the food on your cat’s menu—and what shouldn’t be.
NUTRIENTS EVERY CAT NEEDS
You and your family can turn to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the new “food plate” if you want to know the RDA—recommended daily allowance—of certain nutrients for your health; you can also read the nutritional information on every package of food you buy. But where do you turn if you want information on the nutrients your cat needs? Who is responsible for making sure the food on the market for your cat is safe and nutritious?
The National Academy of Sciences has set standards for specific nutritional requirements for cats. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food, requiring that it be “safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.” Standards for cat food manufacturers have been established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Because the topic of commercial cat food is complex, a fuller discussion of this topic is found in chapter 2.
Every cat needs certain amounts of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes), and water not only to survive but for optimal health. However, while each cat is unique, and therefore has nutritional needs that depend on her age, size, breed, presence of any health problems, body weight, whether she is taking medications, and other factors, there are still basic nutrients that all cats need.
Let’s look at the macronutrients your cat needs and a critically important message about carbohydrates before we move on to water and nutritional elements.
Cats are protein-guzzlers: they need lots of protein, even more than dogs do. It appears cats metabolize proteins differently than dogs do, which increases their need for protein. They are therefore inherently geared to break down large quantities of protein to glucose, from which they get their energy. Protein is also essential for your cat’s growth and development, as well as optimal functioning of the immune system and all bodily functions.
If your cat were still living in the wild, then his diet would naturally consist of about 50 to 60 percent protein, 30 to 50 percent fat, and 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates. Since Jasper is domesticated and doesn’t need to hunt for his food or expend the energy to do so, his protein needs have been downgraded somewhat. According to AAFCO, which sets pet food standards and is discussed in depth later, today’s domesticated adult cats need only 26 percent protein, although many veterinarians and other animal experts say 35 to 50 percent or more is preferred.
Not all protein is created equal, and each source of protein contains different amounts of amino acids and differs in how your cat’s body can utilize them. The ability of a protein source to be used by the body and the amount of usable amino acids is called the biological value. The food with the highest biological value is the egg, which is assigned a value of 100. Next best are fish meal and milk (92), followed by beef (about 78); soybean meal (67); meat meal, bone meal, and wheat (about 50); and corn (45).
Cats need twenty-two amino acids to make the protein necessary for their optimal health, and they can synthesize only eleven of them. That means they must get the remaining eleven from their diet. Those remaining eleven include arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, taurine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Both taurine and arginine deserve special mention. Cats need a high amount of taurine for eye and heart health and to form bile, yet they have limited enzyme ability to produce the amino acid. Therefore, they need lots of taurine in their diet or they can develop a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, undergo retinal degeneration, and have reproductive problems. If you’ve ever heard the warning that cats should not eat dog food, it’s because dog food does not contain taurine, since they can make enough of their own.
Arginine is an important amino acid because it binds ammonia that is produced when protein is metabolized. Cats who do not get enough arginine can experience excessive salivation and vocalization and even death if ammonia levels get too high. While most animals can make arginine using the amino acid ornithine through various processes, cats make ornithine only one way: by converting arginine. Therefore, cats who don’t have enough arginine can’t make enough ornithine.
Cats can get their protein from either animal or plant sources, although most experts agree the preferred source is animal. (Cats can be vegetarians if their pet parents follow a rigid dietary plan and ensure their cats get taurine from supplemental sources, since it is found naturally in meat and eggs only.)
You were probably taught that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, but a cat’s biological makeup is not geared to most efficiently metabolize carbohydrates for energy. Instead, cats get the majority of their energy from the glucose they glean from protein. Thus, cats require a small amount of carbohydrates, approximately 5 to 10 percent of their daily caloric intake.
However, if you read the ingredient label of many cat food products, especially dry foods, you will see a high percentage of ingredients that provide carbohydrates, such as ground corn, wheat flour, soybean meal, corn gluten meal, and brewer’s rice, and typically these items are among the top three ingredients.
Here is a critical message about cats and carbohydrates, and it is one that you will see throughout the book: Cats are not designed by nature to consume a lot of carbohydrates, and a high-carbohydrate diet (e.g., dry cat food) contributes to a wealth of health problems in cats. Therefore, the best home remedies you can give your cat every day of her life are high-protein, moderate-fat, and very low-carbohydrate meals, either those you prepare yourself (recipes are provided in this book), through high-quality canned or fresh foods, or a combination of both.
If you are asking yourself, “But why are there so many dry cat foods on the market?” “Why hasn’t my veterinarian recommended I switch to canned or homemade food?”* and “How do I know which foods are best to feed my cat?” those and other questions are answered in this book.
For now, however, let’s look at the results of a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, in which investigators conducted an extensive analysis of macronutrients in domesticated adult cats. Briefly, they set out to determine if these cats, when given a choice, would choose foods that are naturally and biologically appropriate for them, as they would in the wild. Or, as I like to put it: would they would pick the fast-food cheeseburger and fries or the grilled chicken and shrimp.
The researchers discovered that, when given a choice, the cats chose high-protein foods every single time instead of high-carbohydrate foods, even when they were provided with less of the high-protein food. They also found that when the cats were offered only high-carbohydrate foods (like dry cat food), they did not consume enough of it to meet their necessary daily need for protein.
Biologically this all makes sense, because cats don’t have the enzymes necessary to digest carbohydrates. In addition, cats have low absorption rates for glucose in their intestinal tract and no taste receptors for sugar.
In other words, pet parents, cats are not made to eat carbs. If you significantly limit the carbohydrates in the food you feed your cat and provide the high-protein, moderate fat content they need, you will end up with a healthier, happier cat.
Cats need fats as an energy source and to help them absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. However, the fats cats need and what they get from most commercial cat foods—especially dry food—are often not the same. One problem is that storing foods at high heat and/or humidity can cause fats to turn rancid and breaks down fatty acids. Another problem is many commercial cat foods contain too much fat, which is one contributing factor to the high prevalence of obesity among cats (see chapter 16, “Obesity”). A healthy range of fat for your cat is 30 to 40 percent of caloric intake.
Cats require the essential fatty acids linoleic, alpha-linolenic, and arachidonic acid in their diet, and the latter especially must come from food because cats are unable to synthesize it. Arachidonic acid is found in animal fats and is necessary for proper blood clotting, functioning of the gastrointestinal and reproductive systems, and skin growth. Arachidonic acid is a good-guy/bad-guy fatty acid because it is also necessary to produce an inflammatory response like the one that occurs in allergies. Sometimes, however, an inflammatory response is necessary because it helps the body protect itself.
The bottom line is cats need arachidonic acid in their diet, but not too much. Overall, essential fatty acids should make up at least 2 percent of your cat’s daily caloric intake to prevent deficiencies. The richest sources of linoleic acid are safflower and corn oils, while fish oil is an excellent source of arachidonic acid.
MORE NUTRIENTS EVERY CAT NEEDS
Water needs to be mentioned separately because cats do not have a strong drive to drink water the way many other species do. Perhaps the saying should be “You can lead a cat to water but you can’t make him drink.” Therefore, if you feed your cat a dry food diet, it is very possible he is not getting enough water, even if she drinks water from a bowl. Thus, cats be in a chronic state of dehydration if dry kibble is the main or only source of their diet. Canned foods and homemade foods contain much more water and therefore provide water levels that are close to what cats require for optimal health.
The take-home message: dump the dry food and switch to homemade food or at least high-quality canned foods for your cat. Bladder and urinary tract problems are common in cats, and the main reasons this is true are the lack of sufficient water in a cat’s diet and the associated use of dry cat food.
Fiber consists of various compounds found in plants, and all of them are classified as carbohydrates. Two main forms of fiber exist in nature, although all sources of fiber contain some of each form in varying percentages:
• Insoluble, which mean it does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber gives plants their structure, and it is especially helpful in helping move food through the intestinal tract. Foods that contain a high percentage of insoluble fiber include brown rice, carrots, root vegetables, and wheat bran.
• Soluble, which means it does dissolve in water. Good sources of soluble fiber include barley, beans, fruits, oats, peas, and vegetables.
Since cats don’t need much carbohydrates, they also don’t need much fiber. That said, a little fiber can go a long way in a cat’s life. Small amounts of fiber help enhance intestinal health, and some health problems (e.g., constipation and diarrhea) can be helped by the addition of fiber. In commercial cat food, fiber is usually in the form of hulls (peanut, rice, and soybean), beet pulp, pectin, and bran. Homemade cat food typically includes fiber in the form of a small amount of mashed beans or cooked vegetables.
It was widely believed for many years that a diet high in fiber was good for cats who have diabetes to control blood sugar levels. However, that approach has now been found to be ill-advised (see chapter 8, “Diabetes”).
Cats have specific requirements for nearly every vitamin except one: vitamin C, which kitties are able to produce themselves. Vitamin C is important for healing and for enhancing immune system functioning. Supplements of vitamin C could be helpful in treating urinary tract infections (see chapter 17, “Urinary Tract Infections”).
Here is what you need to know about your cat’s requirements for the other vitamins. The amounts are the minimums set by the AAFCO and are based on the amount of food consumed on a dry-matter basis.
• Vitamin A. The yellow pigment (carotene) in plants is the main source of vitamin A. While dogs can easily convert carotene into usable vitamin A, cats do not have the enzyme necessary for this conversion. Therefore, cats must get vitamin A in a form known as retinyl palmitate. This is important for pet parents to know because when looking at food and supplements labels, you want to be sure to get the correct form of vitamin A. Cats need 5,000 IU/kg while kittens need 9,000 IU/kg vitamin A daily.
• Vitamin B complex. The B family of vitamins are found in meat, poultry, fish, organ meats, and vegetables and are important for growth and for nerve support, function, and regeneration. All the B vitamins are water soluble, which means they are not retained by the body and are typically eliminated in the urine. B vitamins help with blood circulation and red blood cell formation, energy, adrenal function, brain function, and the health of the immune system. Because the B vitamins work synergistically, they should be taken as a combination (B complex) if you use a supplement, unless your veterinarian instructs you otherwise. Typically, a multivitamin/mineral supplement for cats contains all the B vitamins your cat needs. (See “Supplements for Your Cat”.) The minimum requirement for kittens and cats for each of the B vitamins is as follows:
• Thiamine (B1): 5.0 mg/kg
• Riboflavin (B2): 4.0 mg/kg
• Niacin (B3): 60.0 mg/kg
• Pantothenic acid (B5): 5.0 mg/kg
• B6: 4.0 mg/kg
• Folic acid: 0.8 mg/kg
• Biotin: 0.07 mg/kg
• B12: 0.02 mg/kg
You may notice an unusually high amount of niacin in the above list. That’s because cats are unable to synthesize a sufficient amount of niacin from the amino acid tryptophan the way many other mammals can. Therefore they need higher amounts in their diet. Cats who fail to get enough niacin can experience loss of appetite, weight loss, inflamed gums, and bloody diarrhea.
• Vitamin D. You can get your vitamin D from the sun when the ultraviolet rays convert vitamin D precursors in your skin into the active vitamin. Fluffy, however, isn’t able to make this conversion efficiently, so she needs vitamin D in her diet. How does vitamin D help Fluffy? This nutrient plays a major role in regulating levels of calcium and phosphorus in the bloodstream, helps with bone formation, and is essential for nerve and muscle control. Kittens need 750 IU/kg, while grown cats require 500 IU/kg. If you give your cat a homemade diet, you may need to add vitamin D to the food, depending on the ingredients in the recipe.
• Vitamin E. This vitamin is also fat soluble, and it is found in high concentrations in liver, meats, and fat, as well as in plant oils such as safflower and wheat germ. Cats need vitamin E to assist with fat metabolism, help form cell membranes, aid in cell respiration, and act as an antioxidant to prevent cell damage. Deficiencies of vitamin E are not uncommon in cats, especially those who are fed all-fish diets, which are naturally deficient in vitamin E. The daily minimum for kittens and cats is 30 IU/kg.
• Vitamin K. Cats are capable of making their own vitamin K. This vitamin is necessary for healthy blood function, including normal clotting. The main sources of vitamin K are egg yolk and green, leafy vegetables.
The AAFCO has identified twelve minerals that are essential for cats: calcium, chloride, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc. Your cat’s diet should include all of these essential minerals, although it’s not necessary that every meal meet these requirements. That said, you should strive to provide your kitty with all the essential minerals as often as possible, along with the other critical nutrients necessary for her health. If you give your cat a balanced diet using high-quality ingredients, you should have no problem providing the right amount of minerals. The value for each mineral provided here is the AAFCO minimum requirement and based on a dry-matter basis.
• Calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth, blood coagulation, nerve impulse transmission, and healthy muscle contractions. The best food sources of calcium are bones, legumes, and dairy foods, while most meats and grains contain small amounts. Calcium works closely with phosphorus, and the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is important for a cat’s health. Cats needs slightly less phosphorus than they do calcium, so the ratio is around 1.2:1. Commercial cat food typically has calcium added, and if you make homemade food for your cat, you will need to add calcium as well. The AAFCO minimum is 1.0 mg/kg for kittens and 0.6 mg/kg for grown cats.
• Chloride is necessary for cats because it helps produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which aids in digestion, and also works with sodium to maintain the balance between the fluids inside and outside of cells. Mostly chloride works with sodium to form table salt. A chloride deficiency is extremely rare (see “Sodium” below). AAFCO minimum is 0.3 mg/kg.
• Copper is necessary for the formation of bone, collagen, and connective tissue, and it also helps the body absorb iron and develop red blood cells and the pigment in hair. Food sources of copper include liver, fish, whole grains, and legumes. The minimum daily requirement is 5.0 mg/kg, and the optimal form of copper is cuprous oxide or copper-lysine and not copper oxide if you are depending on supplementation in cat food products.
• Iodine is important for functioning of the thyroid gland and manufacture of thyroid hormones. This mineral is found mainly in fish and is added to commercial cat food in the form of potassium iodide potassium iodate, sodium iodide, or calcium iodate. The minimum requirement is 0.35 mg/kg based on dry matter.
• Iron is present in fish, lean meats, and liver, so an iron deficiency is uncommon unless you feed your cat a diet that does not provide an adequate amount of meat. Iron is necessary for the health and replenishment of red blood cells. The minimum amount of iron that cats need according to the AAFO is 80 mg/kg. Iron should be provided in forms other than iron oxide or iron carbonate.
• Magnesium plays many roles for your cat: It’s necessary for the absorption and proper use of specific nutrients, such as vitamins C and E, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium; it’s required for proper bone growth; and it’s needed for the functioning of enzymes. Magnesium is found in fish, milk, and whole grains, and the AAFCLO minimum requirement is 0.04 mg/kg.
• Manganese is involved in how the body uses carbohydrates and protein, reproduction, and the activity of enzymes that are responsible for the production of fatty acids and energy. Cats can get manganese from eggs, whole grains, and green vegetables, although many cat food makers add supplemental manganese to their products. Cats need a minimum of 7.5 mg/kg.
• Phosphorus works with calcium to support strong bones and teeth. It also has a role in energy metabolism, maintaining the acid-base balance, skeletal structure, and in DNA and RNA structure. Cats need 0.5 mg/kg while kittens require a minimum of 0.8 mg/kg.
• Potassium is required for the proper function of nerves, muscles, and enzymes, and to help keep the fluid in your cat’s body in balance. Potassium is found in many foods so it’s unusual for cats to experience a deficiency of this mineral. The AAFCO minimum requirement for potassium is 0.6 percent, although additional potassium may be needed if your cat is experiencing problems such as excessive diarrhea or vomiting, kidney disease, or other ailments that can cause a loss of potassium. Symptoms of potassium deficiency include nervous disorders, loss of appetite, poor growth, weakness, and cardiac arrest.
• Selenium is an antioxidant that works along with vitamin E to enhance the immune system and fight infections. Selenium is typically added to cat foods and is found in meat and cereals. The AAFCO minimum requirement is 0.1 mg/kg for both kittens and full-grown cats.
• Sodium, along with chloride, is necessary to help maintain proper fluid balance throughout the body, to transfer nutrients, and to remove waste products from cells. Generally, sodium and chloride not only work together, but they also are found together in many foods. The AAFO minimum requirement for sodium is 0.1 mg/kg. Generally, the requirement for chloride is 1.5 times that of sodium, because by weight salt provides 1.5 times more chloride than sodium.
• Zinc helps with protein metabolism and assists in wound healing, among other functions. The best food sources of zinc include red meat, whole grains, and peas. The AAFCO minimum requirement for zinc is 74.0 mg/kg on a dry-matter basis. Zinc deficiency in cats is not common, but kitties who have inflammatory bowel disease may experience zinc deficiency because they are not able to properly absorb the mineral.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR YOUR CAT
An estimated 33 percent of cats and dogs in the United States are given vitamins or other supplements, with multivitamins topping the list, followed by fatty acids and remedies for arthritis.
Why Cats Need Supplements
Basically, cats need supplements for the same reasons pet parents need them: to supplement a portion of their nutritional profile that is not being met by their diet and/or because they have a health condition that makes it necessary for them to take specific nutrients. Another category of cats who often need supplemenst are those who are pregnant or nursing, because they can develop nutritional deficiencies, especially if a cat becomes pregnant before she is a year old.
You will see many different supplements discussed in part II in individual chapters in the “Home Remedies” sections. Specific nutritional and herbal supplements can be helpful in managing a variety of symptoms and health problems.
Naturally, every cat has different needs, so not every cat should be given the same supplement, nor does every cat need the same supplement for any given condition or circumstance. If you choose to feed your cat homemade food, you will likely need to add supplements, even if you choose a raw-food diet. It is best to consult with your veterinarian or a feline nutritionist before giving supplements to your cat.
Finally, supplements—whether they are vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes, or other natural substances—can be helpful in managing a wide range of health challenges that your cat can face. You’ll learn more about supplements used as home remedies in the chapters on cat conditions.
Do Supplements for Cats Work?
One question from pet parents regarding supplements is whether they really contain what is advertised on the label. The Food and Drug Administration oversees the quality of supplements for pets, but another organization—the National Animal Supplement Council—has the task of establishing labeling guidelines and testing supplements for pets to make sure they contain what they claim on the label. This nonprofit trade organization is made up of companies “committed to providing health supplements and nutritional supplements of the highest quality for companion animals, primarily dogs, cats and horses,” according to their Web site.
Another question from pet parents is “Aren’t nutritional supplements for my cat the same as the ones I’d take for myself?” The answer is no. (However, herbal remedies for people can be given to cats; see the introductory section to Part II.) Nutritional supplements for pets are typically formulated in ways that are specific for each animal, so it is best to choose supplements that have been formulated for cats if they are available. If nothing is on the market, then talk to your veterinarian about which human supplement is best.
How to Buy Cat Supplements
As your cat’s health advocate and a supplement consumer, you should check on the quality of the ingredients in your cat’s supplements. One unbiased resource to help you with that task is the ConsumerLab.com, an independent group that tests nutritional products and issues reports for the public. The ConsumerLab.com Web site allows you to access some information about supplements without charge, although there is a fee for some information (see the Appendix).
Here are some general guidelines for choosing quality supplements for your cat.
Look for products made by companies that have commissioned clinical studies of their supplements.
Select a form your cat will take willingly—or at least with minimal resistance! Cat supplements are often available in flavored chewable tablets, in liquid that can be added to food, or as a gel that can be placed on your cat’s paw so she can lick it off.
Be familiar with the ingredients you want for your cat. For example, there are several types of glucosamine: Which one is best for your cat?
If a supplement says it will prevent disease, be skeptical. Such promises are too good to be true.
Select well-respected supplement makers. These can include those offered by your veterinarian as well as others that have gotten good reports by ConsumerLab.com.
Look for products that provide a lot number (which indicates the company has quality control standards) and ways to contact the company. Call or send an e-mail to the company and ask about their product, such as if any studies have been done on the product and of you can see the study results for your review. Explore the manufacturer’s Web site.
Look on the label for certification from an independent organization that has verified the contents of the supplement.
Some cat food products, especially those formulated as therapeutic or prescription feline foods, contain specific supplements for particular conditions. For example, there are cat foods that contain glucosamine and chondroitin for kitties who are suffering with symptoms of osteoarthritis. Others may contain the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) to help with cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
COMMON CAT SUPPLEMENTS
Here are some common nutritional supplements pet parents buy for their cats to supplement the food they provide. These supplements may be used as ingredients in homemade cat recipes or given as supplements at other times, such as after surgery or when recovering from an illness, either in food or alone. Several of these supplements also can be used to manage certain health conditions, and in those cases they are discussed in their appropriate individual chapters.
You may need to supplement your cat’s food with a multivitamin/mineral supplement if you are making homemade cat food recipes and if your cat is eating commercial cat food. If you are feeding your cat a high-quality cat food that has extra vitamins and minerals or a food that has been prescribed by your veterinarian, talk to your vet before you give your cat any additional nutritional supplements, as they may not be necessary.
A good quality multivitamin/mineral should contain at least the essential vitamins, including vitamin A, D, E, and the B-complex vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B5, B6, folic acid, biotin, and B12). Each of the individual ingredients in the multivitamin/mineral should come from natural, quality sources. If the sources are not revealed on the label, contact the company by phone or e-mail, or check their Web site to get the information. Examples of quality sources include cod liver oil, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, and liver.
Follow the dosing instructions on the supplement tube or bottle, which typically are given according to your cat’s weight. For example, gels are often dosed by teaspoon or portions of a teaspoon, while chewable tablets are dosed by whole or half tablet per your cat’s body weight.
“Calcium is probably the most common deficiency in a homemade diet that isn’t professionally balanced.” That’s the word from Claudia Kirk, DVM, PhD, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. A professionally balanced homemade diet is one that has been developed or approved by a veterinarian or feline nutritionist.
Most, but not all, commercial cat foods provide a reasonable amount of calcium. If you give your cat homemade food that does not include ground bone, you will likely need to add a calcium supplement, which is easy to do (see “Make Your Own Calcium Supplement” below). Pregnant and nursing cats may need a calcium supplement as well.
You can make your own calcium supplement using eggshells. The best eggshells come from chickens that have been fed a natural (organic if possible) diet, because the shells reflect the nutrition provided to the birds. Eggshells contain calcium and about 25 other elements, such as boron, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, silicon, sulfur, and zinc, among others.
MAKE YOUR OWN CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT
Save your egg shells and make your own calcium supplement for your cat. One eggshell from a medium egg provides about 1 teaspoon of powder. The calcium from egg shells balances the excess phosphorus in meat diets that do not include bone.
• Rinse eggshells in warm water and remove any egg white. Do not remove the papery membrane that is inside the eggshell, however, because it contains important nutrients.
• Dry the eggshells on a flat baking sheet, either in a low oven for 1 to 2 hours or in direct sunlight.
• Grind the eggshells in a clean blender, food processor, or coffee grinder.
• Sift through a very fine sieve and regrind any pieces left behind.
• Store the powdered eggshells in a container with a tight lid and keep it in a dry place.
• One-half teaspoon of finely ground eggshells provides approximately 1,000 mg of elemental calcium, or 400 mg of absorbable calcium.
• In a homemade diet recipe, you will need approximately ½ teaspoon of powdered eggshells for each pound of boneless meat.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid/Fish Oil Supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means they must be obtained from the diet. These essential fatty acids play a significant role in protecting a cat’s immune system, eyes, brain, liver, and joints. Although commercial cat food often contains some omega-3s, some pet parents and veterinarians believe their cats do not get enough omega-3s from these foods.
In fact, there are no official recommendations for the amount of omega-3 fatty acids a cat’s diet should contain, and cat food makers are not required to list the amount of omega-3 contained in their products. If this sounds like a guessing game, you’re right! If you feed your cat a homemade diet, then you may need to supplement with a fish oil supplement (omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in fish oil), depending on the ingredients you choose for your cat’s diet.
The two main omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and both are found in cold water fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, and mackerel—foods cats love! EPA and DHA work together to reduce inflammation and support other health-related benefits.
If you choose an omega-3 fatty acid supplement for your cat, look for regular fish oil or salmon oil. Avoid cod liver oil supplements because they are typically high in vitamins A and D, which often are not necessary to provide as a supplement and can be toxic at high amounts. Some cod liver oil supplements advertise themselves as being low in vitamins A and D; however, these should be used with caution.
Some pet parents ask whether they can give their cat omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil. The omega-3 in flaxseed oil is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and cats have very limited ability to convert ALA to EPA, which must be done before the body can use the omega-3s. Therefore, it’s best to supplement with fish or salmon oil rather than flaxseed oil.
The suggested dose of fish oil for cats is about 750 mg (from a supplement that contains a combination of EPA and DHA) per 10 pounds of body weight. However, the dose depends on whether you are supplementing the diet or giving the fish oil to help manage symptoms or a health problem. In the latter case, the dose is typically higher. Amounts of omega-3 fatty acids given for specific health conditions differ from these maintenance levels and are explained in their appropriate chapters.
Fish oil is available as a liquid and in gel capsules. The gel caps are easy to pierce with a needle, which allows you to squeeze out the oil into your cat’s food.
HOW MUCH FOOD DOES MY CAT NEED?
How much food should you feed your cat? In reality, no one really knows. Every cat is different, and unfortunately you can’t count on the instructions on the cans and bags of cat food you buy at the store to accurately guide you. How much food you feed your cat depends on your cat’s health, her age, her breed, her level of activity, what type of food you are feeding her, whether your cat is overweight and needs to lose weight, and how well you are meeting her nutritional needs. So although I’d love to tell you exactly how much you should feed your cat, I can’t.
That said, what I can tell you is that it’s a matter of trial and error. Take an honest look at your cat’s weight and what he or she should weigh. In chapter 16 you can learn more about obesity in cats and how to solve the problem, but for now, here’s how to determine how much to feed your cat.
First, consider how much your cat should weigh. Although you may think Ginger looks healthy with a round, Garfield-like face and chubby belly, she is likely overweight, and what you feed her is probably keeping her that way. Generally, a mixed breed domestic cat should weigh between 8 and 11 pounds (with females at the lower end of the range), while Siamese should weigh between 5 and 10 pounds, Persians should weigh about 10 pounds, and Maine coons should weigh between 11 and 15 pounds, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).
If you think you can depend on what the commercial cat food labels say about feeding your cat, don’t. Their recommendations are questionable at best, and are designed to lull you into buying more cat food. Cat food makers may overstate or understate how much food to feed cats, depending on whether they want to sell more cat food or try to make their product look like it’s a better deal than their competitors’. They also do not know your cat.
So how much food should you feed your cat? The average 10-pound cat should eat between 180 and 200 calories per day and get about thirty minutes of exercise daily to maintain weight, according to the APOP. If Ginger weighs 15 pounds, she needs to lose a few pounds. The amount of food Ginger needs is probably around 225 to 250 calories per day if you want to reduce her weight to 12 pounds. Unless you know how many calories are in the amount of food you are now feeding Ginger, you will need to experiment with the amount of food you are feeding her, weigh her every week (a digital scale is best), and gradually make adjustments to the amount of food you feed. Yes, it takes time and effort, but the reward is a healthier cat and a good chance of lower vet bills.
To help you calculate the number of calories in any specific wet or dry cat food, there is a calculator available online: http://www.knowyourcat.info/calorycalc.htm. The calculator allows you to enter the amount of protein, fat, ash, moisture, and fiber as stated on the cat food label, and the calculator will then determine for you the number of calories per 100 grams of food. Although cat food labels don’t reveal the amount of carbohydrates in the food (which is important information for pet parents to have), the calculator also provides that information as well.
For example, I compared two different brands of canned cat food (one a well-known brand available in most grocery stores and the other a generic brand) and one well-known, higher-end brand of dry cat food available in grocery stores. Here’s the comparison.
• Well-known canned brand. First three ingredients are tuna, water, and egg bits: a minimum of 14 percent protein, a minimum 2 percent fat, a maximum 1 percent fiber, a maximum 3 percent ash, and a maximum 78 percent moisture. The calculation reveals that the canned food contains 73 calories per 100 grams of food. Since the canned food contains 156 grams (5.5 oz), the entire can holds approximately 110 calories. It also reveals that the food provides 67.1 percent of calories from protein, 23.2 percent from fat, and 9.58 percent from carbohydrates. All three factors are within the healthy range for cats.
• Generic canned brand. First three ingredients are ocean fish, water, and poultry by-products. Minimum protein is 11 percent, minimum fat 3 percent, maximum fiber 1.5 percent, maximum ash 3.5 percent, and maximum moisture 78 percent. The calculation reveals that this food provides 49.3 percent of calories from protein, 32.6 percent from fat, and 17.9 percent from carbohydrates. The 78 calories per 100 grams translates into about 120 calories per 5.5-ounce can. The carbohydrates in this canned food are higher than desirable and the protein content is marginal. However, as you will notice, even this generic canned food provides better nutrition than the well-known dry-cat-food brand (below).
• Well-known dry brand. The first three ingredients were salmon, brewer’s rice, and corn gluten meal: a minimum of 34 percent protein, a minimum of 13 percent fat, a maximum of 2.5 percent fiber, and a maximum of 12 percent moisture. The calculation revealed that 100 grams of this food provided 366 calories, with carbohydrates making up 37.2 percent of the calories—way above the 5 percent recommended for cats. Protein made up 32.5 percent of calories, while fat made up 30.1 percent. Because of the high carbohydrate content, this dry food not only provides too many calories, it also does not give your cat enough protein or fat.
The bottom line when it comes to how much to feed your cat is this: Know how much your cat should weigh, determine how much food she needs to eat at her ideal weight, and choose nutritious foods to meet those needs.
In this chapter I emphasized the importance of choosing wet food over dry, but there is another choice, and that’s homemade cat food, which allows you to control the quality and quantity of ingredients. Homemade cat food is discussed throughout the rest of this book, including tips and recipes on how to prepare quick, quality food for your cat.
First, however, you should learn more about commercial cat foods and why they often are not the best way to feed your cat.
Copyright © 2013 by Lynn Sonberg Book Associates