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The Complete Book of Home Remedies for Your Cat
By Deborah Mitchell
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Lynn Sonberg Book Associates
All rights reserved.
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
Excerpted from The Complete Book of Home Remedies for Your Cat by Deborah Mitchell. Copyright © 2013 Lynn Sonberg Book Associates. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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