Cat Care

The Biological Value of Cat Food Ingredients

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Every time we write a post about cat foods, we get a handful of people who react with disdain. “My Mr. Boots was fed nothing but cat chow since the day he was born and he lived to the ripe old age of 27!” While these sorts of outliers do exist, it’s important that we recommend the best course of action for all cat guardians, not just for a select few who’ve encountered cats that are particularly adaptable when it comes to food. We’re looking to help cats to thrive, not just to survive. A human could survive on Captain Crunch alone, but it’s unlikely that would make them happy and healthy. The fact is that all cat foods are not created equal. Most commercial foods contain lots of cost-cutting ingredients in order to maximize profits for the companies making them. How do we know that for sure? Science.

The biological value of each ingredient can be measured and given a number on a scale of 0-100 for a given species. A “food” with a feline biological value rating of 0 is something of absolutely no nutritional value to cats while one with a feline biological value of 100 is a food that a cat’s biology can make 100% use of. The big pet food companies are banking on the fact that you are not aware of this. That’s why we’re sharing the information with you now. Not to chastise you or to tell you that you’ve been feeding your feline friends incorrectly - far from it. We want you to know the facts so that, regardless of your budget, you can still choose the best possible options for your cat.

Let’s start with that most important of feline nutrients, protein, as our example. There are lots of different types of protein molecules, but they all exist only in living things. They are one of the building blocks of life on this planet and may indeed turn out to be the FIRST building block on which all life that we know of was subsequently built.

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, many of which humans, cats and other animals cannot synthesize. These essential amino acids must be present in the animal’s food in order for them to survive. There are big differences in the amino acids that are present in various proteins. While they are all proteins, their quality is determined by how useful they are to an animal’s biology - their biological value. For cats, chicken eggs represent the highest end of the protein scale scoring a 100. Wheat scores a paltry 50.

Dogs and cats digest animal proteins better than those from plants, but products of low-quality animal origin are poorly digested, including skin, feathers, and connective tissue.
— Linda P. Case, Leighann Daristotle, Michael G. Hayek, Melody Foess Raasch, Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals, 3rd edition 2010

This quote tells us a lot about pet foods. Most of the big pet food manufacturers include poorly digested proteins near the top of their ingredients lists under names like meat by-products and wheat gluten. Neither of these ingredients is of a high feline biological value, yet they occur in many of the commercial cat foods available today. Why? Because they’re cheap.

As recently as the 1980s, cats were going blind and dying from taurine deficiencies in commercial cat foods. The people in charge of designing those diets had been instructed to replace meat with plant products where possible in order to boost profits. The end result was that the diets lacked taurine, a key amino acid that cats cannot synthesize on their own. Of course, no one realized that fact until the research was done to determine the cause of the problems.

Humans are not very knowledgeable about nutrition in general. We can’t even say for sure whether many foods are good for us or bad for us - just take a look at articles about wine or coffee written over the last ten years. The popular “food pyramid”, a dumbing down of human nutrition to help it make sense to everyone, has since been shown to have missed the mark by a significant margin. If we can’t determine what our own diets should be, how will we ever know enough about a species that has been rarely studied? We have to base their diets entirely on the types of foods that we can observe them eating in the wild. Which brings us back to those ingredients lists.

The pet food companies began to include wheat gluten as a primary ingredient in order to boost the overall protein levels of the foods they were making. Wheat gluten levels have crept up slowly and whole meat levels have dropped. Very few consumers have even noticed. Most consumers are mostly persuaded by the the pictures of human food and happy animals on the packages and never really notice what’s in the actual food behind the label.

Which brings us to our suggestion that the foods you feed your feline friends be made primarily of whole meat ingredients. Yes, a raw “prey” diet would be best, but we know that most of our readers live in the real world of deadlines and budgets and it’s not always an easy feat to pull off. Companies like Darwins are doing a great job making it easier to feed raw, but they’re also in the crosshairs of the establishment.

The big pet food companies companies have been so effective at getting their costs down that well-made cat foods can now seem absolutely pricey in comparison. We know that not everyone can afford to feed the best foods, but we encourage you to feed the best that you can afford. Look at the labels and think about what the feline biological values of some of the main ingredients are. If ingredients fall further down the list, it’s okay to let a few things slide by, especially if you’re on a budget, but those top three to five ingredients should always be whole meats with the highest biological value for cats.

My Last Cat Syndrome

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There is no more sincere form of flattery than stealing ideas, so today I’m stealing from a wonderful dog trainer, Michael Baugh who recently posted about My Last Dog Syndrome, or MLDS. I was so touched by his post that I wanted to do more than share it. I wanted to explain how there is also a My Last Cat syndrome that many of us go through after we lose one of our favorite cats.

You see, My Last Cat Syndrome, or MLCS, is a very real malady that affects just about everyone who has lost a favorite feline in the past. We constantly compare My New Cat with My Last Cat. We tend to see our former cat companions as perfect in so many ways. We even see their more irritating qualities as endearing. If only we could extend that graciousness to our current feline friends. They are here now, in our lives, ready to give their all to us and they deserve better.

Cats are especially prone to unique personality quirks that we need to accept before attempting any kind of training. I have one feline friend who needs a hug before each meal and even then may not eat until she’s absolutely sure she’s safe. I have one who behaves like a Looney Tunes character and wolfs down every morsel like a dog. Each of these cats is wonderful in her own way, and the greatest gift I can give each of them is acceptance.

Acceptance is the greatest training tool in our arsenal. When offering training guidelines, it’s important to factor in the things each cat wants to do. This helps to pave the road to success. We need to make sure we aren’t forcing something on them that they neither want nor enjoy. We need to adapt our expectations to the raw material we’re given. If a kitten is prone to biting noses, we can help them to succeed by replacing our nose with a ball that they can bite instead. We can also help them by never placing our nose within reach. Tempting them with our nose only sets them up to fail and we want them to succeed. We can help them by acknowledging who they are, not just what we want them to be.

If you were asked to paint a picture of the sky but were only given red and orange paints, what kind of sky do you think you’d paint? Probably a sunrise or sunset. You would become very frustrated and unhappy if you set your heart on painting a crystal clear blue sky or a rainy sky before the paints were revealed, but that’s what some cat caregivers do when they get a new cat. They immediately get infected with My Last Cat Syndrome.

“My last cat sat on my lap all the time. How do I get my new cat to do that?” is a frequent refrain. My New Cat is a young, fiery sunset full of energy and My Last Cat was a sedate, goth girl. How can they ever be expected to behave in similar ways? They are as different as a palette of red paints and a palette of blues. Both are palettes of paint, to be sure, but they both do well at very different things. The sooner we acknowledge that reds can be wonderful too, the sooner we’ll find our way with My New Cat.

And if I truly want My New Cat to have a personality like that of My Last Cat, my best option is to adopt an adult. Most folks go straight for the kittens because, let’s face it, they’re irresistible, but older cats need homes too, and you can get a better idea of their personalities before you choose who you’d like to adopt. In addition, an adult cat will presumably already be spayed or neutered and be current on all his or her shots. It really can be a win-win.

Dental Care for Cats Is a Necessity

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Dental care for cats is on my mind lately because one of our precious feline friends has a heart condition. What does that have to do with her dental care? Read on.

Mina, the black cat you see in many of our posts, is a 12 year old rescue cat with a pronounced heart murmur. Due to her heart defect, most vets refuse to offer her nonessential treatment (i.e. - treatment for anything that's not life threatening) if the treatment requires she be put under general anesthesia. The trouble with anesthetizing her is that it affects her blood pressure in unpredictable ways and the anesthesia could actually result in her death. Due to this, she's lived for over 12 years with only the routine, at-home dental treatments we could get her to accept from us.

Recently, she began exhibiting some excessive drooling as well as bad breath - classic symptoms of dental issues. She didn't seem to be in pain, but cats are very good at hiding physical discomfort. Her teeth were a mess, with many of her issues hidden under tartar buildup. It was clear that she was going to need extractions in addition to other dental procedures in order to live a happier life.

We consulted a verterinary cardiologist who administered an echo-cardiogram and prescribed a beta blocker to help manage Mina's heart health. Only then did he accept the risk of putting her under for the dental work she so desperately needed.

We had to wait for three weeks to get an appointment with the vet we wanted to do the work, and during that time, the vet researched her options for Mina's oral surgery. She chose to create an anesthetic protocol specifically for cats with heart problems like Mina's.

We had Mina's surgery yesterday and were consulted throughout regarding Mina's ups and downs. Seven of Mina's teeth were extracted or partially extracted and her remaining teeth were cleaned. Thanks to the diligence of Dr. Porter and the team at A Cat Clinic, Mina's surgery was successful and she's now resting at home as well as can be expected.

Dental care for our cats is necessary care. It should not be optional. Regular dental care from a qualified veterinarian will not only help them avoid future pain, it will help you to avoid the high financial cost of treatment as well as the price of watching your feline friend suffer. It can be easy to brush this need off (no pun intended) because cats hide their pain so well, but it's imperative. It isn't a veterinary sales ploy. It's a necessity for a healthy, happy cat.