Cat nutrition 2.0 ... What's new in kitty food?
By popular demand, here's the promised post on what's new in cat feeding and nutrition. After last week's Waltham Centre visit in rural England (which I'm mining to great effect), I got the download on all that's new in the world of moggy munchies.
Translation: moggy = house cat (in common British parlance).
Cats are a big deal at Waltham. Given that while cats are the number one most popular pet in the U.S., cat owner spending still takes a distant back seat to what dogs enjoy. So it is that most pet food companies don't invest a proportionate amount of research into what cats need, food-wise, relative to dogs' needs. Kudos to Waltham's researchers for that one.
So here's the scoop on what they're working on:
1. Best foods for teeth
The assumption is this: The overwhelming majority of cat owners don't brush their cats' teeth. (Safe bet on that score.) Which is why, whenever possible (and appropriate), foods should help reduce plaque. Foods can be formulated for plaque deterrence. Crunchy ones, especially.
Unfortunately, they've also found that crunchy kibbles are not always best for all cats. Read on ...
2. Wet vs. dry, redux
Here's a new spin on the canned vs. kibbled, carb vs. protein debate that's all the rage in feline circles:
Cats fed identical quantities of identical formulas were more active and weighed less if their food was moistened with water. Both groups of cats were also offered as much water as they wanted to drink.
So let me recap to be sure you got this: Wet (canned food or moistened kibble) food seems to keep kitties more active and (therefore, we assume) leaner. The formula itself doesn't seem to matter. Not in this study, anyhow.
Now, the previous assumption (and perhaps still a valid one) is that canned foods effect weight loss in cats because foods made in this format are capable of being formulated with a higher percentage of protein, and — as the theory goes — more protein means more normal weights because cats aren't overcompensating with increased intake of carb-rich kibble to make up for the protein. Make sense?
So does that mean this latter theory has been debunked? Not necessarily ... just that there's a new, less theoretical rationale to consider: increased hydration leads to increased activity levels and therefore to lower weights.
Why might this be the case? It's been proposed that cats, with their desert ancestry, have come to expect hydration with their meals. Indeed, many wild species rarely drink water; rather, they consume nearly all their fluids via their prey's flesh. Hence, why they might not naturally gravitate towards independent water consumption or why hydration might be more efficiently achieved when accompanied by a meal.
3. Wet foods and FLUTD
This one I already knew and have previously passed on to diligent Fully Vetted readers: Cats who suffer any urinary tract dysfunction — especially "feline lower urinary tract disease" — are likely to have better outcomes (i.e., fewer and less severe episodes) if they ingest fluids with their meals. Dunno why.
4. Portion control post sterilization
We sterilize house cats. So far we've found no way around this, given the unwanted acting-out kitties are apt to display sans spay and neuter. Unfortunately — and this should come as no surprise to cat owners the world over — we've found that spayed and neutered cats will (gasp!) gain more weight than their intact (or "entire," as the Brits like to say) brethren.
That's why nutritionists have gone the extra mile to study the effects of portion control post sterilization. After much trial and error, it seems the 18-week period post spay and neuter may be crucial for determining whether cats will ultimately gain lifelong-dogging amounts of weight relative to their entire counterparts.
That's the scoop. What say you, catsy folk?
Dr. Patty Khuly