When thinking of balance in terms of food, what immediately comes to mind for most of us is what we should be eating ourselves – a healthy combination of fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy, nuts, beans and maybe some lean meats. But is this what balanced nutrition means for cats? Not exactly.
Most people choose to feed their cats commercially prepared diets, as they are the most convenient; it’s hard enough to find the time to prepare wholesome meals for our human family members. And the epidemic of human obesity and other nutrition-related diseases indicates that as a society, we’re not really doing a great job of this anyway. Few of us have the time or inclination to attempt to cook for our pets, and recent research shows that this isn’t a bad thing. One study in which scientists examined 77 different home formulations for dogs revealed that 76 percent of the formulations were not nutritionally balanced.
So what does balanced nutrition mean in the context of a commercially prepared diet? Two things:
1. The food must provide everything that your cat needs to get from his or her diet.
2. The food cannot provide too much or too little of important nutrients in relation to one another.
The first point is fairly self-evident. If a cat eats a diet that is nutritionally deficient, health problems will inevitably arise.
The second point is not so easy to grasp, but it is based on the fact that nutrients interact with one another. Let’s use minerals as an example. It’s not too surprising that cats need a dietary source of calcium, but did you know that high phosphorous levels interfere with calcium uptake? So, even if a food contains a healthy amount of calcium, if it has too much phosphorous in it your cat will not be able to absorb the calcium, which could lead to a deficiency.
To make matters more complicated, calcium and phosphorous aren’t the only minerals that interact with one another. The same holds true for copper and iron, phosphorus and sodium, zinc and magnesium … the list goes on. Balance is vital when considering vitamins, proteins, and carbohydrates, as well as fats and oils, which can cause additional confusion.
Luckily, resources are now available for pet owners, including the new MyBowl for Cats tool, which can help owners determine whether or not the food they are feeding their pets is properly balanced. You can check out the tool here.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Petr Malyshev / via Shutterstock