How to feed your cat

Last fall, the American Association of Feline Practitioners released documents Tips and tricks to feed your cat for optimal healthfrom an expert panel of feline specialists including a client brochure entitled “How to feed a cat.”

Since one contributing factor to feline longevity is an ideal body condition, I thought summarizing the panel’s recommendations would be helpful to feline families.

Nota bene, this the point of these recommendations is not to help you choose between canned versus dry food, or premium versus grocery store brands, but how to take normal cat behavior into consideration when choosing feeding methodology.  Feeding strategies that capitalize on your cat’s normal predatory drive will enhance your cat’s health and well-being.

Feed frequently

In the wild, cats hunt multiple times per day to meet their daily calorie requirement.  Most housecats are fed one or two large meals per day.  This meal feeding method leaves your cat unsated and with time on her paws to pester you for snacks, irritating you and packing the pounds on her.  An automatic feeder will help in this regard, since it can dispense multiple small meals per day, but it will not be as mentally challenging as puzzle feeding or forage feeding.

Use puzzle feeders

Hunting for small rodents is a mentally challenging activity for cats.  Eating tasty, soft food from a conveniently placed bowl offers no mental challenge.  Puzzle feeders, also known as food puzzles, are objects that hold and release food when your cat manipulates the feeder.  No matter how smart your cat is, expect a learning curve while she solves the puzzle feeder.  Monitor your cat’s weight as she learns to use the feeding puzzles to sure she’s getting enough calories.

Try forage feeding

And no, I don’t mean feed your cat a bale of hale.  Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat as their main protein source.  Here I use the word forage as verb meaning “to hunt.”  Since cats are programmed to hunt for their food, instead of putting the food in a bowl, make your home a cat buffet by putting bowls in various locations. Better yet, put puzzle feeders throughout your home and let your cat forage to find out where lunch is being served today!

Optimal feeding locations

Avoid putting food too close to the location of your cat’s litter box as cats do not like to eat near the box.  Be sure the food location works for all cats.  Cats don’t necessarily understand sharing and if there are not enough opportunities to forage, some cats may go hungry.  Some cats fare better if they are fed individually.  Don’t forget to use your cat’s elevated space (window sill perch or cat tree) as one of the feeding locations.

Ready to get started using puzzle feeders?  Try your hand at making some before you shop.

Lifestyle Factors Related to Feline Obesity

Buster Brown

June is Adopt-A-Cat Month and every blog post in June will focus on some aspect of our furry feline friends. Today’s topic is obesity.

I saw one of my favorite patients the other day. Okay, I admit, all my patients are my favorite. Buster Brown is a mink-coated Tonkinese cat, just a bit over one year of age. Because he is young and healthy, I haven’t seen him since before he was neutered and was a bit shocked when I put him on the scale. He had gained three pounds during the five months since I had last seen him. When his family saw the numbers on the scale, they asked, “How did this happen?” Below, I have outlined a few of the contributing factors to feline obesity that cat families can use to keep their furry friend at an ideal body condition.

But My Cat is Big-Boned
You are right, the significance of weight gain depends somewhat on the size of your cat. A slinky Siamese can gain less weight and still have a good body condition than the king of cats, the Maine Coon, but adding three pounds is probably too much for just about any cat. When I assessed Buster B’s body condition score, a scale which looks at a cat’s distribution of fat in various parts of the body, he scored 8/9, which is considered obese for a cat of his size.

Fixing Him, Even Though He’s Not Broken
Although Buster B is extremely handsome, he is a pet and was not going to make babies. Thus, he was neutered before he had a chance to start spraying urine on the furniture or drapes. Male cats that have not been “fixed” have very stinky urine and for that reason, pet cats are typically neutered. Neutering is a known risk factor for obesity in cats and portion control is a good practice after neutering. Decreasing a cat’s food intake by approximately one-third after neutering surgery is a good rule of thumb to prevent unwanted weight gain.

He Likes Crunchies and I Hate Those Smelly Cans in the Fridge
I am with you on this point. Cats like what they like and I find those little cans of congealed salmon and tuna pate revolting sitting next to my kale and organic chicken breasts. But, a diet of more than 50% dry food has been shown to be associated with obesity. If you feed your cat dry food fed free choice, without regard for portion control, your kitty can pack on the pounds. Ditto for treats; limit how many your cat consumes per day since snacking predisposes cats to obesity.

Kitty Gymnasium
In a recent scientific study published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, risk factors for obesity in cats at two years of age were identified. Cats kept indoors were more likely to be overweight or obese. I suspect this is related to exercise or the lack of it in a confined space like your apartment. While research indicating cat calisthenics helps to keep weight off is lacking, exercising your cat with a laser light, fishing pole toy or encouraging them to run up and down the stairs can’t hurt. Better yet, provide a cat tree for climbing as cats love to be up high.

One third to one-half of American cats are considered overweight or obese. Be proactive and keep your kitty slim and trim by controlling his food portions, including some canned food in his diet, and making sure he gets plenty of exercise.

Feeding Frenzy: Tips for Choosing the Right Pet Food

If I had to venture a guess as to the most fretted over issue for pet owners, it would be finding the right food for their pet. Grocery store and pet shop shelves abound with bags, boxes, and cans. No wonder the decision is difficult. Here are my tips to streamline the selection process:

1. Check the label The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) develops regulations regarding the nutritional adequacy of pet food. If the label says “complete and balanced” for your pet’s life stage (puppy, kitten, adult, senior), then you know it meets the AAFCO regulations and is a food worth a trial run. If the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy statement is missing from the label, this is definitely not the right food for your pet.

2. Look at your pet Not every complete and balanced food is right for your pet. If the food you feed results in a dull coat, vomiting after every meal, or diarrhea, start over and select an alternative food. As your pet matures, switch her food to one formulated for her current life stage. With so many options on the store shelves, there is guaranteed to be a food to meet the needs of every pet and pet family.

3. Variety is the spice of life If you feed your kitten or puppy food of the same flavor every day, you risk raising a finicky eater. Try alternating the chicken flavor of your pet’s favorite brand of food with the beef or tuna flavor. If you feed both canned and dry food, select foods from two different pet food companies. Familiarity with two different textures and tastes may come in handy if one food is taken off the market, is recalled, or if your pet develops an illness requiring a switch to a special diet.

4. Change cautiously When a diet change becomes necessary due to life stage change, illness, or family preference, plan ahead to prevent problems. An acute diet change often results in complete rejection of the new diet or gastrointestinal upset. Gradual introduction of a new food increases your chance of success in gaining your pet’s acceptance of what you want her to eat. Place a second bowl containing a bite or two of the new food next to the old food. Don’t expect instant success and consider a sniff or a lick on the first day a triumph. If she starts finishing the bite of new food, gradually decrease the portion of the old food while increasing the serving size of the new food. The total transition should take a month.

5. Check with your veterinarian This is the most important tip. Your veterinarian should serve as your primary resource for pet nutrition information. We see dozens of pets every week and have a good idea of what foods result in healthy, happy pets. Because your veterinarian knows the health of your pet, she will also know if a prescription diet should be part of the therapy for your dog or cat’s illness.

How Important is Food?

We all know food provides the energy and nutrients each of us, including our pets, need every day. But as a veterinarian, food is more important than just providing nutrients; it is an integral component of disease and recovery.

Food and disease

Food is also related to common illnesses veterinarians diagnose on a regular basis. Take for example Jack, the cat lost at JFK, who succumbed to hepatic lipidosis, a disease provoked by inadequate food intake and treated by feeding!

Excess food intake often results in obesity. Obese animals live shorter lives and have more medical problems, including arthritis, bladder problems, and respiratory disease.

Food as medicine

Veterinarians have been using specially formulated diets as a component of medical therapy since the 1940’s.

“Prescription” diets are now manufactured by several pet food companies. These diets are available by prescription only since the nutrients have been modified to address certain nutritional differences in pets with a variety of diseases, so they are not appropriate for every pet. Take for example the reduced protein diets used in dogs and cats with liver problems. Too much protein can cause seizures in these patients. Protein-restricted diets are commonly prescribed to minimize the protein-induced seizures. For pets with suspected food allergies, diets have been formulated with novel ingredients to facilitate diet elimination trials. The exotic ingredient list for these diets – kangaroo, rabbit, duck, peas, and sweet potato – help veterinarians to eliminate common causes of food allergies, like beef, chicken, corn, and wheat, while maintaining a convenient source of nutrition for your pet. Specially formulated kidney friendly diets are one of the most important types of therapeutic diets and have been shown to minimize clinical signs of severe kidney failure (uremia) while maximizing survival in both dogs and cats with kidney disease.

For The Animal Medical Center’s brochure on feeding pets with kidney disease, click here.

Food and insurance

Can you believe food just got more important? The Trupanion Pet Insurance Company recently expanded coverage to include veterinarian prescribed diets.

Here is the coverage as listed in the sample policy:

Therapeutic Pet Food

(1) Therapeutic Pet Food – We will cover the incremental cost of therapeutic pet food when recommended and dispensed by your veterinarian in the treatment of injuries or symptomatic illnesses covered by this policy for up to two months of feeding. If you continue to feed your pet the veterinarian recommended therapeutic pet food as a long-term replacement diet, you will be eligible for a discount to your monthly premium. This coverage is not for routine/preventive care.

This is great news for pets and pet owners. Clearly, Trupanion understands the importance of food and I hope other pet insurance companies will recognize it too!

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This may also be found in the Tales from the Pet Clinic blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Cat Food Myths Debunked

A few months ago I wrote about cats and “cat salad.” Since we are at the end of Adopt–a-Cat month, I hope there are many new cat owner readers who will be interested in these food myths about cats. These myths have come from conversations with my cat-owning clients at The Animal Medical Center.

All cats like fish.
Partial myth. Cats’ food preferences are strongly influenced by those of their mother. If the mother liked and ate fish, the kittens are likely to crave fish as well. But the food preferences of the finicky feline are not so simply categorized. Despite the daredevil behaviors of young cats – flying from cabinet to refrigerator and scaling bookshelves with abandon – they are not so adventurous when it comes to food. Young cats fed the same diet consistently are often reluctant to eat a different diet if one is offered to them later in life. A cat food with a “good” smell is more likely to be chosen by a finicky feline, and if your cat doesn’t find any of the food attractive based on smell, it may taste several before choosing one. One fun fact about cats’ food preferences is cats probably don’t chose food based on salty or sweet flavors since their taste buds are insensitive to salts and sugars.

Cats should have milk to drink.
This is a companion partial myth to “cats like fish.” Some cats like milk, some don’t. Most cats lack the digestive enzyme, lactase, responsible for digestion of lactose, or milk sugar. A bowl of milk may lead to an upset stomach or diarrhea in cats. This situation can be avoided by treating your cat to a bowl of low fat lactose-free milk or one of the cat milk products available at the pet store. Since treats should comprise only 10% of the daily caloric requirement, keep the amount of milk to about 1/3 of a cup, or roughly 30 calories per day for the average 8 pound cat. Cat milk products have the added advantage of supplemental taurine, an essential amino acid for cats.

Cats can be vegetarians.
This is a myth, and a dangerous one. Nutritionally speaking, cats are obligate carnivores. Everything about their physical structure says “meat eater” from their sharp pointy fangs to their short digestive tract. Veterinarians will discourage owners from preparing vegetarian or vegan foods at home for their cats. Without the input of a specialized veterinary nutritionist, homemade vegetarian and vegan diets for cats are frequently deficient in taurine, arginine, tryptophan, lysine and vitamin A. Taurine deficiency leads to heart failure and a cat fed a diet without arginine may suffer death within hours. Both taurine and arginine are found in meat.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

You Learn Something New Everyday…About Pet Food

Pet food is important to pet lovers since we all want to feed our pets a diet which will help to keep them healthy family members for as long as possible. Many veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center prescribe special diets as part of the treatment for medical conditions. Research into various disease states has resulted in the development of “prescription diets” to meet the nutritional needs of pets while treating a medical condition.

Heart diets have lower sodium, joint diets contain ingredients to promote healthy joints and other diets are easily digestible for pets with gastrointestinal problems. These diets are an important part of many medical interventions. In fact, kidney-friendly diets have been shown to prolong survival in pets with kidney disease.

One of my patients, a French bulldog being treated for allergies, eats a Royal Canin novel protein diet composed of duck and potatoes. He has responded well to this diet and scratches much less when than when he was eating a regular dog food. His owner called me a day or so ago because the bag design had changed. The label said the food was the same, but when the bag was opened the nuggets were a different color.

I called the veterinary hotline staffed by customer service representatives of Royal Canin to check and be sure the food was really the same inside the bag since the outside had changed. The very helpful staff confirmed the food is being made in the same plant and the only change to the recipe was an increase in some vitamins to improve coat health. They also mentioned other consumers had called because of the color change in the food. According to the representative to whom I spoke, there is seasonal variation in the color of the duck meat and potatoes used to formulate the diet. This most recent batch was lighter than usual.

If you have a question about your pet’s food, check the label on the bag. Most pet food companies have a consumer hotline and, as I found out, they can be very helpful. Or call your veterinarian. They are a wealth of information and already know your pet’s medical issues. For tough nutritional issues, your veterinarian may suggest you consult a board certified veterinary nutritionist.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Pet Food Recalls

Yesterday, the Iams Company voluntarily recalled Iams ProActive Health canned cat and kitten food – all varieties of 3 oz & 5.5 oz cans (date on the bottom of the can is 09/2011 to 06/2012). The Iams Company quality assurance team identified a deficiency of vitamin B1, also called thiamine, in this line of cat food. Cats can easily become thiamine deficient. If your cat is eating any of the recalled foods and appears sick in any way, please see your veterinarian immediately. Thiamine deficiency can easily be treated if recognized early. For more information, visit the Iams website.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food. Regulations indicate pet food should be sanitary, safe for consumption and truthfully labeled. Unlike FDA approved medications for your pet, food does not have to undergo a pre-market approval process. The FDA regulates pet food labels in two ways. First, pet food must be correctly identified: what’s in it, who makes it, where is it made. Second, the FDA reviews specific health claims of pet food such as “promotes urinary tract health” or “prevents dental tartar.”

A recall can be one of three different types. The most common is a voluntary recall, and this recall is just that type. During a voluntary recall, the manufacturer realizes the food or medication is in some way unsafe and issues a recall. Distributors are alerted to remove unsold product from stores. As a service to consumers, a press release is posted on the FDA website. Less commonly, the FDA can request a recall if their investigation identifies a safety issue with a food or medication. And finally, the FDA has statutory power to mandate a recall.

Pets and humans share a common environment, food and often the same diseases. A human food recall could affect our pets if they were sharing our hamburger that gets recalled. A pet food recall can directly affect us as well. Recalled food can be risky for those handling the food, not just those eating it. For example, pet foods are at risk for being contaminated by a bacterium called Salmonella. Pets eating the food can get sick, and humans who prepare the food for their pet without properly washing their hands after handling the contaminated food could contract Salmonellosis too. Since humans are not eating this food, this particular recall is of consequence only to our cats. The recalled cat food poses no safety issues for the humans in the family.

Here are some suggestions to protect yourself and your pet against food-borne illnesses. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any food, especially raw meat. Wash your pet’s food and water bowls daily in hot, soapy water to remove any microorganisms. If your pet’s food smells strange or looks different than it usually does, discard it. Proper storage will protect food against spoiling. Opened wet food should be refrigerated and dry food should be stored in a tightly closed container at less than 80oF to preserve freshness. And finally, always save the label from the food you are feeding as a resource in case the food your pet is eating undergoes a recall.

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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Ask the Vet

Q: I recently took my cat, Cheddar, to be seen by his veterinarian because I thought he had a urinary tract infection. My vet recommended a change in his diet from dry to wet food. Can you explain how this will help?

A: In the course of evolution, felines evolved as carnivores. Cats have adapted to eating a meat-based diet which is high in protein and lower in carbohydrates. Just look at the fangs they have clearly not necessary for eating soybeans!!! Because of convenience and often the cat’s preference for the crunchy consistency, owners frequently choose to feed their cats dry food, which is higher in carbohydrates than canned food. When cats consume more carbohydrates than their body can use, they store the excess as fat. Cats consuming a dry diet may eat more carbohydrates than they need in order to obtain a sufficient amount of protein for their needs and they can become overweight quickly. Studies clearly show the portly feline can be at greater risk for diabetes, arthritis and feline bladder problems, like Cheddar.

So, losing weight is critical for Cheddar's long term health. My recommendation, and the recommendation of The AMC, is to switch him to mostly, if not exclusively, canned food. If he doesn't lose weight with the adult dry food as a component of his diet, then he should switch to a dry kitten food which contains more protein than the average dry cat food. Another option is to ask your veterinarian if prescription dry diabetes food would be appropriate for Cheddar. This food is formulated to contain more protein and less carbohydrates. If these changes in diets are solutions which don't work, then you may need to eliminate dry food completely from your Cheddar's diet.

For cats with bladder problems, increasing their water consumption will help prevent the recurrence of clinical signs. Therefore, switching to canned food with its increased water content will force the cat to consume more water than if it ate dry food.
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