DEHYDRATION -RELATED ILLNESSES ARE THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN CATS
Learn Why Giving Your Cat Wet Food Is Vital To Their Health
First, I want to address my huge passion behind this article. I’ve run an animal rescue for over 11 years and successfully rehome approximately 200 cats and kittens a year. This article was written after hearing about too many of our adopted felines developing problems and dying from kidney-related issues and urinary blockages – even cats as young as 2 years of age! All these incidents had one thing in common: These cats were NEVER given wet food in their daily diets! Incorporating canned wet food into your cat’s diet is an absolute must. I hope that this article will help you understand why wet food is so important and encourage you to change the way you feed your own cat, as I know this change will save lives.
Unlike humans and dogs, cats have a low thirst drive. The reason for this dates back centuries. The ancestors of our domesticated felines were desert wild cats who had to adapt to having few water sources. Their natural instinct is to get their daily fluid needs from their food. Being carnivores, their diet consisted mainly of animal prey containing a moisture content of about 75%. This satisfied their daily water needs. Although today’s domesticated cats have access to plenty of fresh water in their homes, they actually drink very little.
2. Water Content of Dry Vs. Wet Cat Food:
According to Dr. Lynn Wilson, a Volusia County-based veterinarian with over 20 years of experience, an average healthy 10 lb. cat needs at least 15 tablespoons of water a day to maintain healthy hydration. Dry cat food contains at most 10% water, equal to ½ a tablespoon, as opposed to wet food, which contains approximately 78% water, and provides 6 to 9 tablespoons of water. Wet food is closer to a cat’s “natural diet” as it is high in both animal-based protein and provides the water they need. As you can see, feeding wet food will get your cat closer to or at the recommended amount of water that is actually needed.
When eating an all-dry kibble diet, a cat’s water intake easily falls short of what is actually needed. This causes dehydration, which can lead to an array of health problems. According to a study conducted by VetCompass, kidney failure is the most common cause of illness and death in cats over 5 years old. Dehydration contributes to many health problems such as urinary tract infections and blockages (yes – even in female cats), kidney stones, and a higher chance of diabetes. “Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of feline health issues that were most likely caused by feeding dry food exclusively,” Dr. Wilson says. “They potentially could have been avoided had they been given wet food in their daily diet. An all wet food diet is even better, but I know that’s not always economically possible. In our practice, we believe that wet food in the diet gives cats the best chance to attain a healthy 15 to 20 year life-span.”
By definition, cats are “obligate carnivores”. This means that meat is biologically essential for their survival and they require little or no carbohydrates in their diet. Their natural food in the wild would consist primarily of rodents and birds. This diet provides meat or animal-based proteins, fats and amino acids, the necessary energy sources for cats. Unfortunately our commercially processed dry foods are loaded with plant-based proteins and are 3 times higher in carbohydrates than wet food, which do not provide the nutrients that cats need. Furthermore, dry foods are heavily processed which includes being subjected to high temperatures for a long time, resulting in the alteration and destruction of needed nutrients.
As for proteins, they are not created equal! The difference between meat-based proteins and plant-based proteins is crucial to a cat. Plant-based proteins and carbohydrates are cheaper, which is why they are the primary ingredient in commercially-processed dry cat foods – they are basically empty fillers. Cats are unable to metabolize most plant-based proteins, and when they can, those proteins, as well as carbohydrates, are of no nutritional value to them. In fact, the carbohydrates contained in some of the most common plant proteins, such as soy, corn, potato and pea, can impede digestion and actually create the same medical issues in cats that they do in humans, such as obesity, diabetes, thyroid issues, and cardiovascular disease.
5. Avoiding the Litter Box:
Diet can contribute to litter box issues and I’ve seen it more times than I can count. Cats on a primarily dry food diet become dehydrated and at a much higher risk for urinary tract blockages and infections. When a cat goes inside the litter box to urinate and experiences pain due to a urinary tract infection, he may begin to associate that litter box as a spot that causes him discomfort. This may begin the habit of peeing in inappropriate places around your home. Peeing on cold surfaces, such as a sink, tub, or tile floor is also common as the cold surface is soothing to a cat in pain. If your cat is experiencing any of these issues, don’t delay the trip to the vet.
It’s a common belief that dry food promotes good dental hygiene in cats because it scrapes tartar off the teeth. Research has proven this to be a myth! Cats don’t chew dry food – they swallow it whole. To put it simply, dry food doesn’t clean a cat’s teeth any better than eating pretzels cleans ours! Additionally, dry food actually leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque. For information on the importance of brushing your cat’s teeth, Click here. My dog and two cats don’t mind when I brush their teeth and they actually see this time as a special treat!
Talking with previous adopters, I have often asked about their cats’ eating habits. One main reason they gave for sticking to a dry food only diet was that their cat “hated wet food.” In reality, it isn’t a matter of them “hating” it, but rather them being accustomed to a particular texture and taste. Cats are creatures of habit and the food they normally consume becomes their taste preference, even though it may have negative nutritional value. Many cats will resist switching to a new food unless they are hungry enough. Begin by limiting the amount of dry food you give him during the day and feed him only wet food, or a dry/wet mixture at night. Experiment with different flavors and textures of wet food to find some that your cat prefers.
- Try adding other liquids: Since cats are very sensitive to smells, you can also add a small amount of the liquid from canned tuna, salmon or mackerel to the wet food, as these are flavors that most cats love. This has the added benefit of adding even more liquid to their diet.
- Be patient-as this transition can take time: Getting a cat accustomed to daily helpings of wet cat food can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, but this change is important enough, so don’t give up; however, never allow your cat to go without food for more than 24 hours. With a change in food, diarrhea & vomiting can occur, so remember to introduce the new food slowly. Wet food or a wet/dry combination should not be left out for longer than 4 to 6 hours in a cool environment.
8. The Cost Of Wet Cat Food:
If cost is a consideration, you’ll be happy to know that adding wet food to your cat’s diet costs only pennies a day, far less than the vet bills if your cat develops diabetes or some form of bladder or kidney issues. The average 5.5 ounce can of supermarket wet cat food costs around 50 cents. Feeding your cat a half a can a night only comes to about $7.50 a month – a small price to pay for your cat’s health!
- Brand: We have found that pet owners who purchase a more expensive brand of wet food end up giving less to their cats. This is not what you want. The more wet food you can incorporate into your cat’s diet, the better. Regardless of the brand, wet food is higher in moisture than dry food, lower in carbohydrates, and has more animal-based proteins. Have your cats fill up on wet food, NOT dry kibble. In general, the cheapest wet cat food is better for your cat than the most expensive dry food.
We would love cat owners to view wet food as their cat’s main diet, with dry food being their snack. We highly encourage one full 5.5 oz. can (or two 3 oz. cans) of wet food a day per cat. At the very minimum, half of a 5.5 oz. can (or one 3 oz. can) a day is a great start. You can continue feeding your cat dry food as usual if this is the routine your cat is used to, but you may want to limit the amount of dry food your cat consumes, especially if you find he isn’t finishing all of his wet food or is becoming overweight.
- Adding water: We know cats have a low thirst drive so why not add water or other liquids to the wet food at every single feeding? We recommend 1 to 3 tablespoons of water for each helping of wet food. This can be a slow transition, adding a 1/2 tablespoon of water at first and increasing every few weeks, but most cats will not notice the added water, so why not? Just be consistent and add water with every feeding, not just some of the time. Try adding warm water, as this will enhance both the smell and flavor of the wet food and make it more tempting to your cat.
- Pate vs. gravies: Wet food pate is generally better than wet foods in gravies or shreds because it doesn’t contain as many carbohydrate-rich thickeners. Either way, the wet food should contain 10% or less of carbohydrates. If this information isn’t listed on the can, you can calculate it by clicking here
- Meats: Stick with more animal-based wet foods (chicken, turkey, rabbit, beef) for the bulk of your cat’s diet. Food containing fish can be high in mercury, phosphorus and magnesium, not to mention being highly addictive.
- Multiple cats:We recognize that feeding multiple cats can become pricey when using wet food. Our good friend, Linda Brooks, rescues cats and can have as many as 12 to 15 at one time. She is on a tight budget and feeds her cats a mixture consisting of half pate wet food and half dry kibble with 3 tablespoons of water mixed in with each individual food dish. A couple of times a week, she adds a can of mackerel to the mixture, which provides even more liquid to their diet. They also have access to dry food and fresh water during the day.
- Feeding my own two cats: My two cats, Solo and Obi-Wan, get a full 5.5 oz. can in the morning (split between them) and another full can in the evening with 2 tablespoons of water added each time. They never leave a drop of water behind. I do give dry food, but only after they finish their wet food and even then, they get 1/4 a cup a day or less, between the both of them. Obi-Wan now views his dry food as a special treat since he doesn’t get much of it. Solo rarely touches any dry food at all. We also purchased a cat water fountain to help encourage them to drink even more as cats love moving water. To learn some tricks to get more liquids into your cat’s diet, Click here.
Summing It Up: Wet food is clearly the best choice for a cat’s diet as they need much more water and more animal-based proteins than a dry food diet provides. Very few cats drink enough water on their own, even with those fancy pet fountains. A lack of sufficient water causes dehydration, which can lead to painful and sometimes fatal urinary tract and kidney disease, obesity, heart problems and diabetes. We all want our pets to live longer and healthier lives (with fewer vet bills), so make the change for them. Give your cat wet food now – for fewer problems later!