This week, we have a guest post on Holistic Nutrition for Cats from Nancy Pecsok
I’m Nancy, owner of Alternatives Pet Sitting LLC in Ashland, VA and I’m excited to share nutrition information my animals have benefited from.
I am not an animal nutrition expert — just a pet owner who has studied the topic and seen the benefits of a holistic diet for my own pets. I always recommend that pet owners check with their vets before making any changes to your animals’ diets. Some vets are more knowledgeable and experienced with holistic care than others, so you might want to do some research first. Use Google and ask other pet owners who they recommend.
In my pet care business, I provide mid-day visits for customers in Ashland, vacation visits in the surrounding area and kennel-free boarding at my small vegetable farm near Ashland, VA. Yes, it is an organic farm. That point is important when considering healthy nutrition. All apples and all chickens are not equal in nutritional value. When considering ingredients, how they are grown makes a big difference.
While fostering special needs dogs for a local rescue, I began learning the benefits of a holistic, species-appropriate diet without chemical additives, excessive processing and unnatural ingredients that have been flavored to get animals to eat foods they normally would pass up.
I learned that “my dogs likes it” may only be an indicator of the success of artificial chemical flavoring added to otherwise unpalatable, but profitable, ingredients. Buyer beware!
I started reading pet food labels
As a member of National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, I accepted an invitation to attend a holistic nutrition conference in Denver sponsored by Rocky Mountain Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
The content was fascinating and eye-opening, especially as holistic nutrition applies to cats. I had worked diligently to provide healthy diets for my dogs, but it hadn’t occurred to me that my cat could benefit as well. It turns out healthy diets are even more important for cats, who, unlike dogs, are true carnivores.
In nature, cat do not eat grains or vegetables
Cats originated in the desert areas of Africa. They evolved to eat what was available to them there — insects, birds and rodents. Their teeth are different than ours – and different than dogs.
They are sharp and designed for tearing — not the crunching that is needed for dry kibble. Their kidneys are designed to process the water found naturally in their diet, not to lap bowls of water placed along side their dry kibble.
While cats can process small amounts of carbohydrates, their energy comes from proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are the path to obesity, though it is carbohydrates that are the necessary main ingredient to turn whole food into dry kibble.
In nature, cats do not “graze” all day on bowls of kibble, keeping their stomachs working all the time. Instead, they catch an animal, feast on it briefly and then rest for long periods of time while they digest all their food. Then, the cycle begins anew.
My kitty, Litl Bit, was a fat, small, shy black and white tuxedo girl. She loved kibble and would turn her nose up at anything soft — even tuna! But after the conference, I knew I wanted better for her. I gradually began switching her to healthy canned food and people proteins and fats.
At that time, she was well into her teens and quite accustomed to her dry diet. But I didn’t give up and over time she gradually grew to love the canned foods, meats, eggs and fish my dogs enjoyed as the protein one-third of their diet.
And Litl Bit grew younger!
This overweight, shy kitty even changed color! Her black became dark and shiny and her whites were no longer dingy (sounds like a laundry detergent commercial). She slimmed down to a trim and healthy weight without being on a special “diet.” Even her personality changed. She no longer cowered and hid when someone came to the house. She relaxed and was at peace — quiet, friendly and calm.
So, what is a busy kitty Mom to do?
Unfortunately, dry kibble is so convenient and easy. Making a balanced homemade meal is very time-consuming, but possible if you are interested and willing to learn how. I’ve included a few of my favorite references at the bottom of this blog post.
Canned food is a decent alternative and will save you some time. Specialty pet shops generally offer higher quality food choices. But even canned food from a grocery store is more appropriate than dry food.
By making it a standard practice to always read the label before purchasing any pet foods, you may find a food that contains ingredients cats can enjoy because they are appropriate and not artificially flavored.
I admit that label reading can be a challenge — trying to decipher the good from the bad from the misleading. But briefly, here’s what to look for:
- Ingredients are ordered by weight, with the heaviest first.
- Look for a named meat (not just “meat”) to be the first ingredient.
- Be sure to check what the secondary ingredients are. For instance, rice, barley and rice bran may be the next three ingredients listed. If you combined them, they would likely make “grains” the first ingredient — which is not good for your pet. By listing as separate ingredients, a conscientious owner can easily be tricked by the pet food manufacturer.
- Avoid “by-products” — that could mean anything!
- Avoid corn. Nowhere in nature do cats eat corn.
- Preservatives like BHA and BHT should be avoided.
- Mixed tocopherols are ok.
- Gluten and soy are not ingredients cats naturally process.
Litl Bit became a new kitty. Her quirks and chubby tummy disappeared when she learned to enjoy her new diet. My advice — Stick with it and move slowly with changes if that’s what it takes. You and your cat will be rewarded.
Articles and More Information
My favorite resource is Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM, who was a speaker at the Denver conference. Her website has many excellent articles as well as books for sale — Little Big Cat website
Articles I recommend if you’re new to holistic cat nutrition:
Carole Tomas is the owner and president of Pet Pleasers, Inc. She is a graduate of Ohio University and a Charter Member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. When she began Pet Pleasers in 1985, business was conducted Old School via a landline, snail mail and an answering machine the size of a breadbox. No internet, email, text messaging, digital photos, social media or mobile phones! What has remained constant over three decades: Carole’s love of animals and an unwavering passion for professional pet sitting.