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The Science of Cat Food

On a recent episode of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, we discussed some research that (unsurprisingly) found that adding a whiff of “science” to your advertisement may result in better sales. I joked about how I used to feed my cats Science Diet because “science” was right there in the name, until I did some research and realized that it was overpriced crap.

This encouraged one listener named Keith to send the following email:

I’m a huge fan. Been listening to the show for about 5-6 years, plus the back episodes.

I was quite taken aback at the blatant, non-skeptical product defamation that Rebecca decided to go with on the show. Typical of her Skepchick stuff, but not on SGU.

I have dogs, cats, horses. I’ve had chickens and geese. My wife and I take a very researched approach to what to feed them. Although the information is hard to navigate as most everything out there is based on some subjective opinion, the only dog and cat food out there, that I could find with any actual science behind it was Science Diet. And this I found after years of believing Science Diet was just hype. I fed the Wellness product to the cats and dogs, and The Call of the Wild stuff. As well as other things with feel good names and claims about ingredients. The problem is that their claims don’t necessarily have to be true, or can be misleading. Not unlike “organic” or “all natural”.

Again, the legitimate information out there is sparse, but just because a product, as we all know as skeptics, isn’t some “all natural” labeled product doesn’t make it crap.

I do sincerely love the show, and have a fondness for you guys. I’m just not comfortable with slandering a product without presenting actual skeptical research into the product. I’m interested to see if there is any evidence to show that I shouldn’t feed my animals Science Diet, other than some dubious claim to better ingredients.

Thanks,
Keith

Now, considering that Keith immediately insulted this website, offered zero facts to support his assertion, AND coined the hilarious phrase “non-skeptical product defamation” to describe my comment, he’s clearly not actually interested in a response. But I did think it would be a fun topic for others who, like me, stress out about making the healthiest decisions in regards to our furry little babies.

I used to feed my cats nothing but dry food, because it was cheap and easy, especially for someone like me who travels a lot.

The problem is that dry food is, well, dry. It doesn’t contain the water that cats need to thrive. You can supplement that with a water dish, but it can still lead to urinary problems.

In fact, I had a male cat who died of a urinary tract blockage, and at the time I was told it may have been due to his litter (as well as due to his sex and age). So, I switched to a different kind for future cats and swore I’d never have another male cat. Years later, a female cat around the same age also developed urinary problems. I’ve finally realized that it was most likely due to the dry food I was feeding them.

Wet food, by comparison, gives cats approximately the same amount of moisture that they’d get from their natural diet of mouse brains and bird entrails. Dry food gives them about 1/10 the water they need, and because they evolved to get their water from prey, they don’t tend to drink up the amount of extra water they need to make up for dry food.

So, I started feeding my cats primarily wet food. I chose Science Diet because it was recommended by one of my vets as well as a shelter where I picked up my previous two cats. And seriously, the other reasons were pure marketing: it has the word “science” in it, and it costs more than the stuff at the supermarket. It must be good, right?

Well, honestly, it’s probably good enough. I don’t think feeding a cat Science Diet is an awful thing, especially if it’s the wet food. But it’s not the smartest thing, by a long shot.

There are two basic things to look for when choosing a wet food: fat/carb/protein composition and by-products. Okay, three things: those two, plus price. I’m not made of money.

The by-product thing is, in my opinion, not really the biggest of deals, but it is something to consider. “By-products” can include lots of things, some of which are actually quite good for your cat, like liver. But it can also include things like ground up bones, which aren’t terrible for a cat (after all, those are also part of their natural diet) but you don’t want that to be the majority of their food for them to get the nutrition they need.

The bigger concern, in my opinion, is the breakdown of fats vs proteins vs carbohydrates. Cats are pure carnivores, so ideally their diet would consist of a lot of protein, a bit of fat, and very little carbs – like, less than 2% carbs.

You can’t figure out how your wet food breaks down in that respect just by reading the label. You can get an idea: for instance, if the label boasts that it’s “chicken and rice,” you would probably want to avoid that since rice is an otherwise pointless carb filler that your cat doesn’t need. But if you want the exact breakdown, you have to actually call the company and ask them.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? Luckily, the Internet exists, and other people have done this legwork to varying degrees. The best chart I’ve found thus far comes from the amazingly informative and science-based vet who posts at CatInfo.org. It’s a little out of date and by no means exhaustive, but it’s certainly a great start. This is the chart that made me realize what a waste of money Science Diet is. I was feeding my cats the Indoor Cat Chicken Entree (Brendon (pictured) is particular about his meat…it’s chicken or nothing), which is made up of 30% protein, 48% fat, and 21% carbs. And if you look at the ingredients, meat by-products rank awfully high (and they list liver separately, so those by-products are more likely to be filler).

Compare that to Authority Chicken, which is what I switched to when I found it at PetSmart for nearly half the price of Science Diet: 36% protein, 61% fat, and 3% carbs. There are no “by-products” listed under the catch-all word.

Now knowing that, why would you ever choose Science Diet over Authority?

Well, for one, Science Diet is easier to find. I’ve only found Authority at PetSmart, and it’s not available online at all. I’ve just moved to a PetSmart-free area, and so I’ve had to (at least temporarily) switch to Wellness, which costs a bit more (though it’s cheaper than Science Diet if you get the big cans). It contains 30% protein, 66% fat, and 4% carbs. Like Authority, the ingredients don’t list “by-products” as a catch-all.

One other thing to watch out for: because cats are strict carnivores, their protein should come from animals, not plants. Cats don’t have the enzymes necessary to get the same kind of nutrition from plant protein. Be wary of companies getting all braggy about ingredients like pumpkin. I noticed that “sweet potatoes,” “squash,” and “zucchini” are ingredients in Wellness, which just boggles my mind. If I give my cats a squash, they might bat it around for a bit of fun but they sure as hell won’t eat it. Those are not cat foods. Get your shit together, Wellness. (EDIT: Check out Quincy’s comment below for another view on squash!)

Anyway, if you want to go further down this research rabbit hole, start at CatInfo.org and go from there. If you want to keep buying Science Diet or Purina or Fancy Feast or whatever, go for it. Just switching from dry food to wet food will, in my unprofessional opinion, do a world of good and absolve you of any guilt you may feel for not spending several weeks researching meat glop like I did.

I’ll end with some disclaimers: I haven’t been paid by any company I’ve mentioned. I’m not in the pocket of Big Cat Food. I’m not a veterinarian. Unlike Keith, I have never owned a horse OR a goose. I helped my friend Larry get some chickens once but I don’t think he fed them canned cat food. And finally, “defaming” a product in a recorded audio piece is technically libel, not slander. Lawyers for Science Diet and/or Keith can contact me here for more information.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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43 Comments

  1. Wow, people can get really defensive about their animal care choices, but this guy was already a hater. Thanks for sharing that nutritional chart and the hydration info. It’s hard to find good science-based pet care recommendations. I hope to resume feline cohabitation soon; I’ll definitely go with a low carb, low plant wet food.

  2. This is great info, I may consider switching to something other than dry Science Diet. I’ve always fed my kids that because that was what girl cat ate at the shelter I adopted her from and I never bothered switching.
    A note on the squash thing though, two separate vets have recommended feeding girl cat pumpkin in order to help with her tummy issues. It’s really gentle on the tummy and has the kinds of good fats that a kitty needs. She eats both canned pumpkin (which is actually technically butternut squash, not pumpkin) as well as pureed pumpkin that I’ve made from fresh pumpkins. She loves the stuff, but boy cat gives me a WTF look any time I offer it to him. I actually did a blog post about it awhile ago. http://kittnen.net/kittnen-blog/13931149

  3. You will enjoy this article by Mary Roach on the science of pet food: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-03/chemistry-kibble

    From the article: “Nancy Rawson, seated across from me, is AFB’s director of basic research and an expert in animal taste and smell. She says that cats prefer to stick to one type of food. Outdoor cats tend to be either mousers or birders, but not both. But don’t worry: Most of the difference between Tuna Treat and Poultry Platter is in the name and the picture on the label. ‘They may have more fish meal in one and more poultry meal in another,’ says Moeller, ‘but the flavors may or may not change.’ ”

    One of my cats is a normal cat, in that she will eat any sort of fish/meat that she comes across. The other cat, Violet, will *only* eat the same dry food she eats every night, with very few exceptions. We’ve tried wet food, to spice up her diet (which is a human notion), and she won’t touch it. Especially if it smells like fish. However, if I’m not watching my breakfast too closely, she will swipe my waffle right off my plate! Same goes for cookies, cakes, etc. She loves baked goods, and hates wet, slimy meats. I even cooked up some turkey giblets for her once and she didn’t want it. (Neither cat has urinary issues that I know of, so far.)

    1. Yeah, Brendon actually started losing weight to the point that we were worried about him, before we realized he just hated any non-chicken food. And because of my fairly recent obsession with the food, I had already been checking the labels and seeing that a lot of chicken did contain fish. But still, chicken was always the primary ingredient, and so long as that was true, he didn’t seem to mind a little fishiness. Also, weirdly, he loves drinking tuna juice whenever Adam or I open a can, but give him any fishy wet food? Nope. He sniffs it, then sniffs his brother’s, then walks away to STARVE TO DEATH rather than eat it.

  4. I became a cat owner recently and after some research also ended up on catinfo.org. The information presented there all seemed very good and well reasoned, so much so that i actually bought a meat grinder and make all my cat food to her recipe.

    Still, I’m not 100% happy that what I am doing is better than tinned wet food – she (the vet that runs the site) recommends home made food because of the high calcium content due to ground up bones, which apparently wet food does not have. I grind up an entire chicken, bones and all, plus extra heart and liver, and add the supplements she recommends – salmon oil, vitamin E and a B complex, as well as salt, potassium and iodine

    Now as we all know, in humans vitamin supplementation is pretty much BS. And it probably is for cats too, but I just don’t know enough about it to feel comfortable going against the recommendations of the site. But my skeptic sense definitely tingles at all this info – yes it is presented and reasoned excellently, but who is to say 1) she is actually a vet and 2) just because she is a vet that she knows what she is talking about.

    Plenty of vets will recommend dry food. Who is correct? It’s so hard to know. Making the food is somewhat of a hassle so I figure i’ll continue to do it until (or if) i get tired of it, then look into the best options for pre-made wet food.

    An interesting side note, when we got both out cats (at different times) they had been on dry food only until that point. Their poops were sloppy, runny and really awfully strong smelling. Within a day of changing to my home made wet food, the poops became firm, dry and the smell…. well of course they still smell like shit (literally) but it’s not offensive, all in all i would say their defecations are what you would consider ‘normal’ for a mammal. I took this as a good sign, but not being any sort of doctor it’s so hard to know. I wish there was a single accepted authority that could just say ‘THIS IS HOW YOU SHOULD FEED CATS” but alas, with everything in life, this does not exist.

    Still, it gives me some comfort to see someone who i respect as an authority on science based things (Rebecca) using the same source as my for my info on this matter.

    1. Mad respect for making your own food! I like how the Cat Info vet recommends that but accepts that it’s not for everybody and that just by switching to wet food you’re doing something worthwhile. As a vegetarian, making their food would be very difficult in terms of keeping the kitchen clean and everything, though of course it is doable. I may try it one day just to see how it goes and whether they like it.

      1. Oh and also: I’ve only personally had vets “recommend” dry food as a possible way to keep the kitties’ teeth clean. Otherwise it just seems as though they assume I’m going to feed them dry food anyway, as that’s the norm, and so they recommend a brand, which may be better than others due to protein content, etc.

        1. Having not had my cats long, they haven’t actually been to a vet yet, so really I’m assuming that they would recommend dry food, specifically as you say for dental health. In addition to the catinfo recipe, i also add chicken giblets which I believe are some sort of intestinal offal, they are very tough and seem to me that they would be excellent for dental health. I found this trick on the ‘sister’ site to catinfo, catnutrition.org

          Also, I’ve found that it isn’t that messy, once you have the done it a few times you develop a good process. It is quite confronting though – and I’m making an assumption since you’re a vegetarian – the process of taking a whole chicken, dismembering it then cutting through the bones to make them small enough to jam into the grinder… my wife doesn’t like to be around when I do it and she is a meat eater. It can get a bit gory.

          But the mess aspect, as in cleaning up afterwards, is really minimal in my experience :D

          1. Oh I’m actually okay with the goriness! I believe that if you are going to consume an animal, you should know what goes into it and be comfortable with that. Feeding animals to my cats is included in that. It’s a personal thing I have so I know not everybody is like that, but that’s my thang.

  5. The squash and pumpkin thing just makes me remember all the cats I’ve known who like things that are not meat (or even high protein foods like cheese). I’ve met at least two cats who have eaten bread rolls from out of my (sealed) lunch bag, and one who would devour corn muffins. Maybe if cats think pumpkin tastes yummy…

    OTOH, there’s a difference between cats that eat weird things as snacks (aka most cats I’ve met) and the main nutritional needs of the cat.

    1. My vet once recommended trying giving one of my cats pumpkin puree when he was having digestive problems. Not because of any particular nutritional content, just because it’s high fiber, and apparently many cats will go crazy for pumpkin; evidently it has a catnip-like effect for some. (See for example the various videos on YouTube of big cats going nuts playing with whole pumpkins.) It didn’t really work that well for him, though one of my other cats thought the pumpkin puree was pretty interesting. She also likes to munch on bagels, so there’s that.

      1. Our cat also likes pumpkin puree, so thanks for the info. I had just thought he was weird, considering he also likes broccoli and kale. But he was a feral kitten rescue, so his general reaction to almost any food is “Oh, yes please, and can I have some more?” He’s the least finicky cat I’ve ever seen. I think his favorite food might be the camel crickets in our basement. (Or that used to be in our basement until we got the cat. They’re gone now!)

    2. Our previous vet back in Buffalo had a can of squirt cheese to amuse cats! Fry wouldn’t even look at it and Brendon took a lick and then looked at all of us like we were insane.

      I don’t know if that’s due to our no-table-scraps rule or if it’s just their personal preference.

    3. Weird things indeed. Mine goes nuts for sushi nori, to the point where I can’t cook with it unless I put him in another room. It’s all I use for treats, pretty much.

      Speaking of hydration, I noticed he drinks much more with one of those plug-in deals that cycles the water with a pump (probably because it stays aerated and tastes fresher), but especially likes to fill up on hot bathwater for some reason I will never understand. So, uh, more baths?

  6. Wow… so I knew about all of the grain based fillers in Science Diet largely because I had a cat years ago who got pretty fat on it even though I was feeding the right amount for him and my then-vet suggested something with less grain. It worked and he did much better and I never used Science Diet since. I use high protein and low carb foods.

    However, that same very smart vet strongly encouraged dry food because wet food is bad for cats (and dogs!) teeth which I’ve since seen supported elsewhere. However, I have also had a cat die of a urinary tract blockage and no one (even the ER vet who treated him for 3 days before he died) ever mentioned to me the issue with dried vs canned food.

    So I spent some time tonight doing my own research online. I have an older cat currently that I love dearly and I want her to live a long healthy life. There seem to be a lot of other sources that agree with the info on catinfo.org and I’m going to investigate what foods would be best for my cat, including consulting my current vet. The Wellness brand might turn out to be right for us, but I’m going to look into all of my options.

    Thank you for posting this Rebecca. While I already knew about the problems with fillers and grain/carbs in cat food, I learned an important thing about dry vs wet food and I’m going to do the skeptical thing and investigate further. Perhaps my vet can help me find out if my cat is getting enough moisture or not.

    1. Glad I could be of help! The dental health thing is, AFAIK, the only real non-convenience/non-price-based argument in favor of dry food, and I think there are other ways to handle that. There are treats, toothbrushes, etc.

      I know I’m biased, having lost two cats to urinary problems (and without one of my vets mentioning the dry food problem), but I’ll be damned if I’m losing a third.

  7. First of all, THANK YOU Rebecca for talking about price in regards to pet food! When I first got a dog, I sometimes felt ashamed that I didn’t spring for the mega-expensive top shelf dog food, but the kind I do get is perfectly fine at nearly half the price per meal.

    For other dog owners: I started out heavily digesting The Dog Food Project. What I love is that it does not rate dog food brands, but rather delves into dog food ingredients, reading labels, and the science of dog food.

  8. My main concern for my cat Seahaver is finding a food she likes that contains no chicken as she is allergic.
    We feed her a fairly high-end Nature’s Variety Instinct low-ingredient turkey formula (which she is not allergic to, go figure) and she loves it. It is low in carbs and I am following my vet’s advice to feed both wet and dry with supplemental water.

    We supplement this with regular old Fancy Feast, specifically the grilled Beef and Liver flavor since she doesn’t seem to like seafood and you’d be surprised how many non-chicken flavors contain chicken or chicken broth.

    In fact she used to alternate between beef and liver and just beef but she started to itch, that was when we found out that the beef formula had been changed without notice and now contained chicken.

    We add plenty of water to the wet food to keep her hydrated as well as supplying a water bowl which she frequently uses. I just hope Fancy Feast doesn’t change the formula to this one, the only others that meet her requirements are more than twice as expensive and I can’t be sure she’ll like them.

    The Blue Buffalo commercials with their LifeSource Bits(tm) always cracked me up, and if you go to their website (don’t) it only allows you to “compare” another (mostly low-end) food against BB food with a list of vague assertions that Blue Buffalo is better (with no percentages or full list of ingredients or anything) at which point you are allowed to print a coupon of buy their pet food. Hope I didn’t “defame” or “slander” this product.

  9. One of my cats seems to have really serious anxiety issues with his food bowl being empty. To the point that he’ll start peeing outside the litter box if the food bowl is empty for too long. (He’s even peed in his own water dish — he’s a sweetheart but really bad at basic cat life skills. Yes, we’ve had the vet check him out; he’s healthy, it really does seem after years of experience with him to be related to having an empty food bowl.) The only way I’ve found to manage it is to either have an ad-lib feeder, which of course lets him overeat and gain weight, or a programmable feeder that dispenses small amounts of food throughout the day. And of course the programmable feeders only let you program three meals per day (because that’s definitely something cats care about…), and a meal every eight hours isn’t enough for this cat, so I have to use two of them to get a very small meal every four hours, which works pretty well.

    Consequently, I’m kind of stuck with dry food for my cats. Fortunately they all drink pretty well, particularly when we’ve got a fountain going, so for now anyway it seems like they’re all getting enough water to keep the kidneys and bladder healthy.

    1. It may be too late, but the Super Feeder sounds like something your cat would like. http://www.superfeederstore.com/ No, I’m not being paid, just a pleased customer.

      It’s programmable how much food you want it to dispense, at whatever time of day you want. My timer has 15 minute intervals, so it will go off every 15 minutes at maximum. My boy has the same problem, overeating, and subsequently throwing up, and constantly begging. This basically solved his problems.

      It may be pricey, but I’ve had mine for at least six years, and haven’t had a problem with it; it’s very reliable.

      1. Wow, that’s a fantastic recommendation, thanks! Definitely looks a bit pricey, but once my bank account recovers a bit from my recent move I will look into it. My alternative solution was going to be to rip the brain out of my current automatic feeder and replace it with an Arduino so I could program whatever schedule I wanted, but while that would be a fun project I haven’t had time for anything like that in over a year, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. (Grad school sucks, you guys.)

  10. I just got back from a Kitten Rescue meeting and sat down to read Skepchick and it’s about cats! That can’t just be a coincidence right? I feel the paw of Dog shaping the universe. Of course, I also had to clean up cat vomit out of my shoe. MY SHOE. WHY MY SHOE?
    Anyway, thanks for the article Rebecca. We too changed to Authority food awhile ago after reading that chart and after our cats refused the Wellness (our cats are jerks, btw).
    But about the dry food being good for dental, according to the president of our organization, that is actually bunk. I think he even used that term. Mind you, I can’t footnote or source him but he has taken care of a lot of cats so has at least way more hands on than most people I know. Not that that is evidence of anything more than that he’s a good dude.
    However, I did find this article by a DMV who specializes in pet dental health: http://www.ebvet.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=305
    Maybe someone will find that interesting besides just me. Anyone?
    BTW, no judgement on anyone who feeds dry food. If you have a cat and are nice to them and feed them and let them throw up in your shoe then you are okay in my book.

    1. That’s an interesting link. I only feed one cat dry food (urinary SO, clearly he’s had problems), but the others get a dry kibble treat that supposedly works on teeth, too. I take my cats in every year, and since feeding them the treat, they get good remarks on their teeth. *shrugs* I don’t know what’s right. (No, I don’t brush their teeth, yes, bad cat mama.)

      Also, Rebecca, I had a female cat have a urinary tract infection, even while solely on wet food. We had to switch her to the same food as the boy. I’m sorry you lost your cats, that’s very sad. :(

  11. Great article.

    Sadly most pet food consumers are duped by the “science” of marketing more than knowledge of what a product actually is. The facts are there with Science Diet, right there on the packet. It doesn’t take much knowledge to realise cheap fillers and waste from beer breweries isn’t good for our furry friends.

    You have some good points. Too many people fail to realise cats are prone to kidney failure and need much more water than they get from dry food. I live in Australia, it’s dry and hot, and so many people fail to leave a bowl of water out for their cats.

    As for squash (well, vegetables and other foodstuffs)… yes, cats are carnivores, but don’t forget in their native habitat they would eat birds and rodents which in turn had been chowing down on fruits and veggies.

  12. I’m going to start with a “non-skeptical product defamation”, but with a note that it’s been, sadly, many years since I had a cat. But back in the day I never owned a cat who could eat 9 Lives and not throw it up in a short period of time. I never really understood how they managed to stay in business.

    It was a real problem as a kid as I come from a family that can’t pass up a sale. You know that if you buy that 9 Lives, Katt will throw up morning and evening until the box is empty, right? But’s it’s on sale! Sigh.

    Katt also would not eat wet food. Only dry. But she loved corn. She would steal the cobs out of the trash to nibble on.

  13. Is it a de-rail to discuss dogs? Anyway, the funniest thing I ever saw, re price-performance ratio, was when visiting a friend in Darien or Greenwich, and the local boutique masquerading as a convenience store stocked only one dog food: Solid Gold/Millenia. It was about thirty bucks for an itta-bitty bag. Neither of my dogs would touch it. Once I got back to Boston, I tried mixing it in with their normal Eukanuba or Purina One, and both of them, the wolfing Gordon setter as well as the dainty borzoi, took a good ten minutes to carefully eat every single kibble bit of the Purina One and avoid every single bit of the Millenia.

  14. I switched to grain free when one of my cats was diagnosed with a grain allergy. He started getting hotspots which stopped when I switched and had a recurrence when I accidentally gave him non-grain free treats. I stuck with it after he died at 16 because I noticed feeding the cats the grain free, they ate less and the litterbox odor was much less.

  15. While I agree that Keith’s tone was aggressive and not terribly respectful, I admit that I had a similar reaction on hearing your statements on the SGU. Honestly I didn’t really know what to think – I don’t feed my dog Science Diet, but you casually dismissed the brand saying “I looked up all the ingredients and realized that it’s utter crap, overpriced crap”. I actually was first surprised, and then intrigued as I thought you would follow up with information – the only explanation offered on the show was that it was obviously inferior food based on the ingredient list. This may be true but it just struck me as the kind of statement that you would ridicule the food babe for.

    I was then really glad you wrote an article on this, but I’m again a little disappointed that you’ve only linked to one source for your information. I don’t know Dr. Pierson, but looking through the site – the vast majority of her links and sourcing is just linking back to different pages or sections of her own website and her own assertions. Again – this may all be 100% correct, I’m no vet.

    My point is just to let you know that the whole tenor of your addressing this issue seems inconsistent with how you normally approach a given topic. Your piece here starts with anecdotal evidence about your male cat, then argues that a cat’s available food intake in the wild should be the goal (natural?), and only links to one website for support. I was hoping maybe SkeptVet would be featured or referenced (maybe this article? It’s nothing absolute but discussed an actual study http://skeptvet.com/Blog/2012/03/raw-cooked-and-dry-cat-diets-a-new-study-examined/)

    Anyway – I’m really not trying to be a negative shithead – I hope I made some sense.

    1. Hi Pete,

      My post isn’t meant to be comprehensive but I do feel that all the supporting research is fairly easy to find using it as a starter, especially going through CatInfo, which cites studies like this:
      http://www.catinfo.org/docs/WalthamDietaryWater.pdf

      There are many others out there:

      Seefeldt SL, Chapman TE. Body water content and turnover in cats fed dry and canned rations. Am J Vet Res 1979;40:183–185.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/464354

      Prentiss PG. Wolf AV. Eddy HE. Hypopenia in cat and dog: ability of the cat to meet its water requirements solely from a diet of fish or meat. American Journal of Physiology 1959; 196:625-632.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13627237

      Adolph EF. Tolerance to heat and dehydration in several species of mammals. American Journal of Physiology 1947;151:564–575.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18901899

      http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=GB9101053

      Case, LP. Nutrition: feeding cats for health and longevity. In; The Cat: Its
      behavior, Nutrition and Health. Iowa State Press, Ames IA 2003; 289-327

      Kohn CW, DiBartola SP. Composition and distribution of body fluids in dogs and cats. In: DiBartola SP, ed. Fluid therapy in small animal practice. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1992;1–34.

      Caldwell FT. Studies in water metabolism of the cat. The influence of dehydration on blood concentration, thermoregulation, respiratory exchange, and metabolic-water production. Physiological Zoology 1931; 4:324-355.

      I hope that helps.

  16. We feed mostly dry food to our cat because… he won’t eat we food. He will lick all the sauce and leave most of the solids behind, be they fish, chicken or beef. Or kangaroo, we tried that too. Our vet has actually recommended we switch to wet food, but the cat refuses to cooperate. He does drink prodigious amounts of water, so I take that as a good sign.

    One weird thing our cat does like to eat is dried seaweed, of the type one uses to wrap sushi. He prefers that to catnip, and it’s what we use as a treat these days (but we do worry that it may be too salty). It does make it impossible to make sushi at home.

  17. Disclosure: Pet food is my job. I work for a Canadian pet food retailer and I am very keen on quality and appropriateness for pet food. So I don’t work for any of the companies I’m referencing here, but I do deal with them every day.

    There is a lot to say about nutrition.

    For one thing, Science Diet and Royal Canin actually do feeding tests. So, while I think they suck in a lot of ways, they can basically prove that their food keeps pets alive appropriately. The vast majority of companies only have the AAFCO levels required, if they are supposed to be a complete food (and AAFCO is a whole other article I could write on).

    Dry food for teeth is not true. Since kibbles have carbs in them (you can’t avoid it), and cats don’t have saliva that breaks carbs down very well, it pretty well works out like using corn nuts to clean your teeth.

    There are three ways to help dental health — brushing teeth, feeding raw (no carbs), and copious amounts of chewing. If you can get your cat to eat raw chicken necks or gnaw on a rabbit ear, that’s great.

    As for the fruits and vegetables that are found in most foods that aren’t bottom shelf junk, I personally see that along the lines of wine for humans — no, we didn’t “evolve” to drink it, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits to it. Same goes for pumpkin, etc.

    I don’t really feed dry food to my cat(s) any more, for the reasons Rebecca went into. I want a high quality food with little filler. Raw freeze dried foods are one of the best and easiest ways to go, although cats can be finicky about the texture (I’ve found Stella & Chewy’s to be really great, and they are an excellent company in general to the best of my knowledge).

    Cats tend to adore kibble. I have found that many people who have difficulty getting their cat to eat wet, free feed them (please don’t free feed). Your cat is less likely to bother with wet if they don’t have to. Your cat is less likely to want to eat leftovers if it’s cold from the fridge with a tinny taste to it. Your cat might like pates, chunky food, chicken, tuna, or want to drink it like a soup (totally doable to work around — maybe add extra water, when your cat is done take the dry bits and mix it up with a teensy bit of dry).

    For a brand new wet food/kibble intermediary, there’s the unfortunately named Wagger’s Tendermoist (I’m sorry to even type that out). They’re a soft kibble, with quite an excellent ingredient list and good sources. So you’ve at least got 30% moisture content versus 10% for a regular kibble.

    Oh yes, and aside from the truly gross crap put into the cheap food, you also have to feed about twice as much of it than you do a food that’s low carb. So that is something to bear in mind with the cost difference. Additionally, a lot of the brands perceived as “good” brands are overpriced in my opinion. Wellness, Blue Buffalo, Science Diet, Royal Canin, etc. There’s decent (or excellent) stuff that’s more cost effective.

    Wet food and raw IS expensive, but any you can get into your cat is helpful.

    I think I covered most of what I saw in the comments.

  18. I LOVE this article, thanks. A few years ago I got an older cat with a crap ton of health issues, and one of the first things my vet did was recommend an all wet-food diet, which helped enormously. She told me that she actually prefers wet food for all cats, but most people won’t bother or won’t pay the extra. She said it was frustrating that owners don’t listen.

    As an aside, I’ve seen advertisements on the web for vegetarian cat food. Evolution is one popular brand. I’m vegan myself for ethical reasons, but I’m really skeptical a cat wouldn’t develop medical issues over time if they’re only getting plant protein. Anybody out there have any experience with veggie cat food?

    I don’t doubt that someday food scientists will develop in-vitro meat to sidestep the ethical dilemma of killing many farm animals to feed my one cat – but it doesn’t seem like we’re quite there yet. So it seems we must either live with the contradiction, or don’t get a cat. (I’m planning on adopting a cat soon, btw)

  19. So I looked into this further and started adjusting my cat’s diet a bit. We’ve always fed her twice a day, so we’re still doing dry in the morning (at least until the current large bag of dry food is gone which will take awhile) and a can of wet food in the evenings. I was pretty surprised at the low carbohydrate content of Fancy Feast (it does well in the catinfo.org listings and I found support elsewhere too) so we went with that for now because it’s easy to find, inexpensive, and most importantly easy to portion control.

    So far the only problem is that she’s become a complete pest in the evenings – she wants her mushy food and won’t hesitate to tell us.

  20. I want to thank you for this article, as stated above we were feeding Fancy Feast (and will finish what we have, we had just stocked up), but we have tried other foods in an attempt to ween her off of dry food altogether.

    We found she really likes several Soulistic flavors and they are good in regards to nutrition and ingredients. We haven’t been able to get her completely off of dry food (maybe once we switch over fully) but we no longer free feed (thank you Maggie Champaigne).

    While she has been a bit more insistent now (she still doesn’t wake us up but she is right there when you do get up) she also seems to have more energy. That might be a coincidence but she was becoming quite sluggish since we closed the windows for the winter.

    Thank you.

  21. Can definitely confirm re: wet vs. dry food. Last year our otherwise healthy male cat literally keeled over, crying. He had a baseball-sized (and baseball hardness) mass for a bladder, because he had a painful urinary blockage. He was probably less than a day from dying. After much agonizing, an emergency trip to the vet, more agonizing, signing up for a treatment that we couldn’t afford and only had a 50-50 chance of saving him, bringing home and nursing a catheterized cat, dealing with my son worrying that his “brother” would have to be euthanized, and many follow-up trips; we switched to wet food and never looked back. (We often do the Friskies pate, formulated for urinary health — it’s the best we can afford.) I even water that down. And they’ll eat it, if it’s what you provide. Our other cat was less keen on it at first, but he’s on board now. And honestly, pricier food still beats the hell out of vet bills, even if finances were our only concern, and they’re not.

    Also, we never had any idea about this kind of stuff! Not the issue of cats not drinking (they really don’t; you can’t count on it at all), not how common this issue is with cats (if you see your cat, especially a male, looking like he’s trying to pee/poop all over the place and can’t, and/or if he cries while relieving himself, get to a vet ASAP), none of it. We were very lucky.

    And our vet (a very reasonable guy who’s all about the science, followed by an awareness that money is tight for most of us) assured us that the dry-to-wet switch was the most important decision we could make, regardless of brand choice.

  22. This is great, thanks! Very helpful. I water the food down too because I have an elderly cat with a mild kidney problem.

    By the way, pumpkin is good for cats who have troubles with constipation. I had once heard to feed them olive oil, but my vet said that can damage their pancreas. If a cat is constipated, cooked pumpkin (canned is fine) will help with that.

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