Cat Food Fairytales: A Completely Untrue Story about Canned Food
Today’s guest post is from Denise van Lent, a Dutch biologist specializing in feline behavior.
Every day I am confronted with the feeding habits of cat owners while I offer consultations about weight loss. A weight loss plan always includes advice about what and how to feed your cat so that it promotes weight loss, but not hunger. The background knowledge that people have about cat food differs from person to person. And that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that several stories about canned food are rocketing around the web that are just untrue and not based on any medical facts. I keep hearing people claim that wet food make their cat fat, while the opposite holds true. If you want your cat to lose weight, than canned food is the way to go. Let’s take a closer look at these fairy tales about wet food.
Once upon a time…
Fairy tale: wet food has no nutritional value
Wet food contains on average about 80% moisture (water). Even though it has so much water in it that does not mean that you should conclude that it has no nutritional value. Most commercial wet foods are as complete as kibble. Mice, the natural prey of the cat, comprising a considerable amount of water (72-78%) compare quite well with wet food, if we consider the water content ((The Mouse in Biomedical Research: Normative Biology, Husbandry, and Models)). In nature cats are able to survive solely on the water from the prey that they eat. Because of this, cats have a low thirst stimulus. Following from this, cats have to drink extra when their diet consists of only kibble. Kibble has a moist content of approximately 10% which is not enough to provide kitty with all of the moisture that it needs. Wet food is therefore a great way to increase kitty’s daily water intake without the need to drink. This contributes to promotion and achievement of optimal bladder and kidney health.
Fairy Tale: wet food fattens kitty
Wet food is associated with being “fat” probably because of the jelly like substance that reminds people of fat. The jelly however, is not fat but a substance added to keep wet food from drying out. Actually, wet food generally contains a lot less fat (5%) compared to kibble (15%). Another fact that contributes to the misunderstanding that wet food makes cats fat, is that cats generally really enjoy wet food. Compared to kibble, wet food has a more intensive smell and taste. Because they like it so much, they often gulp down wet food as if it was their last meal ever. Humans associate “enjoyable and very tasty food” with being “unhealthy”. Tasty equals incredibly delicious burgers with oozing melted cheese or lobster soaked in brown butter. Yummy, but not very healthy. That might be the reason why so many people consider wet food not as a main meal but as a “treat” or a “snack”. Most cats that are fed wet food get a portion the size of one or two teaspoons. Which is nonsense because wet food actually promotes weight loss. The high moisture content makes the cat feel full and satisfied on fewer calories. Wet food provides the cat with up to 5 times less calories, compared to kibble when given the same amount of food.
Fairy tale: there’s too much salt in canned food
If someone says that “there is too much salt in canned food”, then they are probably referring to kitchen salt. However, several different types of salts exist. In chemistry salts are chemical compounds that can consist of a lot of combinations of substances. Some of these salts, including table salt, are very healthy in the right amount. Salt is even indispensable for some body functions. This includes the regulation of water and electrolyte balance, muscle function and transmitting nerve impulses. A little bit of salt in cat food is therefore not a bad thing. Even mice, the natural prey of cats contain a little salt. Do you have any idea what you need to look for when assessing your cats wet food label? And how much salt is too much? Let me help you. The chemical name of table salt, is sodium chloride (NaCl). Healthy animals are able to handle an amount of 0.3%-0.5% of salt just fine.
Fairytale: wet food is worse for teeth
Some claim that canned food would be bad for the teeth of the cat. Because canned food would miss the abrasive effect that dry kibble has. Unfortunately, this is even suggested by some veterinarians. However, it has been known for quite some time that plaque is caused by food particles in the mouth. It does not matter whether they come from wet kibble or raw food. If they are not removed, the miniscule food particles lead to the formation of dental plaque. When this plaque hardens we speak of tartar. You can prevent the onset of dental plaque and tartar by brushing the cats’ teeth, by using special dental kibble or let him regularly chew on (dead) prey.
The following story is NO FAIRY TALE: Sugar
The ingredient that actually might be present in cat food that is not health promoting is sugar. Similar to salt, there are also exist various forms of sugar. The scientific name of table sugar is sucrose (C12H22O11). Cats cannot taste ‘sweet’ due to a genetic defect. Yet sugar is added by some manufacturers of cat food because it adds to the palatability of the food. The process of heating of the sugars combined with the protein contributes to a specific chemical reaction that makes it taste better. This reaction is also responsible for the tasty caramelized surface of a grilled steak. Alas sugar has a detrimental effect on your cat’s bowel movements (diarrhea) and blood sugar level. There are several names you can look for in the list of ingredients to see whether your wet food contains sugar: sucrose, dextrose, xylose, glucose, molasses and caramel.
Denise van Lent is a Dutch biologist specialized in feline behavior and obesity. She is the owner of the institute for animal welfare and behavior ‘lekker in je vacht‘ which translates to “comfortable in your fur”. It is an organisation for research and knowledge transfer regarding the well-being and welfare of pets. The institute offers personal support per email consultation.