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Are These Myths About Healthy Cat Food True or False?

When it comes to choosing healthy cat food for your kitty, what's fact and what's fiction? We spoke with three experts to set the record straight.

Arden Moore  |  Oct 4th 2017


Years ago, when I was a young reporter for a major daily newspaper, a seasoned and successful editor unleashed this advice: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” He taught me to never take things at face value and to never let marketing hype overshadow facts and science. Decades later, his advice can benefit you when it comes to choosing the best food to maximize nutritional health in your cat. That’s why Catster has reached out to three renowned feline experts more than willing to debunk these common myths about healthy cat food.

1. True or False: Dry food is better for cats’ teeth than canned food.

A black cat eating dry food from a bowl.

A black cat eating dry food. Photography by Shutterstock.

“That is a myth, pure and simple,” says Elizabeth Colleran, D.V.M., past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and owner of feline-only practices in Chico, California, and Portland, Oregon.

“What is good for cat teeth is hunting and killing mice. Short of that, the only good thing for teeth is good at-home dental care and regular veterinary checkups.”

2. True or False: All grains in cat food are bad.

“Cats are true carnivores and were not designed to eat many carbohydrates,” says Arnold Plotnick, D.V.M., who operated Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York City until retiring earlier this year. “Meat is expensive, and adding grains to the diet helps keep the cost of cat foods reasonable. People worry about carbohydrates predisposing cats to diseases like diabetes; however, I don’t believe that it’s the carbs themselves that predispose to diabetes.”

Dr. Plotnick believes that obesity, as in overfeeding a cat, is what can contribute to developing diabetes. Fortunately, there are prescription diets if the diabetes is caught early that can be given to avoid the need for insulin injections.

3. True or False: Ingredients on the pet food label determine the food’s quality.

“Animals need nutrients, not ingredients,” says Tony Buffington, D.V.M., Ph.D., emeritus professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and clinical professor-volunteer at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“What determines the outcome in the animal is the presence of all necessary nutrients in appropriate amounts in proper balance. There is no way to know from the ingredient list the nutrient composition, source, quality or consistency of the ingredients.”

4. True or False: Some cats will experience “whisker fatigue” and struggle to eat from bowls that are not wide and shallow.

“There is absolutely no data to support this claim,” Dr. Colleran says. “Whiskers are actually vibrissae that are highly sensitive sense organs that help cats detect things like air movement and the proximity of obstacles.”

Dr. Colleran believes any change in appetite is a “very significant development in a cat and should be thoroughly investigated.” Take your cat to a vet if he stops eating, don’t assume it’s the food bowl.

5. True or False: Probiotics are not effective.

“Research has clearly indicated that probiotics can cause a positive change in the intestinal bacterial population when pathogenic bacteria overtake the gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Plotnick says. “Many studies have been done assessing the impact of probiotics in healthy dogs and cats, and a large number of these studies have shown positive effects. How this translates to sick animals is still unknown.”

6. True or False: Cats do not need to drink much water.

Cats are desert animals,” Dr. Colleran says. “They acquire the abundance of moisture they need by killing and eating mice who are 60 to 70 percent water. When we began to feed them food with virtually no moisture (dry food), they were somewhat unprepared for the adjustment. If we are feeding a dry diet, we must encourage water consumption to make up for it. Providing multiple locations and types of water sources and paying attention to what our cats prefer is essential for their health.”

7. True or False: High-quality cat food is always expensive.

Many brands conduct large amounts of research. “They don’t just formulate foods to meet AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards,” Dr. Plotnick says. “They perform feeding trials where they feed the diets to cats at their research facilities and monitor how well they do. These kinds of data cost money, and that is going to be passed on to the consumer.”

Parting advice from Dr. Buffington: “In my experience, the most common misconception about cat food/nutrition is that ‘one size fits all.’” He has seen cats thrive on every kind of diet — even purified nutrient diets that looked and tasted to him like Play-Doh.

“I suggest owners select a few diets that appeal to them, and then offer them to their cats to identify their preferences. This way, both will be happy with what is fed, which I hope will facilitate more enriching interactions for all concerned.”

Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant, author and pet first-aid instructor who teaches classes with her cool cat, Casey and very tolerant dog, Kona. She hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at ardenmoore.com and follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at @ArdenKnowsPets.

Thumbnail: Photography ©bluebeat76 | Thinkstock.

Tell us: What are the craziest healthy cat food myths you’ve heard? Are there any healthy cat food questions you’re still stumped on?

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