A brown cat eating food and licking his lips.
A brown cat eating food and licking his lips. Photography ©bluebeat76 | Thinkstock.

Are These Myths About Healthy Cat Food True or False?

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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?

Read more about healthy cat food on Catster.com:

Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

27 thoughts on “Are These Myths About Healthy Cat Food True or False?”

  1. Pingback: How Much Should I Feed My Cat? – Info Body

  2. September 8, 19 at 2:16
    I feed my 3 cat’s dry food in the morning at (4:00),and moist food at (6:15) at night with a little bit of milk. Is milk ok for cat’s?

    1. No milk is very bad for their digestive system. If you are going to give them milk give them goats milk only. They only need their mom’s milk until they are wringed from her

  3. Pingback: Can cats eat carrots? – Info Body

  4. My sweet Arnold Schwarzenbeggar adopted me over 8 years ago when he was about 4 years old. Being FIV positive he can’t overcome any illness. He went from Science Diet Urinary to a Purina Urinary food. His legs and scrawny tail (whuch was always scrawny) became covered with bumps. The ingredients in the food were corn, corn and more corn. I put him on Blue and !WA-LA! bumps disappeared and tail filled out. Vet says hard to believe he has FIV. Although when he adopted me we had 3 separate tests from 2 different vets. All this to stress the importance of quality food. Thank you Blue!

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  6. Despite the comments on the myths above, I do not believe a food that has no meat in it can be healthy for a cat. If the first three ingredients do not contain meat, I do not buy that food. When I see people in supermarkets buying cheap “corn food”, I have a hard time not telling them that they are feeding their cats slow death. I feed my cats wet food on a daily basis and dry food at will, using a mixture of brands: Blue, Nutro, Taste of the Wild, Tiki Cat and, of course, plenty of clean water.

    1. I agree, humans are told not to live on supplements and to eat whole foods. I believe our cats food should strive for the same quality

  7. This was very, very helpful. My cats love cat treats. Although I’m very cautious in giving treats to them, they would love it if I would give them a small dish of treats in place of their dry food once in a while (which I don’t). If they are good with the vet or if they ‘sit’ when I tell them to, or do some other cute sweet thing, they get a couple of treats – about 4 or 5. Both of them drink a lot of water and as recommended by the vet, some cat laxative on their paws once a week.
    They have been thriving on ‘sensitive stomach’ dry cat food by Blue and it has resolved a stomach and vomit problem. They get the recommended amounts split between morning and night feedings. Sometimes I will give them a little wet food they love, but not frequently since it can cause stomach problems for them. Since they love treats, is it true that giving several treats to cats is harmful??
    Thanks.

    1. I started my cat on dry food I found 2 different kinds that he likes, then I heard on my cat from he’ll Jackson Galaxy said that cat should be on a feeding schedule so I did that , now he gets a can of cat food between 2&4pm after 6pm he has his dry food, I always supply fresh cool water for him. So far he likes what I am doing with no stomach upset.

  8. I cannot agree that grains won’t hurt cats. Grains like wheat, barley, corn and oats cause diabetes in humans, so I would assume that grains that aren’t predigested, say when a cat eats a mouse, would also cause diabetes in cats and dogs.

    1. It is not wise to assume that because grains cause diabetes in humans that it will do so in cats. Human bodies can digest and use carbohydrates; our bodies are designed to do so. The metabolism of a cat, however, does not have the proper enzymes to digest carbohydrates. Since their metabolisms are clearly quite different from a human’s, there is no reason to believe that they get diabetes from the same sources.

      However, since cats cannot metabolize carbohydrates, they do NOT belong in their diet! Why put something in a cat’s food that doesn’t do them any good?

  9. What is the best, yet not too expensive, wet cat food to give a 12+ yr old cat? I feed her Fancy Feast now. She seems to like most flavors (beef and turkey/giblets). However, there are days she won’t touch it. So I thought maybe switching brands would get my old girl eating every single day.

    Thanks

  10. Having friends who faced dealing with the last years of a cat who, like most cats on strictly dry food, lived its life dehydrated, (kidney failure, colon trouble, etc) I decided to go ‘straight wet’ on my cat food…and to make it human grade rather than the questionable-looking ‘meat’ that’s in most canned cat food. Oh and by the way my cat won’t touch that substance…just sucks the liquid out and leaves whatever that solid is. I feed him canned tuna (in oil) and canned white chicken (in water) and switching those out keeps him wanting more. And not really any more expensive than cat food! Caned tuna is a popular human food and frequently on very attractive sales. Occasionally despite our best efforts he gets dehydrated and constipated. 1/4 teaspoon poly glycol (mirilax on vets advice) per day for a few days gets him back in shape quickly. Oh and my cat absolutely loves water…from a big shallow container that he can dip his paws into (go figure) so a glass pie plate is the answer…I clean and fill it twice daily…sort of a ‘spill hazard’ until I learned to keep a big plastic bowl to pour the used water in for transport, and a 4-cup plastic measuring pitcher to refill cleaned pie plate. Love that kitty.

    1. Please discuss what you are feeding your cat with your vet. Canned tuna and canned chicken are not formulated with the vitamins and minerals cats need–among other things, they lack sufficient taurine. That can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy (a heart condition).

      Feeding large amounts of tuna can also cause problems, including vitamin E deficiency. Here is a chart showing how tuna is an inadequate diet for cats: http://maxshouse.com/Tuna_and_Cats_Nutritional_Facts.htm. Please reconsider what you are feeding your cat.

      1. That’s what I was wondering about human intending tuna. Too much sodium for cats, perhaps? Not hearthealthy because of this?

    2. Wow! Very great ideas. Thank you! BTW, my son has a cat his father started feeding outdoors as a stray kitten twenty years ago. When she was about fifteen, Marc decided to bring her indoors and make her his inside cat.
      Like I say, she is now twenty! He feeds her two cans of wet Meow mix a day, and always has Meow Mix tender centers dry food available if she wants food in between (she eats a little each day). He uses a Drinkwell so she always has the pet fountain and since he started using that, her breath has improved—we think she must be better hydrated.

  11. Has anyone actually “tasted” cat food? I mean really TASTED it. I’m sure they have. Does it all taste the same? In other words, does one brand of dry food taste just like every other brand of dry food? I’ve thought about tasting it myself, but have not gotten up the courage.

    1. I tasted Iams dry cat food once on a dare. It’s pretty nasty, though it’s the only brand my picky cats will actually eat. Tasted like dust and chalk, with a hint of bologna.

  12. Is there a reputable site that “analyzes” and rates cat foods as Dog Food Advisor does for canine foods? So many choices and competing claims, it would be nice to have one central, unbiased site to go to for some information. Many vets do not seem particularly well versed in feline nutrition, so they are not always the resource one might assume them to be.
    Thanks!

    1. Lynda, try the website Truth About Pet Food.com. The food, not feed, info on this website is abundant for cats and dogs.
      Interesting…raw feeding was never mentioned in this article. Only feed raw to my 2 very healthy cats and dog.

    2. Lynda, catinfo.org has a lot of information on feline nutrition. In the fall of 2012, Dr. Lisa Pierson compiled a list of commercial foods showing how many calories are derived from protein, fat, and carbohydrates, how much phosphorus and how many calories per can by phoning the companies. She updated the list earlier this year. This is not a list of recommendations (Dr. Pierson makes her own cat food) but can aid cat parents in making informed decisions about the food they feed their cats. She also has reproduced Dr. Deborah Zoran’s article, “The carnivore connection to nutrition in cats,” published in the December 1, 2002, edition of the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association which gives some very interesting insights into feline nutrition and how cats are like neither humans nor dogs and have very different nutritional needs.

      1. The one thing I wonder about people who give tuna fish for people to cats is the sodium. Is it the same as it would be in cat food? I have no idea and this is why I question. I just wonder if the cat tuna is less salty?

  13. Pingback: Are These Myths About Healthy Cat Food True or False? – Catster – Diabetes Tips

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