Avoid Cheese. A High Protein, Low Fat, Low Carbohydrate Diet is Best.

Question:

Is cheese bad for cats? Are there foods cats should not eat?

 

Dr. Nichol:

Cats should not eat cheese, Cheetos, chocolate, nor chicharrones. They need very little in fat in their diet. It turns out that dry cat food doesn’t work well for them either. Veterinarians, like me, have extolled the virtues of dry food for years. We’ve been wrong.

 

The problem is that dry food only sticks together to form those little biscuits (kibbles) if it has lots of starchy carbohydrates in it. Recent studies have shown that cats don’t store carbohydrates but quickly convert them to, you guessed it, fat. What they really need most is protein. Dry food is much too high in carbs and too low in protein. By doing it backwards we have created an obese feline population with skyrocketing diabetes.

 

So here’s the news: lose the cheese and feed your chunky feline monkey canned kitten food. It’s high protein, low carbohydrate, and low fat. Toss in a few crunchies for good dental health and your cat will be a lean machine.

 

 

 

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Question:

We are confused about our very beloved cat Suzy (almost 13). A year or two ago I clipped out your column about dry food. Our Suzy was then overweight and gaining. You said Science Diet r/d was the best weight reduction diet. We followed your advice and Suzy is now looking good. BUT, in the past few weeks you have been very emphatic about feeding cats only canned kitten (?) food. We don’t know what we should be feeding Suzy. She has a tough time with canned food. She smashes it down while eating it and then won’t touch it again until we push it all into a pile in the middle of her dish.

Dr. Nichol:

I, and my colleagues, have confused and confounded the pet owners of America. Dry food for cats has been recommended for as long as I have been in practice (28 years and counting). Now we find that we’ve been wrong. There is egg on our collective veterinary faces.

 

Hills prescription diet r/d does work well to manage obesity. The problem is that r/d (low fat, high fiber) causes weight loss partly at the expense of healthy muscle mass. Now we know we can do much better with a high protein, low fat, low carbohydrate diet. Assuming that Suzy’s 13-year-old organs are functioning properly, she’ll be slim and much healthier on canned kitten food-no fooling.

 

A cat Suzy’s age should have a senior lab profile to make sure that all systems are running strong. If she checks out well, I suggest a very gradual transition to canned kitten food over as many months as it takes. If she never learns to enjoy it, well, at least you tried.

 

Suzy’s unwillingness to accept canned food isn’t unusual. Cats get “habituated” easily as youngsters. This means that if you raise a kitten on dry food you may find it difficult to convert her to canned later. Try offering small amounts often. If Suzy ever wants to climb Mt. Everest she’ll need to be fit. Of course you and I could do it; we just choose not to.

 

 

 

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Transitioning Dry Food Fed Cats to Canned Kitten Food

Question:

I see that you recommend feeding canned kitten food to indoor cats. Do you have any suggestions for switching my cats from constantly available dry food to canned? They are used to picking at it whenever they want but they are overweight.

 

Dr. Nichol:

A lot has been learned about healthy nutrition but that doesn’t mean finicky felines are buying it. One big difference between cats and other species is the early behavioral habituation in young kittens. They’ll go along with anything for their first 5 weeks. But beyond that age they are stuck on whatever has been imprinted on their little brains. Whether it’s the type of cat litter or canned verses dry food, it’s hard to get many cats to accept change.

 

Most dry cat foods cause obesity because they are much too high in carbohydrates and way too low in protein. A good canned kitten food is just about purrrfect for healthy cats of all ages. Try gradually mixing increasing amounts of canned food as you diminish the dry. It may take a year. If your corpulent cats fight you to the last kibble, ask your veterinarian for prescription diet dry m/d. [note to editor: m/d is the name of the diet.] Even in its dry form m/d should help those chunky monkeys lose the fat and add the muscle that a healthy cat needs. Feed about one tablespoon 3-4 times daily and obesity should become a self-limiting problem.

 

 

 

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Food Aggressive Overweight Cat

Question:

My cat, Fat Sally, was 2 years old and weighed only 4 1/2 lbs when I adopted her. I allowed her to self feed and she has ballooned to 12 lbs. She is now fed only twice a day but she is running my two dogs off their food and then eating it. I would say this is funny except Fat Sally has scratched our puppy and she isn’t losing any weight.  Are there solutions for a food aggressive cat?

 

Dr. Nichol:

You are right to be concerned about Fat Sally. Degenerative joints, fatty liver, and diabetes may be on her horizon if she continues to pack on the pork.

 

Cats have their own nutritional requirements; they are not just dogs with short ears. Cats do best on high protein, low carbohydrate, low fat food because that’s what their natural prey is made of. They are obligate carnivores who only eat other creatures, not salad and potatoes.

 

The best diets for healthy cats of all ages are canned kitten foods because their relative amounts of nutrients are close to wild prey. Not surprisingly, when overweight diabetic cats eat a similar diet (usually prescription diet m/d or Purina DM) most lose weight and some no longer need insulin.

 

Cats should eat 4-5 small meals per day. If canned kitten food doesn’t work for you and Fat Sally, you can ask your veterinarian for prescription diet r/d. It’s a good choice because it is much higher in fiber and lower in fat than regular cat food. It would allow Fat Sally to eat like a pig and still dream of that itsy bitsy teeny weenie…you get the picture.

 

Finally, I’d like to suggest some assertiveness training for your dogs. How embarrassing it must be that the school yard bully who steals their lunch turns out to be a pussy cat.

 

 

 

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Question:

Chile and Ava are both indoor girls who like dry food like it’s candy. Because ferals need more carbs, we feed them IAMS dry along with canned foods. They are overweight. We hoped by feeding them canned cat foods they would start losing weight. However, Chile can break into any bag, no matter how high we put it. Then she knocks some down for Ava. Neither girl is losing weight and we are growing more concerned.

 

Dr. Nichol:

A lot of busy people allow their indoor cats to free feed. The problem with most dry cat foods is their high carbohydrate content-the starch that makes the kibbles stick together like little biscuits. That’s fine for dogs but cats are obligate carnivores. They are physiologically meant to eat other creatures only. Cats are not built for bread and potatoes.

 

Once a cat is overweight it’s difficult for her to get back to good health. Fat cells grow in size and number from those excessive carbs and they insist on staying full. The body will move heaven and earth to keep its fat happy.

 

There is another important factor. Kittens under age 5 weeks become “habituated” to whatever they are fed. If they start out eating dry food they might accept a canned diet later but they’ll always crave those crunchies. Some adult cats refuse canned food altogether. I’m glad you’re motivated to help Chile and Ava slim down. Fat cats are highly prone to diabetes, fatty liver disease, and arthritic joints.

 

The higher levels of protein and much lower amounts of carbohydrates and fat in canned food are close to the true nutritional requirements for cats. Canned kitten food, with its even higher protein levels, is actually ideal for healthy cats of all ages. Feral cats, by the way, are behaviorally different but physically the same as domestic cats.

 

To help your cats transition to a healthier diet add a small amount of canned kitten food to the dry, mixing it so that many of the kibbles have some soft food stuck to them. Don’t put too much dry food in the bowl so Chile and Ava have no choice but to eat some kibbles that are “tainted” with canned. Over time (maybe weeks to months) gradually add more canned as you reduce the amount of dry.

There are kitties who would rather file their knuckles with a cheese grater than eat any canned food. Your veterinarian can dispense a dry prescription weight loss diet. Hills r/d works because it is higher in fiber and much lower in fat than even light diets.

Your cats may hate you for this every step of the way. Tell them it’s for their own good. You could try the line about starving cats in China but they probably won’t buy it. I never did and the Nichol brothers don’t either.