When it comes to achieving optimum health for your furry companion, nutrition is the key element to consider. A diet that consists of optimum nutrition will produce optimum health.
In this world of information, technology and busy-ness, it can be confusing to know what is the best food to provide to your beloved cat or dog. We are faced with a preponderance of information about what food provides the best nutrition for our furry companions. Is tinned food best? Kibble? Veterinary prescribed diets? Raw meat? Raw bones? Vegetables? Grains?
We are also faced with a massive range of pet food brands promising health and vitality.
In this two-part series, we're going to discuss the importance of nutrition and take a look at two case studies demonstrating the effects poor nutrition can have on our furry companions.
Many of today’s feline and canine diseases result from poor nutrition (Hodgkins 2007; Billinghurst 1993). As such, ensuring your feline or canine gets the nutrition he or she needs is vital to ensuring good health and recovery from illness.
Predominantly, our furry companions are being fed dry, processed foods. These foods are not species-appropriate. They don’t provide adequate nutrition nor do they offer sufficient moisture to ensure adequate hydration. As a result, the risk of your feline or canine suffering from poor health increases and if he or she does get sick, recovery may be slow.
One of the most common feline conditions that arise in the main due to a dry, processed diet is urinary tract conditions, such as urethral obstruction. If your cat suffers from a urinary tract condition, he may strain to urinate, his urine may have blood in it and he may not be able to urinate at all (Hodgkins 2007).
The rise of urinary tract conditions is said to have coincided with “the increasing use of dry kibble to feed cats” (Hodgkins 2007, p. 168).
Dr Elizabeth Hodgkins (2007) attributes the cause of urinary tract conditions to dry cat foods for three reasons:
The urine of carnivores consuming meat is acid (below a pH of 7.4), not alkaline (above a pH of 7.4). Dry cat foods, with their high plant content, cause a very alkaline urine pH. This is an unusual environment in the cat’s bladder, leading to inflammation. The consumption of meat creates a healthy bladder environment.
Dry cat foods provide almost no moisture, whereas a natural prey diet provides 75 to 80 percent moisture. The cat has a low thirst-drive to consume free water because of its evolutionary origins. Thus, the dry-food-fed cat is usually subclinically dehydrated, and its urine is very concentrated. This unnaturally high concentration of minerals and other constituents in the urine, along with an alkaline pH, leads to urinary tract infection/inflammation.
When a cat consumes a wet, meat-based diet, the resulting urine has a natural acid pH and is more dilute than the urine of dry-food-fed cats. These conditions do not allow the formation of crystals and stones, and eliminate inflammation (pp.170-171).
If a cat suffers from a urinary tract condition, urgent veterinary attention will be needed, especially if the cat’s urinary tract is blocked. A cat with a blocked urinary tract is in quite a serious state due to the accumulation of urine and poisonous waste products in the bloodstream (Pitcairn 2005). If left to suffer with a blockage, a cat can die in 3-6 days (ACVS 2014).
Recovery from a urinary tract condition is relatively simple. Following treatment from a vet, the introduction of a diet, which does not contain dry food, that is a wet meat diet which is raw or canned with very limited grains, will result in a quick recovery for your cat (Hodgkins 2007). Supplementing with omega oil can assist in preventing inflammation.
Male cats are more prone to urethral obstruction “because they tend to have long and narrow urethras” (Pitcairn 2005, p. 311). Female cats can have bladder problems but they are unlikely to get blocked (Pitcairn 2005).
Let's now look at a case study involving a cat with a urethral obstruction:
Paddy was a two year old spayed male domestic short-haired tabby cat. He was in overall good condition but had a slight tummy. His diet consisted of dry food for breakfast and raw meat for dinner. Paddy was known for his gluttony and thus tended to eat more dry food than the other two cats in the household.
On a day shortly after Paddy’s human companion returned from a 3 week holiday, Paddy appeared grumpy, hissing and growling, and was excessively licking at his genitals. He also appeared to have stomach pain as he growled when his human companion touched him on the belly.
The next day the human companion took Paddy to the vet. Upon inspection, the vet identified Paddy’s condition as a urethral obstruction. Paddy was immediately prepped for surgery and operated on that morning. During surgery, the vet found a plug of white material at the penis tip containing debris and struvite crystals. Paddy’s blood work was normal. His urinalysis showed a urine pH level of 7 (the recommended level is 6.0-6.4 (Cottam 2002)) with a specific gravity of 1.050 (normal range 1.020 – 1.040 (Merck 2012)). Veterinary advice was that Paddy’s diet was the cause of the obstruction. While some cats are prone to these conditions, Paddy appeared to have suffered the blockage because of the dry food he was eating.
Following the procedure, Paddy stayed at the vet hospital for three days while under observation. Once the vet was confident Paddy could urinate, Paddy was able to return home. Paddy’s human companion threw away the dry food and fed Paddy a diet consisting of good quality canned food and raw meat. When Paddy's family moved house approximately one month later, Paddy was showing difficulty urinating. Out of precaution, Paddy's human companion took him to the vet. Fortunately, the vet examination didn’t reveal any blockage. It was likely Paddy was suffering from inflammation due to stress associated with the move.
Dry food will not cause urethral complications in all cats. It will depend whether the cat is prone to urethral complications. It is likely that Paddy is prone to such complications and had he never eaten dry food, it is probable that he would never have suffered from the urethral obstruction. With appropriate management of Paddy's environment and diet, future urethral obstruction should be avoided.
In order to avoid conditions that can be exacerbated by diet, it is so important that our furry companions be fed a species-appropriate diet, that is, a diet that closely aligns with what a cat or dog would eat in nature such as raw meat and bones with plant matter that replicates a pre-digested state (either by soaking, sprouting, lightly cooking and / or pulverising).
In the next instalment of this two-part series, we'll take a look at a case study of a dog who developed a condition that was caused and/or exacerbated by his diet.
Billinghurst, I 1993, ‘Give Your Dog a Bone’, Warrigal Publishing Bathurst.
Hodgkins, E 2007, 'Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life', St Martin's Griffin.
American College of Veterinary Surgeons 2014, Small Animal Topics, ‘Urinary Obstruction in Male Cats’, viewed 29 December 2014, https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/urinary-obstruction-cats.
Pitcairn, R 2005, 'Dr Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats', Rodale Press.