Saturday, September 15, 2012

PNC follow up - What I know about nutrition

There are a couple of things that I feel the need to get out of the way before getting into this post because how we feed our pets can sometimes be as volatile as politics and religion.

First off, as a reminder, these "What I Know" posts are what I know to be true due to the different literature I have read and my understanding of the information I have access to at the time and my own experiences.  I do not believe this is the end all and be all of the info to be obtained about any given subject at any given time and I am totally open to changing when I learn of something new.

Second, simply because I think this way does not mean I am judging you on your choices.  I once fed dry food out of the biggest bag at my local grocery store.  My vet told me all the food was the same and my cats seemed fine on it.. until they weren't. Life threw things at me and I was forced to learn.  Em became diabetic.  Both Jack and Eli blocked with urinary crystals.  For my cats, and for my piece of mind,  a dietary chance was necessary. All three plus countless others in my care saw dramatic improvements in their health with a "simple" diet change.  Only you know what is best for your situation and when it may or may not be appropriate to change.  Your cats might be doing just fine on what you feed them and if they are that is great.  I know happens, I've heard of many cats living long happy healthy lives on "junk" food - just like George Burns lived to 101 smoking and drinking.  If you have a cat that stresses at the first sign of a dietary change, then the stress of changing the diet might do more harm then good.  Only you can decide what your situation is and what works for you and your kitty.  I can only share what I know.

So here we go..  Cats are obligate carnivores.  That one is not up for debate.   Everyone believes that cats are carnivores; except for one woman - I met her online and she decided her cat should be vegan and stated unequivocally that cats have evolved enough to be vegan. The debate is were they designed that way or did they evolve?  I believe they were designed.  However I am fully capable of using the evolutionary rules to justify what I believe as well.  I know not everyone believes in creation, and I feel that if you view the facts with in the set of rules established by evolution then my arguments/beliefs hold water. .  Besides, if this post simply said "Because that is how God designed it" this would be a very short post, and frankly it would be pretty unconvincing to a lot of people

So from an evolutionary standpoint, cats have been carnivores since they have been cats. They evolved as desert creatures.  They evolved to eat a diet of small rodents and anything else they could catch or scavenge. Because of this, they have a highly acidic stomach acid and a shortened digestive tract to help keep virulent pathogens at bay. They don't have a high thirst drive due to the lack of water and evolved to make due with the hydration that comes from consuming their pray. Having to hunt in the desert, they are crepuscular - being most active at twilight times - because that is when their prey is most active.  That is also why their eyes evolved as they did to be most accurate when there is little light available.  The whiskers, ears and nose evolved to pick up small movements to help them hunt. In the evolutionary record there is no evidence of cats ever having eaten anything else.

But yet those who make most of the commercial pet foods have decided that cats only really need the "protein" / "fat" / "carbohydrate"  part of this diet.  They disregard the prey as a whole and complete diet and decided they can recreate what is necessary by using bits and pieces of inexpensive plant based ingredients.  Only problem with that is they do not fully understand the prey as a whole, and simply disregard anything they don't understand.  Case in point, despite commercial pet food being available in the US since the 1890s they only started adding taurine to cat food in the 70s.  Well you say, that was forty years ago, surely they know all they need to know by now.  Well science just figured out that all that 'junk dna' in the human genome isn't just junk.  I am learning that science is only starting to understand what all this piecemeal nutrition is doing to us humans.  Why should we think it is any different for animals? especially since animals don't have the legal protection that humans do.

But back to the "science".
Ingredients in jars at the PNC tour.
You wouldn't believe what it took to get this photo.
The experts in pet piecemeal nutrition believe they can properly nourish your cat with corn gluten, wheat gluten and hydrolyzed yeast (which btw, is another name for MSG) for protein and vegetable or soy oil for fat.  These ingredients are all plant based, but they are high in protein / fat so they believe they are acceptable. These ingredients are often going to waste because they are byproducts from other food processing and or very cheap to acquire; they believe it make sense to use them in pet food.  Well sure, if you completely disregard the 'packaging' of this protein / fat.  Plant based nutrients are NOT the same as animal based nutrients. How they created, how they are formed, how they are digested and how it is utilized by the body are all different. Studies are starting to show that when cows eat a diet that they evolved to eat (grass) their meat have higher concentrates of nutrients we do want, and lower concentrations of nutrients we don't. Then there is the fact that when you force cows to eat corn it makes their stomachs so acidic they have to be given antibiotics and antacids to keep them alive.

But yet they keep trying to find ways for animals to eat foodstuffs that they did not evolve to eat.  They take a little from jar A and a little from jar B (and they use the entire alphabet) and say here, this is better for your cat then that one ingredient bird or mouse.

And when our cats suffer from it, it must be our own fault.  We MUST be feeding too much, or too often or give too many treats.  It can not possibly be the fact that the science is faulty.  So they refer you to your veterinarian to guide you in your food choices; but yet your vet rarely has much training in feline nutrition.  From my understanding they take one course in nutrition as a basic requirement (they can take more, some do, kudos to those vets) and that course touches on the nutrition for all animals and is weighted heavily in large animals.  Human doctors do not study nutrition either, so don't take this as my condemning the profession as a whole.  If you have real questions about what you should be eating, your doctor will refer you to a nutritionist.  Many vets do participate in continuing education about nutrition, but all too often it is very often sponsored by pet food companies.  They come in and explain why their food is awesome and how to 'prescribe' it to patients. So as a general rule (and again, there are exceptions) your vet is just well versed in the dogma of the pet food companies and why they believe their diet is healthy.

I did mention before this science believes that a feeding trial of less then a year is appropriate to determine if the food like products they are creating is healthy enough for the lifetime of the cat.  Does this all sound logical to you?

Another severe issue I have with these types of scientists and their industry funded pseudoscience is the whole GMO (genetically modified organism) issue.  Please realize that any processed food you have more likely then not has GMO ingredients in it.  (unless it is labeled 100% organic, and even then there could be a chance it has some questionable ingredients in it.) Be aware that many crops are almost exclusively GMO these days. (stats from Wikipedia, but I've seen them in other reports) 80% of Hawaiian papaya 13% of the zucchini 85% of the world's soybean crop 95% of sugar beet (out of which 90% of the sugar in the US is derived) 86% of the US maize crop - and frankly it is scary just how much corn the US consumes regardless if the word corn shows up anywhere in your menu.  And still the experts in nutrition talk of moderation.

Short history on GMO.  Once again scientists thought they had a better, a faster way then evolution.  So they spliced a gene from one plant (or animal.  Yes they are discussing putting animal genes into plants) into another for traits they wanted or to eliminate things they don't.  Surprisingly enough they were able to convince one body of the government that GMOs were basically the same as the original plant (aka GMO corn is the same as non GMO corn) so that they did not have to do any studies on the safeness of it.  But they convinced another body of government that it was different enough to be able to patent and make money off it.  This alone is enough to make me want to take a second look at it.  But now that the studies are starting to come up to show this frankenfood is just not safe I am doing my best to stay away from it.  I would imagine if it is damaging to a human it would also be to my cat.  Many countries have banned GMOs from their food chain.  California is currently trying to simply get it labeled to but are being fought hard by companies with a vested interest. (if they are so darn proud of this stuff why do they not want us to know when we are eating them??)

Right now we are all in one great big health experiment.  Corporations who used to make wholesome healthy foods and products felt the squeeze from one shortage or another or maybe from desire to make it cheaper in order to make money or have it be able to sit on the shelf or on your counter longer now make foodlike products.  Bread used to be made from flour, water and salt and the wild yeast in the air. Now this is an ingredient label.

Image from 
Great breakdown on the ingredient list on her post
Remember when your chocolate bar had chocolate in it and wasn't chocolate flavored?  Remember when ice cream was actually made with cream and wasn't labeled a frozen dairy like product?  (I was at the store the other day and some containers completely left off any proclamation of what it was other then the "Peanut Butter & Jelly" flavor with a bowl that implied it was ice cream but the fine print said "frozen dairy dessert" with ingredients too difficult to pronounce)

Sadly the food cat eats went from being a single ingredient (mouse. bird. lizard.) to this:
Chicken meal, corn, corn gluten meal, wheat, powdered cellulose, wheat gluten, pea fiber, natural flavors, chicken fat, dried beet pulp, sodium silico aluminate, vegetable oil, grain distillers dried yeast, fish oil, calcium sulfate, potassium chloride, psyllium seed husk, fructooligosaccharides*, salt, choline chloride, monosodium phosphate, taurine, DL-methionine, vitamins [DL-alpha tocopherol (source of vitamin E), L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), niacin, biotin, D-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin (vitamin B2), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin A acetate, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), vitamin B12 supplement, folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement], trace minerals (zinc proteinate, zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite, copper proteinate), L-carnitine, rosemary extract, preserved with natural mixed tocopherols and citric acid
So see all that red up there.  That is all the plant based ingredients.  See the *?  That is because fructooligosaccharides is a sweetener!  Apparently someone forgot cats can not taste sweet.  Might there be another reason for it?  I so hope so, but frankly I can't imagine how I could ever think it is OK. DL-Methionine is one quick and easy way to correct the imbalance that is caused by all those plant based ingredients.  I have seen it recommended more then once and used it myself to help lower urinary PH. (a cat's normal urinary PH is 6.0-6.5  a cat eating a lot of plants often has a urine PH near 8).   You should check out the ingredient list on the new dry thyroid food out there.  Not a single animal based protein among the ingredient list.

"Rose" using dry food as litter.
She has not been the only foster kitten I have had that did this.
But the food has "the nutrient profile that they determined that a cat needs for optimal health" and they absolutely believe that is enough.   Aren't you interested in how they determine what is optimal?  I am but I can't find out; and I am not alone on that.  Did they find out at what range the cat was so deficient it caused problems and then so excessive it was toxic and decide that optimal was in the middle?? Maybe they simply fed the food and the cats did "better"; but what were the cats eating before they decided this.  Was it the diet they evolved to eat?  Was it the diet they wanted you to buy? or was it an even worse sub optimal diet and thus when they fed the nutrient profile they thought would be optimal they did better and thus that must be the the optimal diet?  Did they take in to consideration when you lower or raise one nutrient stat it has an effect on others? (like you need Vitamin D to absorb Calcium)  I don't know.  There is a lot I don't know about how this is optimal for my cat's nutritional needs. Considering there is so much science can't even agree on human nutrition, I feel safe to assume that they just don't know for certain either.
Eli and Fleurp eating mouse and either llama or goat sold at

Have you ever taken a good look a the marketing of pet food?  How many pet foods have you seen with nutritional claims you recognize from your own health stand point.  How spinach is good for you.  How fruits and vegetables and whole grains are good for you. Many only have fruits and veggies in their advertising. Why are they using these selling points for an obligate carnivore?  Might it have something to do with the fact that these claims are recognizable to you the human and in the lexicon of good health?   I say it does.  I say they are trying to convince you these things are healthy for your cat because they are known to be healthy for YOU.   They want you to forget that humans are omnivores and cats are obligate carnivores and lack the digestive enzyme amylase to properly break down plant based foods to get at the nutrients.  They also lack the enzyme beta-carotene 15,15'-monooxygenase  which helps herbivores create Vitamin A.  Carnivores must get their Vitamin A from the herbivores that do have this enzyme.  Then there is the packaging.  How many of them are packaged in colors that evoke 'natural' or 'wholesome' foods.  The soft browns, the hand drawn images to evoke the feel of a farmers market. Then there are those with fields of wheat in the background.  A lot of them dance around the imagery they want you to think about or probably more importantly feel about their product with out ever using words they are not legally able to use because they don't actually meet the definition.  Like with the above mentioned PB&J frozen dairy product that makes you believe it is ice cream. The imagery is often so subtle that unless you are looking for it you don't realize what they are trying to do.  To me this is engendering trust through lies.

So you know, I am going through my own journey with nutrition at the moment.  I have been overweight all my life and I have never really understood why.  I do not eat excessively .  Every time I count my calories (and I do my best not to lie to myself as I really want to know the answer) my calorie count says I should be much smaller then I am (according to the calories in vs calories out science I should be eating twice if not three times what I am to maintain the weight I am currently at).  I grew up eating a S.A.D and did my best to follow the food pyramid.  I ate low fat, high fiber, processed food diet and got heavier and heavier.  Several years ago I decided to 'get serious' and ate a higher protein, lower fat,  low glycemic index carb diet that was full of processed foods that was overtly supplemented with soy.   I lost almost 70lbs on this diet and I was thrilled.  Everything was great... until it wasn't.  I got colder and colder and fatigue set in so hard I could barely do more then get up and go to work and even that was difficult because of the brain fog I was dealing with.  I was thinner, but I was almost useless.  Since I was following what the experts said to do to be healthy I figured I would just get through it.  Only I didn't.  At one point I stopped losing weight and started gaining despite not changing anything.  I figured I MUST be eating more then I realized or I MUST not be exercising hard enough, so I buckled down.  I measured everything I ate and got a BodyBugg to measure my caloric burn.  According to the data I had at least a 500 calorie deficit every single day and yet I was still gaining and still so tired and constantly cold. Finally I went to my doctor, who ran tests.  She then referred me to an endocrinologists who ran more tests.  My doctor ran more tests.  She ended up referring me to a specialist in 'leaky gut' and 'food sensitivities' and candida.  I didn't believe I had any of these issues, but since I didn't know what was wrong with me I went through the tests.  I had so much blood drawn..I changed my whole diet again to get rid of the top food allergens (no wheat, no dairy, etc).  I saw an "energy" guy.  She even had me do HCG.  Nothing helped.  I continued to gain weight.  This last doctor is convinced it is Lyme despite the fact I have never had a tick on me for more then 8 hours and the last time was over 10 years ago.  All the money I have spent trying to figure this out is more then a little scary.  I finally had enough, and have been working on just accepting where I am at this point in time.  I'm not happy about it, because there is obviously SOMETHING off so I continue to read all I can about the different theories of nutrition.  I spent years following ideas the doctors had, each one crazier then the last.  I decided to just opt out of the Corporate America Food System and concentrate on eating nutrient dense food, and reading as much as I can.  Doing so has lead me to WAPF (did you know saturated fat is actually good for you, and the study that led us all to believe it wasn't was faulty?) and then to Matt Stone and his 180DegreeHealth website.  He has a theory that we are just not eating enough and that you should RRARF and eat all the food you want when ever you want, but you should stay away from GMOS, fructose and sugar and vegetable oils (I'm paraphrasing, go to his site and read his words, he explains it way better then I can) after an almost life time of food restriction, eating like this feels good.  I am feeling better in that I'm not constantly freezing and I am able to do more then work and sleep.  And if nothing else it is nice to not have major food restrictions.  I am feeling much more comfortable in my food choices and enjoying food again.  It doesn't make up for not being in a size 10, but eating all this cheese and full fat milk and yogurt and grass fed beef does make me smile.  And as a result, I have seemed to finally stop gaining weight, I've got more energy they I used to (but so far not as much as I wish I had) and I'm not wearing sweaters in the summer.

Basically long winded story to tell you that I believe there is a lot more to nutrition then what "They" know or even what I know.  But since we as a nation are getting sicker and sicker, wouldn't it make sense that the problem very well could be with this scientific approach to piecemeal nutrition?  Doesn't it actually make sense to go back to the foods that each species ate when we evolved into what we are today?  That each individual species got a complete and balanced diet from what was available?  I can't see any life form evolving to need something it can't possibly obtain on its own.
While I believe every cat should be eating a raw based diet, I know full well that it is not an option for every cat.  Be it that their owners are unable or unwilling to provide it (for what ever reason, this is not a judgement, simply a statement) or the cat is unwilling to eat it.  The cat has a very VERY strong instinct to not eat any food it did not eat as a kitten.  This is because while it is with it's mother, she would provide the food for the kitten practice killing on and to eat.  If mom did not bring it home to the kitten then it was most likely not nourishing for the kitten.  Cats who were raised on one type or flavor of food will keep to that restricted diet even to the detriment of it's health unless the owner is extremely clever and persistent in the transition - and even then it isn't always easy to outwit a cat.  I believe with my entire heart and soul that any choice / decision you make for your kitty out of love and respect is the right one no matter what I or anyone else thinks of it (even if you come to decide it is a wrong decision in the future).  I will more then likely suggest reading materials and references if you say decide you want to feed your kitty vegan but I will do my darnedest to not make you feel bad about your decision.  There are just too many 'experts' out there with too many letters after their name and they all seem to have a different opinion on pretty much everything.

Please don't take this post to state or even imply that I think I'm perfect in these regards.  I feed my kitties dry food as 'cookies', and I give them canned food I consider to be equivalent to 'junk' food because they like it.  I bought and ate that PB&J frozen dairy product (it was really gross don't do it) and have eaten more caramels and pieces of dark chocolate (even if they were as healthy as I could find with no ingredients that sounded like man made chemicals) then I care to mention while writing this post (it didn't help that one major rewrite disappeared when I saved an earlier version over all of my work)  I strive to eat well, but I also strive to be happy with my food and let it nourish not only my body but my soul.  As much as I would like to eliminate emotional eating, I do it because it works.  Bread / cake / sugar releases a flood of serotonin and makes me happy rather quickly (that and I enjoy eating it so that makes me happy too) and it helps me sleep through the night.

I also know that what works for me and my cats, might not work for you and yours.  While I have read way too much to believe a vegan diet is a long term solution to anyone's good health I do accept that there are a lot of people on it that are doing very well.  My co-worker is currently on a raw vegan diet and she has seen major improvements in her health.  There are cats who seem to be unable to handle raw food and thus remain on a cooked diet.

Every cat is different, just as every person is different.

So.. this is what I believe and this is why I believe it.

Btw.  I have to say that the book The Omnivores Dilemma has had a profound effect on how I look at food.  I can't recommend it strongly enough... no matter what you believe about  human nutrition.

Interesting reading on the subject:


  1. This is an amazing post and I sure hope you share it on Facebook and the cat blogosphere. I too have learned a lot about cat nutrition over the years, and sadly also know that many, many people (and vets) are woefully uneducated.

    I would also suggest the book Your Cat by Elizabeth Hodgkins--she advocates a species-appropriate diet.

    1. LOL. I actually have a stack of those books on my kitchen table right now. I bought a couple when they were first released and ended up giving them all away to people I know.

    2. and I should have said thank you too. It was a tough post for me to write because it is such a charged subject.

  2. We agree completely with this! Two of our three are raw (and Maxie would be too if we could only get him to EAT it...!) and Maxie's on grain free. The stubborn dude simply refuses to eat anything but dry kibble, though. *sigh*

    We keep trying to coax him toward better foods and have not given up yet!

    I hear you about the craziness going on with human foods too. I try to get us to eat as healthy as I can (never 100% successful, of course!). This began for us several years ago when a close friend suddenly became a patient of my husband's. You do not want to be a patient of my husband because that means you have the Big "C".

    And our friend had the worst - what's known as the "great White Shark" of cancers, because it's so swift and deadly. Quietly and unofficially, hubby's partner said the best they could probably do was give her 4 months. That was 3 years ago.

    We don't know if it was a fluke or the fact that we researched like crazy and put her on a ketogenic diet - eliminating ALL sugar. We also put her on a 100% organic diet (no cheating) and researched every single food that had been studied as associating with her cancer, and eliminated it. As you said, George Burns smoked and lived to 101. She may simply be the exception to the rule.

    But we figured she had nothing to lose and why not stack the deck in her favor. The association between sugar and cancer has since been strongly documented. And it made us sick to discover that 5 of the top 8 ingredients in a can of Ensure - something that medical nutritionists foist on cancer patients practically the moment that walk through the door - is sugar.

    This nation has a serious nutrition problem - with humans and our pets.

  3. of course they carnivores that why pet cats will still hunt birds and mice and the like,and if you don't feed them enough meat you'll probably find that a cat will hunt more,and I have never heard of any thing so daft as a vegan cat

  4. I am vegetarian exclusively for ethic reasons and I only buy cruelty free products but I would never put my cats on a vegan diet. I try to buy cruelty free for them as well but I buy canned food where the meat is above 80%. I haven't tried raw food as honestly I don't know how to begin. I made them some chicken (cooked) but they almost threw it at my face. I feed them kibble as well, moving towards grain free slowly.

    Thank you for such a great and illuminating post. I will try to do better for my cats and my fosters.

  5. Thank you Connie. I trust a person with alot of experience over just about any doctor with a theory. Practise beats theory without any doubt. Therefore I really appreciate it when someone with so much experience goes out their way to detail a bit about what they know without any kind of bias at the end of it.

    Personally, I am shocked at what you say about the Docs not learning much or anything about what is most important, Nutrition. I have a few friends who became nutritionists and different kinds of Docs after finishing a basic medical Phd - they all said that the western symptomatic attitude towartds health is so unsatisdfying and crappy that they had to go on to learn more and different things. Above all they disagree with waiting for symptoms and they want to know how to prevent problems. One now lives in New Zealand and she does alot of massage and various therapies along with being a regular GP. The other 2 are in Canada as nutritionists and one teaches yoga as well. She got a second degree in Naturopathy.

    Sorry to sound like some kind of typical activist or whatever but its true: those corporations and the scientists they fund have no shame. None. They are simply bad. How can they get up in the morning and do what they do. Ignorance. And by ignorance I mean literally by ignoring the crap they put into the world each and every day. And because they are big, they can make for cheap and they can kick everyone else with a small business and good intention right off the street so all we have left is their nonsense.

    I find this extremely depressing. In Switzerland we are lucky not to have genetic food, its not legal in Europe. Furthermore the swiss have very high standards for animals and food products. It costs a bit more but I b elieve we should pay for the health of the planet we live on. It should cost us. And we should want to pay and not buy cheap nonsense because we should know better.

    It's very depressing and I feel helpless at times when it comes to my cats and their food. I want to learn to find, buy and process raw food into a system I can use always. I dont know where to buy raw meat for cats. I think you have that in the US. I am going to the vet soon for my kittens ops and will have a big talk with him about where to find what I need.

    Thank you for the post :)

  6. Definitely "food" for thought. Thanks for putting so much thought and work into this. (I'm still sorting through the links.) I know it's something you care about passionately.

  7. FYI, I have linked to this post in my "cat info" section on our blog. Thank you for writing it.


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