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Could Everything We Know Be Wrong?

Updated: Thursday, May 02, 2019 05:21 PM
Published: Monday, February 22, 2010 08:07 AM
Written by Ashley Stephen Root

Everything we know or think we know about commercial cat food could be wrong.

Today, the small cats we keep as pets are commonly fed a diet radically different from their diet in the wild, a diet unlike that of every other species of cat.¹ It is based largely upon grains – a foodstuff carnivores rarely eat except in negligible amounts when consuming the contents of their prey.

The nutritional requirements of cats, all species of cat, including felis catus, are well understood.² What sometimes is misunderstood is that cats not only are carnivores, but also obligate carnivores. When specializing as predators, nature limited the ability of all cats to metabolize carbohydrates,³ focusing instead upon the protein and fats of their prey to thrive.

What has not been established is whether cats can do more than survive, in poor or deteriorating health, on a dry, grain-based, biologically inappropriate diet.

How, then, did we come to this practice that seems to make little sense?

We probably never thought about it. Nor did the people before us who first accepted kibble and grain-based canned foods as replacements for the cat meats and scraps they fed their cats. We "received knowledge" rather than relying upon our own critical thinking skills to decide.

We lead busy lives. We take necessary short cuts. We have opinion leaders and tend to follow conventional wisdom in order to keep our lives from coming to a standstill. In an era of unprecedented information available at our fingertips, we often do not take the time to ask basic questions. We rely upon others.

Did we choose the wrong opinion leaders: our veterinarians, government regulators, pet food suppliers? Perhaps we ignored the one group certain not to lead us astray: cats themselves.

Given the opportunity, small cats will prey upon mice, birds, rabbits and a variety of insects. It's what they did in our parent's and grandparent's day when they spent much of their lives outdoors. They are carnivores, predators. Their biology allows nothing else. Given a natural diet, their nutrition is well balanced and complete: they thrive. But predation is not a pretty sight.

When we began spaying and neutering cats and bringing them indoors, we cut off their last connection to a natural food supply. The commercial dog food industry stepped in with a modern, scientific way to feed cats that was bagged, canned, easily categorized and available at your grocery store. Its definable, scientific and modern nature made it appealing to governments to regulate and for veterinarians to embrace and sell in their own offices.

It happened quickly and easily.

Now, with:

  • the mounting evidence of a causal relationship between common feeding practices and serious health problems,
  • a perceived disconnect between the nutritional requirements of small cats and all other species of cats,
  • an industry with a vested interest in grain as the basis of its products,
  • a veterinary education system with little nutritional training, subsidized in large part by commercial pet food industries,
  • a questionable government oversight and approval process,
  • the economic inertia of maintaining the status quo,
  • and the rejection of science-based belief systems on the extremes of both sides of the issue,

we must re-examine received knowledge, encourage research, apply critical thinking skills and reach original conclusions.

The creatures we value as companions have only us to turn to.

Welcome to the Feline Nutrition Foundation.

The idea of a biologically appropriate diet is not new. Our purpose is to provide reliable, documented and scientifically sound information as we reach out via established and new media to help consumers make informed decisions.

Our pragmatic goal is to foster a growing, well-informed consumer base, which in turn will bring about greater demand for economical, user-friendly and nutritionally sound prey-modeled diets. When the consumer demands it, business will respond with a product to meet that demand. In fact, these products already exist in the marketplace.

It can be as easy as choosing one product over another. Take a look at "

Easy Raw Cat Food for the Busy Person

" to see just how easy. And for many other options, take a long, hard look at the messages of the many voices of Feline Nutrition.

Ashley Stephen Root has spent his career working with membership organizations, and now works for a large media and advertising agency. He was building websites when web browsers were new, AOL was king and no one had heard of Google. Growing up around dogs, he first came to know cats as an adult; he became fascinated by their behaviors and finds their "conditional love" irresistible. He and his wife Margaret have 11 rescue cats. He is a board member, web developer and communications director for the Feline Nutrition Foundation.

1. Justine S. Patrick, "Deconstructing the Regulatory Façade: Why Confused Consumers Feed their Pets Ring Dings and Krispy Kremes," Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH), April 2006.

2. Debra L. Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, "The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 221, no. 11, December 1, 2002.

Board on Agriculture, Nutrient Requirements of Cats, rev. ed. The National Academies Press, 1986, 3-28.

John W. S. Bradshaw, "The Evolutionary Basis for the Feeding Behavior of Domestic Dogs and Cats," The Journal of Nutrition, September 2005.

3. Claudia A. Kirk, Jacques Debraekeleer, and P. Jane Armstrong, "Normal Cats," Small Animal Clinical Nutrition,4th ed. Walsworth Publishing Company, 2000, 298-299.

4. S. D. Crissey, J. A. Swanson, B. A. Lintzenich, B. A. Brewer, and K. A. Slifka, "Use of a Raw Meat-Based Diet or a Dry Kibble Diet for Sand Cats (Felis Margarita)," Journal of Animal Science75, 1997, 2154-2160.

5. Justine S. Patrick, "Deconstructing the Regulatory Façade: Why Confused Consumers Feed their Pets Ring Dings and Krispy Kremes," Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH), April 2006.

6. Christopher S. Cowell, Neil P. Stout, Mark F. Brinkman, Edward A. Moser, and Stephen W. Crane, "History of Pet Food Manufacture in the United States," Small Animal Clinical Nutrition,4th ed. Walsworth Publishing Company, 2000, 129.

7. Peter A. Facione, Principal Investigator, Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction, California Academic Press, 1998.

An approachable overview of the critical thinking process can be found at criticalthinking.org in "A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking."

8. Alan H. Shoemaker, Edward J. Maruska and Randall Rockwell, "Zoo Guidelines for Keeping Large Felids in Captivity," American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, 1997.

9. A few of the early pioneers in the 1980s were Dr. Tom Lonsdale and Dr. Ian Billinghurst in Australia. In the United States, Natascha Wille began advocating raw diets in the early 1990s.