Of Mice and Treadmills…More on Feline Nutrition

I went to a conference in Houston last weekend, hosted by Nestle Purina which covered, among other things, nutrition.  (Duh, right? Hosted by a pet food company…I actually go to this meeting annually because they do give good information, plus it’s free with free food, and I’m always a sucker for free food). 

Anyhow, I did learn some cool facts about how to feed your cat.   If you have been reading this blog awhile, you may remember my diatribe on how to feed your cat:  https://drcarrollplanovets.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/the-proper-feeding-of-a-cat/

I got some new tips on the whole, “cats should eat mice” concept.  However, while this lady was lecturing, the thought occurred to me that maybe we should just feed pet cats like we feed pet snakes.  Nobody seems to object too much to feeding mice to the snakes.  I’m telling you, I think cats would be much, much happier if they got to truly hunt for their food every day.

Anyhow, one of the things I learned was why cats become “finicky”.  You know those cats, the ones who will only eat one kind of food and that’s it, and if you try to feed them something different, they will simply just decide to die.  (And they will, you know.  Cats are the only species besides humans that will willingly starve themselves to death). 

This internal medicine specialist (a professor at Texas A&M, who wasn’t terribly nice to me when I was a student, but is a brilliant lecturer and researcher, 12+ years later, so I had to get over myself and just suck it up and listen to what she has to say)  says that cats become trained to eat a particular type of food as kittens.  It’s like they become socialized to food.  If a kitten is only exposed to triangle food (ie triangle-shaped food, not food for triangles) during that roughly 6-16 week period, the cat is programmed to decide it will only eat triangle food for the rest of its whole entire life.   This doc suggested making sure you expose your new kittens to lots of different types of food during that 6-16 week period.

I need to email her and ask her if she sees much GI upset from that much diet changing, but it’s a really interesting thought.  I definitely see cats who will eat anything you put in front of them, and others (including a cat I grew up with who would eat nothing but “9 Lives Canned Fisherman’s Feast” cat food every single day of its life) who simply won’t deviate from their diet of choice. 

I also learned, from a different speaker (this one, Margie Scherk, a board certified Canadian cat doc) that just 10 extra pieces of dry cat food per day results  in 1 gained extra pound a year to a cat.  (so if a 10 lb cat gains a pound in a year, that’s a 10% weight gain, which is equivalent to a 150 lb person gaining 15 pounds in a year).  Just from 10 kibbles!!!

I see sooooo many “Jabba the cats”.  Statistics say 25% of the cats we see are obese.  We neuter the cats, stick them in the house, and feed them really, really yummy carb-rich food that’s coated in fat to make it even yummier.   The pet food companies do this on purpose because they NEED your cat to LOVE their food so you keep buying it. 

Did you know that a cats metabolic rate slows down by 25% when you neuter it?  I didn’t.  We’re supposed to be telling clients to reduce the amount of food they feed their cat by 20-25% after they get neutered or spayed.  I had no idea.  I knew they had a tendency to gain weight, but figured it was just due to it coinciding with their growth rate slowing down. 

So: a mouse contains about 30-35 kcalories.  The average cat should eat about 8 mice a day, which amounts to about 250 Kcals/day.  The cat had to work hard to get these mice, I think she said it takes around 15 tries to catch one mouse.  That burns a lot of calories.  An outdoor cat really only sleeps about 5.3 hours a day, the rest of the time it’s doing something.

What does our average housecat do?  Wake up, eat from the magical endless bowl of yummy food, sleep, eat, goto another sleeping spot, pee/poop, eat some more….etc. until they get fat, diabetic and have gross skin because they can’t groom themselves (aka “fat cat cheese butt”).  That’s a little extreme but you get the idea.

This lady mentioned that about 10 kibbles of dry cat food equal the amount of calories in a mouse.  SO, that means the average cat needs about 80 kibbles of cat food per day.  IDEALLY:  she suggests taking that amount, dividing it into 8- 10 kibble piles of food, on 8 little plates and placing them in random places al over the house so the cat needs to hunt for his food.  It’s more natural to how the cat should eat, AND it gives them exercise.

A little labor intensive, but a) it makes sense and b) it’s better than feeding live mice. 

At a minimum, you must measure how much food the cat eats per day, and it really should be divided into multiple small feedings.  Adding can food to the mix is a-ok too per this speaker, but a lot of people don’t want to feed can, so this is an alternative. 

On the subject of portion size, I just looked up a few of the popular dry cat food brands to see how many calories there are per cup (in parenthesis, how much would equal 250 kcal, the daily caloric need of an average cat):

Cat Chow Indoor Cat Formula:  379 Kcal/Cup ( 0.6/cup/day)

Blue Buffalo Healthy Living Adult Chicken: 542 Kcal/Cup (0.5 cup/day)

Science Diet Indoor:  326 Kcal/Cup (0.8 cup/day)

EVO Turkey/Chicken (grain free):  602 Kcal/Cup (0.4 cup/day)

There is a huge difference in caloric density in each food, which translates into only a few tenths of a cup difference in volume of food you feed.  So just a few extra kibbles here and there can mean a ton of extra calories for your cat.

Said another way, this doc said that a 1×1 inch square of cheese to a cat is equivalent to an extra Big Mac a day to a person. 

OK, so that’s the gist of what I learned.  One more thing though, for those fat cats…did you know that you can train them to walk on a treadmill for exercise?  Check out the video:

She said you can also use treats, just make sure the treadmill is set to VERY SLOW.  If the cat falls off because it’s too fast, it’s game over.

So there you go, a few nutritional tidbits for you cat lovers out there.

Hope it helps, because, really….fat cat cheese butt is actually pretty gross.

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