With the holidays now in the rearview mirror, continue to stay vigilant and offer only appropriate treats to your pets. I’ve written about safe people food for dogs, but it’s important to address the cats’ needs, too. We want to spoil our cats, but don’t want to cause harm. At our house, if Bravo-Dawg gets something yummy from the table, then Karma-Kat thinks he should, too.
For those who prefer audio/video, I’ve even posted this on my YouTube channel (you have subscribed, right?). So here’s the quick takeaway:
Of course, what’s safe for dogs may not be good for cats–and vice versa. How do you know what’s safe and what’s not? Learn about these 10 people foods for cats.
Healthy People Food For Cats
My Seren-Kitty never met a meal she didn’t like—including my own. Once she even tasted the hot mustard dip from my plate. Have you ever seen a cat LEVITATE?! Kitty foaming at the mouth is no laughing matter <snort> except the little squirt came back for seconds!
In her last year, I created a monster because at age 21, I figured Seren should get to eat ANYTHING she wanted. And then Karma-Kat thought HE should do the same. Yikes! (BAD Amy…)
The first week we had Karma, he conducted a snatch-and-grab, swiped a kabob from my husband’s plate, and took off with it. (10-second rule…hubby chased him down and “rescued” the kabob.) These days, Karma-Kat and Shadow-Pup still get the occasional healthy treat from the table.
The key, of course, is the word “healthy.”
People Food Dangers
We love to indulge our kitties but people food can carry risks. Fortunately, our cats appear less likely than dogs to taste-test toxic treats like chocolate, macadamia nuts, avocados, or raisins/grapes.
Artificial sweeteners keep owners lean, but any goodies sweetened with Xylitol could cause kitty liver failure. Thank goodness cats don’t easily detect or care about sweet flavors. Instead, their kitty taste buds are attuned to “meaty” flavors. Makes sense, knowing they’re carnivores. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to nosh non-meat treats.
Seren kept her svelte 6-pound figure even when the aroma of baking and roasting turned her purrs to begging. Karma-Kat puts on table muscle, though, and his pudgy physic requires monitoring. Responsible pet parents can offer healthy choices from the table. In fact, many holistic veterinarians recommend these foods as a natural way to treat your feline friend.
Healthy People Food For Cats
Treats typically shouldn’t make up more than about 10 percent of the pet’s total diet. So if you plan to offer table food, reduce the cat’s regular ration. Tiny amounts offered very gradually work best to avoid upset tummies. Here’s my go-to list of people foods for cats.
Lean Meats. Lean chicken is a feline favorite. A hunk of firm beef means your cat must chew rather than gulp, which can scrub teeth for dental health. Turkey contains tryptophan, a natural sleep aid that works to calm excited pets during holiday visits.
Fish. Many cats adore fish. Salmon, shrimp, and oysters may be a holiday favorite for both humans and pets. Seren never liked shrimp–that’s more for me! But both Karma can’t get enough fish, especially salmon. Be careful of tuna (offer only the water-packed variety) because the strong flavor can almost be addictive.
Organ meats. Don’t toss out the giblets when you roast your holiday bird. Heart, liver, and gizzards are power-packed with vitamins and minerals that cats relish.
Green garnish. Cats are carnivores but often enjoy grazing on such things as fresh wheatgrass and catnip. A few enjoy green beans—but hold the too-rich mushroom sauce. Serving olives? Your cat may not eat them, but many felines react to olives like catnip. Offer some parsley for greens munching felines—it will also freshen kitty breath. Seren loves wheatgrass.
Stew. Leftover turkey soup cooked with spinach, green beans, mushrooms, and slivers of beets (for liver health) makes a great treat and top dressing for regular food. A bit of garlic for flavor is fine, too, as it contains vitamin B—just don’t overdo it as too much onion or garlic can cause anemia. At our house, we eat a lot of stew-type dishes as a side to Iranian rice, and all the fur-kids love a spoonful of the broth.
Sweet potatoes. High-fiber sweet potato soothes upset tummies and can be a tasty treat for cats. Cats don’t have much of a sweet tooth, though, so hold the sugary marshmallow—that’s not healthy for them.
Canned pumpkin. Cats seem to love pumpkin. The high fiber also works as a great natural remedy for hairballs, diarrhea, or constipation. Use the canned (plain nonflavored) version, divide servings into ice cube trays and freeze—and thaw only the amount needed.
Yogurt. You’d think milk would be on the treat list, but many cats develop diarrhea from more than a tiny taste. A better milk-based treat is plain unflavored yogurt. Yogurt also helps maintain the beneficial bacteria in the stomach that keep digestion healthy. Karma ADORES plain yogurt. Whisker-licking good!
Fruit. Not all cats like fruit but those that do can benefit from the vitamins. Kitties often enjoy cantaloupe and strawberries or bananas. Most cats HATE the smell of citrus and you’ll risk hissing the cat off by offering such things.
Ginger. Ginger is a natural remedy that counters nausea, in case Kitty has car sick problems from the trip to Grandma’s house. But most cats won’t be interested in gingerbread or ginger cookies. Try offering a tiny taste of no-sugar whipped cream mixed with ginger as a special treat that soothes the tummy troubles. Every time I fix whipped cream, Karma and Shadow-Pup line up to lick any errant splatters.
Every cat has different tastes—and nutritional needs. Be sure to ask your veterinarian before “treating” your fur-kids. Some cats doing extraordinarily well with home-prepared foods or even “raw” rations, but any change requires knowledge and a slow transition. Remember, you wouldn’t allow your human kid to munch only on rich desserts or gravy, so balance your table-love with healthy moderation.
What table foods do your cats love? Do they counter-surf and serve themselves from the human smorgasbord? How do you foil the refrigerator raiders? Do tell!
How cats eat and their cat bowl preferences seems the next logical post in a series of blogs that have covered how dogs eat, as well as how cats hunt. The cat that must hunt for his food typically catches small game like mice, rats, or rabbits, crouches over the kill, and swallows small prey headfirst, fur, feathers and all. If the cat is able to rarely nab a bird, it may be plucked first to remove obnoxious tail feathers. Rabbit-size prey are eaten more slowly.
How Cats Eat
The cat’s teeth are designed for a carnivorous lifestyle. The dagger-shaped canine teeth are used to kill, while the tiny incisors across the front of the jaw pluck feathers or skin from the prey. Rather than chewing, cats shear off manageable portions of food with their molars, then swallow these chunks. The specialized teeth are located in the side of the cat’s mouth, so Kitty typically tilts his head to the side while eating. Nibbling with incisors and licking with his rough tongue rasps off smaller pieces.
Cats tend to be intermittent feeders, or grazers—rather than gorgers (like dogs). Healthy cats eat several small meals throughout the day. A typical meal of dry food might consist of half a dozen kibbles or so—about the nutritional value of a mouse. That’s why I prefer to feed Karma-Kat with feeder like the Doc & Phoebe No Bowl solution. It mimics the way cats hunt. Some food-obsessed cats gobble food, though, which can lead to problems.
How Cats Drink
To drink, the cat uses his water-absorbent tongue curled into a spoon shape. Kitty laps up liquid creating an efficient bio-mechanical process that creates a column of liquid they swallow before gravity sucks it back into the bowl. They swallow after every four or five laps. Larger cats lap more slowly than smaller cats to adjust for the size/process.
Cats relish food that is body or room temperature—the same as prey. Food cooler than this may be refused, or even vomited when eaten cold, so always allow refrigerated foods to warm before serving. A few seconds in the microwave often helps, but don’t overheat.
Do your cats prefer room temp foods or will they gnosh on refrigerated items? For a while just due to easy storage, I kept Seren’s dry food in the freezer and she didn’t seem to mind.
Some cats share food bowls with no problem, but dinner time is less stressful when everyone has his own place. When you have more than one cat, feed them in separate bowls some distance apart to help avoid confrontations.
CAT BOWL PREFERENCE
Several bowl choices are available, from trendy designer crockery to paper plates. Consider what the cat likes before making your choice.
Cats dislike chasing a lightweight bowl over the floor. They are turned off by a dirty or smelly dish. Longhaired and flat-faced cats prefer shallow bowls that allow them to eat to the bottom without bending their whiskers or getting their face messy.
Plastic bowls tend to hold odors, are hardest to keep clean, and their light weight allows them to slide around the floor. Some cats may suffer skin problems like acne resulting from plastic food bowls.
United States-made ceramic bowls are better choices because of their solid weight and ease in cleaning. The glazes in ceramic bowls manufactured in some foreign countries, though, may contain lead.
Heavy non-breakable glass bowls are also good choices, and cats may drink more water from glass containers because they like the taste. But care must be taken if the glass is breakable.
Stainless Steel Cat Bowl, the Cats Meow
Stainless steel bowls are the choice of veterinary clinics because they are easily sterilized and are non-breakable. The FrostyBowlz is one of the best products I’ve seen, in which the insert can be frozen to keep food and water chilled and fresh. See what Seren thinks of the bowl, below. Some cats object to the taste of water or food offered in such containers, though. You may need to experiment before finding a safe, practical alternative for your cat.
What sort of bowl or dish do you serve to your cats? Do they care or are they persnickety? Do tell!
Is your cat fluffy or a fat cat? Kitty obesity is defined as exceeding ideal body weight by 20 percent. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s annual study, 55.8% of dogs and 59.5% of cats are overweight or obese. Fat cats tend to carry a “pouch” of fat low in the tummy, but seem of average size otherwise. If you can’t feel the pet’s ribs, and/or she has a pendulous or bulging tummy, your pet is too plump.
I’ve been head-down busy working on the next book projects (shhh, news to come!) and haven’t posted in a while. But today, I released the next installment in my CAT FACTS, The Series, which covers feline obesity. So I hope today’s post is a help to you and your feline friends.
I’m fortunate that Seren-kitty has always been petite, a good eater but not overly pudgy. She doesn’t even have that tummy pouch. In her case, she’s always been very active and I think that’s one reason she remains so healthy even at nearly 21 years old.
Karma-Kat tends to put on the pudge, even though he’s very picky, compared to Seren. She’ll eat just about anything and never gains an ounce. Personally, my own metabolism is closer to Karma’s than to Seren. Drat!
If your tabby is tubby, why should you care? Obesity increases risk for diabetes, and is an aggravating factor in heart problems, arthritis, and skin problems.
Common Causes for Fat Felines
Spaying and neutering won’t make kitty fat, but does reduce metabolic rate—how fast and efficiently food is use—by 15 to 20 percent. So unless food intake and exercise are adjusted after surgery, cats can gain weight.
Middle aged and older cats also tend to gain weight. Part of that may be due to changes in aging senses. While feline appetite is stimulated by scent, veterinary experts say a partial reduction in smell sense prompts cat to eat more food.
Indoor-only cats exercise less since they don’t have to chase mice to survive. Couch-potato pets fed high-calorie tasty foods often overeat either out of boredom or from being over-treated by owners.
8 Ways to Slim A Cat
Your vet should rule out potential health complications beforehand. Kitty crash diets can prompt deadly liver problems, called hepatic lipidosis. It’s best to aim for losing only about 1 percent of kitty’s starting weight per week. Medical supervision or a special therapeutic weight-loss diet prescribed by the vet may be necessary for obese cats. But for moderately overweight kitties, these tips work well.
Curb Snacks. Eliminating or reducing treats easily cuts calories. Instead, reserve part of the kitty’s regular diet—a handful of kibble, for instance. Keep it handy to dispense as “treats” when Kitty pesters, or reward with attention, not treats. (Ooooooh I can hear the cats now yowling, “No fair!”
Meal Feed. Rather than keeping the bowl full for all day nibbling, switch to meal feeding measured amounts. Divide the daily food allotment into four or even five small meals keep her from feeling deprived. Multiple small meals increase the body’s metabolic rate, so she burns more calories faster. (Hey, this works for me, too, when I can manage to do it.)
Offer Diet Foods. Reducing diets typically replace fat in the food with indigestible fiber, dilute calories with water, or “puff up” the product with air. “Senior” diets typically have fewer calories, so switching older pets to an age-appropriate formula helps. “Lite” diets aren’t magical and only mean the food has less calories than the same brand’s “regular” food—it might have more calories than another company’s food. Some cats eat more of the diet food to make up for lost calories, so you still have to measure the meals. Be sure to check with your vet before deciding to make major nutrition changes, though.
Go For A Walk. Make twice-daily 20 minute exercise part of your routine. Cats won’t power walk, but a slow to moderate stroll at the end of the leash once or twice a day around the house or garden will help burn energy.
Schedule Play. Interactive play is the best way to encourage feline exercise. Feather toys or fishing-pole lures that the cat will chase are ideal. Some cats learn to play fetch if you toss tiny wads of paper across the room or down the stairs. Entice your cat to chase the beam of a flashlight. Or toss kitty kibble for the cat to pounce and munch.
Create A Hunt. Put food at the top or bottom of the staircase, or on a cat tree so kitty has to get off her pudgy nether regions to eat. If she can’t manage stairs or leaps, put the bowl on a chair and provide a ramp up so he’s burning a few calories. Setting the bowl across the house from Fluffy’s bed also forces her to move.
Puzzle The Cat. Commercial treat balls and interactive feeders are great options. Place one or two meal portions inside kitty puzzles so he must work to get the food. This can solve portion control, exercise, and the pester factor all in one.
Automatic Feeders. When you must be gone during the day, consider using an automatic feeder. Some have refrigerated units to offer fresh canned food servings from locked compartments at timed intervals
How do you handle your pudgy kitty? Does he or she eat a special diet, or do you try to increase exercise in some way? What tricks work for your clowder, please share! Obesity impacts more than looks. It’s also a longevity issue. Overweight cats have an increased risk for dying in middle age. A slim cat enjoys all nine of her lives.
What does cat food and cat treats have to do with making your house cat more friendly? One the most common questions I get as a cat behavior consultant deals with the evolving c’attitude of maturing kitties. Pretty much all kittens are in-your-face clueless (and confident!) spit-fires that never met a stranger. They gallop and pounce through life, love to play until they collapse–and then snuggle and purr themselves to sleep on your lap.
But the baby cat grows up and then OH NO! What happened to the snuggle-puss? Well, sometimes they stay cuddly throughout life. But very often, the baby grows up to be a bit more selective in how he or she wishes to interact. That can put the human’s nose out of joint when suddenly Junior-Cat disses the person who brought them into the house. So–what can you do?
TREATS & TIPS FOR TABBIES
People readily think about treats with dogs, but not so often with cats–and in fact, cats relish not only the tastiness but also the special interaction that comes with any food “extras.” That can encourage your cat to act friendlier and interact with you.
The key to treating cats, though, is to remember they are “grazers.” A full meal for a cat tends to be 4-8 individual kibbles. That’s all! They’re not going to belly up to the smorgasbord and gulp mouthfuls or handfuls the way Shadow-Pup does. So a teeeeeny tiny amount is enough–the smell as much as the taste and the attention–that associates something positive for the cat with your presence.
The human with the pocketbook decides the treat choice, but ultimately it’s in the cat’s paws whether or not s/he will indulge. Of course, we don’t want over-nutrition to create tubby Tabbies so it’s best to choose a treat that compliments the cat’s existing diet. Most pet food companies offer a “family” of products that go well together.
Treats that make kitty sit up and purr tend to be very different than what s/he eats on a regular basis. Reserving a very unique tasting/smelling food–a canned ration, for example–can be a great way to make your cat feel special without potentially upsetting the nutrition.
POSITIVE TREATING FOR FRIENDLIER CATS
How should you treat to help your cat be friendlier? Establish a routine. That could be every morning while you’re eating breakfast, or while you brush your teeth–or perhaps every evening while watching the evening news. Cats love routine, and once Kitty figures out the time and place that TREATS get delivered, you won’t have to remember–she’ll remind YOU!
Tiny bits are enough. You don’t want cats to gobble and spoil their appetite. Maybe dip your finger in the canned food. My Karma-Kat comes when called, sits up, waves, and (we’re working on) speak! with just me holding up my finger–he EXPECTS a tasty treat whenever I call. Eventually, you don’t need to reward every time. Intermittent rewards (reinforcement) works better, because Kitty never knows when he’ll get that reward, so he’d better come when called every time, just in case!
By rewarding your cat for a natural behavior, you also reinforce the interaction and teach the kitty there’s a benefit to paying attention to you. If the cat still won’t come near…use dry treats you can toss to him. And the next time toss it closer to you…and the next, closer still. Do this in cat-size steps, not all at once, and your cat will become friendlier without even realizing it!
FEEDING DIFFERENT FOODS?
Well, yes. Some cats do very well on the same old food all the time, but others relish variety. If your cat won’t eat, refer to this post. And let’s face it, PEOPLE love variety, So even if cats could eat MOUSE every single day, it makes us feel good (rewards US!) to offer variety to our beloved cats, too.
For instance, you could choose to provide a dry kibble in puzzle toys for “hunting” throughout the day, and then give a bonus wet food for the evening or morning meal. If your cat is a bit tubby, try putting treats in a cat puzzle toy for added feline enjoyment (and exercise).
Have you heard about grain-free cat food? A few years ago, the word “natural” got attached to both people and cat food products, even though there was no legal definition of the term or specific benefit—folks just like the idea of a “natural” product. Today the latest buzz-word is “grain-free” and a wide variety of grain-free cat foods are now available.
I’ve updated this post to include Karma, and some more recent research. I’m lucky that neither Seren-kitty or Karma-Kat have ever been a picky eater or had any food allergies or sensitivities. Seren lived to (almost) 22 years and thrived on commercial dry cat foods. Some of my colleagues, who I greatly respect, might be shocked at that—but for me, if it ain’t broke, no reason to fix it.
Seren maintained her healthy 6-pound svelte figure and c’attitude with no sick days whatsoever (until a sneezy attack when I switched to a new cat litter, I have to give credit to good care, good food, and good kitty genes. Karma-Kat gets a mix of commercial dry and canned foods, along with healthy treats from the table now and then.
GRAIN FREE CAT FOOD FOR MARKETING OR HEALTH—OR BOTH?
What does grain-free mean? And does it matter to your cat, or is it just another marketing term designed to sell cat food? Are there grain free wet cat foods or only dry?
I got to tell you that both the “natural” and the “grain-free” terms have more to do with marketing than meeting the cat’s nutritional requirements—of course, that’s my opinion, only, and your mileage may vary. It’s not that foods labeled “grain-free” are bad—not at all, and in fact for a specific population of cats, they may be the best cat food.
I’m just saying that cat foods that contain grains are not inherently evil. And I’m also applauding pet food companies that don’t just jump on the bandwagon but do respond to the human “cat parent” concerns with new food options to address those concerns–and also use that opportunity to EDUCATE about the issues involved. Bravo!
Seren loves rose petals. And leaves. And cat grass. So I’m extra-careful what sorts of greenery gets in my house within paw-reach. Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC
SHOULD CATS EAT GRAIN FREE FOODS?
So let’s examine the question. What’s the objection to feeding grain to cats? Well, most cats don’t graze out with the cows, or guzzle down gallons of grain. Given their choice, cats munch small furry critters–and if you’re Karma-Kat, the occasional cricket.
Savvy cat folks understand that felines are obligate carnivores, which means they are animal eaters and do best on diets with high quality animal proteins. (Hey, I’m preaching to the kitty choir here, but in case there are lurkers, let’s cover the basics, shall we?)
Here’s the deal, though. Cats CAN digest carbs (especially when properly processed in commercial diets). They may gobble up the teeny grain-filled tummies of their prey. No, it’s not the main meal, but it is an important part of the total nutrition picture.
CATS CAN EAT CARBOHYDRATES
Carbohydrates provide energy and are obtained from starches and grains. And many folks forget that grains also contain proteins. Your cat’s body doesn’t care if that amino acid comes from mouse or corn, so proteins provided from meat and grain combos properly designed can be terrific kitty fuel. That’s why kitties for years have survived and even thrived eating well-designed commercial dry cat foods that include ingredients like corn, wheat, or rice.
The operative words there, of course, are well-designed.Poorly designed, out of balanced nutrients can hurt the cat, whether the ingredients are paw-some or awful.
Even good diets may pose problems if the balance gets out of wack, or your cat’s needs are unique. When Kitty eats too much and exercises too little, the resulting Tubby Tabby may become predispose to other health issues like diabetes–and special formulations may be necessary for these cats. There also are cats sensitive to specific kinds of ingredients in cat foods that develop allergic reactions to protein sources (like corn or fish). For cats with skin issues or upset tummies the vet says are food allergies or sensitivities, a grain-free diet may be the purr-fect option.
READ PET FOOD LABELS FOR CLUES
It doesn’t matter if the food says “grain-free” or “natural” on the label (hey, poison mushrooms are natural, too! Just saying…). What matters is the correct balance of the various nutrients in the food, and the higher the quality of those ingredients, the more easily your cat’s body can utilize the nutrients.
Maybe you simply believe grain-free cat food is healthier and prefer foods without grain. Good for you! Depending on the formulation, it could be a great choice for your cat. However, if you’re choosing a grain-free food to avoid carbs, think again—the carbs may still be in the food but in another form. Potato starch might be even higher in calories than a grain ingredient. Hey, that doesn’t mean it’s bad but do your research to be sure you’re getting what you think. Some of the unusual ingredients in pet foods might surprise you–and how much they benefit the cat, even though Kitty might not be “naturally” inclined to nosh beet pulp. Heck, I don’t think Seren would ever have snagged her own salmon, either!
DO YOUR RESEARCH!
Every cat is an individual. Isn’t that why we love them? A one-size-fits-all diet no longer is necessary and you can find the right formula that fits your feline. Talk to your veterinarian about what’s the most appropriate food for your heart-kitty. Age, health status, and more goes into match-making foods to individual cats.
Bottom line, “natural” and/or grain-free cat food isn’t necessary for good cat nutrition—with very few exceptions having to do with ingredient sensitivities. Although the majority of cats don’t need a grain free food, they can do very well on properly balanced formulations when that’s your preference. Heck, because cats are such individual, your cat may do better, who knows?
Grain free dog foods have been implicated in certain cases of dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition. See this article about the FDA investigation into the problem. Also, for even more on the subject, read this fascinating roundup of studies documenting the differences in dog breeds’ ability to utilize grain (or not!0. Before choosing to feed grain free food to your dog, please consult with your veterinarian.