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What to Feed Fluffy

A line of cats and balls of yarn

I am often asked what I feed my cats. Although I answer this question in my Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page, judging by how often I am asked this question, it seems clear that the FAQs just aren't visible enough. So here's the scoop.

I had always fed my cats a high-quality diet; for years, I fed them NutroMax Natural. But I only fed them that, supplemented with Nutro canned food and some elements of a homemade diet, because the commercial cat food industry claimed that cats should always eat just one kind of cat food.

Although the cats did well on that diet, I finally realized in 2002 that that approach didn't make any more sense than saying that humans should only eat one food their entire lives. It is simply a self-serving ploy on the part of the cat food industry to get consumers locked into feeding their cats just one kind of food from just one company. So for years my poor cats had eaten just one kind of commercial food (aside from the homemade foods I made for them), though at least I fed them the "good stuff."

The Goldfish Connection

What really made me rethink this single-food approach, amusingly enough, was that I acquired goldfish in 2002. Being a conscientious person, I read everything I could find on how to take good care of goldfish. One of the things that all the goldfish books were adamant about was that, hardy though goldfish are, they must be fed a varied diet to keep them regular and healthy. (Yes, goldfish get constipated. I find that in itself amusing. Though how one unstops a goldfish is not something I want to find out. I prefer to keep them regular, thank you.)

So I asked myself, if even goldfish need a varied diet to keep them healthy, then how much more so do cats need it? The answer seemed obvious when I thought about it. I think it is better for cats, just as with humans, to eat a varied diet to help keep their digestive systems healthy and strong.

So I started to feed my cats a combination of different kinds of high-quality kibbles, and at the same time I switched to Wellness Super5 mix, a canned food that is of much better quality than what I was using before. (To quote from the Wellness site, the Wellness pet foods (they also make dog food) are made with "human grade deboned chicken. In addition, these top-of-the-line cat foods contain fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, and vitamins and minerals.") My kitties loved it, though I have also tried other high-quality canned foods as well.

As for the kibble, I started out trying a number of different kibbles, though I eventually narrowed the choices down to about five—one main favorite, and others that the cats liked to nibble on.

After making the switch to the combination of kibbles and to the Wellness canned food, I noticed that the fur of my cats was plusher and they seemed, on the whole, happier about their food and healthier and livelier. I was not the only one; people who don't know about the diet change commented on the improvements they see.

A Popular Kibble!

During the great kibble experiment, in which I tried a number of different ones, the favorite kibble turned out to be Holistic Natural Feline Formula, from Bench & Field. I purchased this kibble at my local Trader Joe's, though it can also be purchased directly from the manufacturer (for, alas, more money, though no shipping or taxes).

Bench & Field's Holistic Natural Feline Formula is quite tasty to my cats. I bought it as a "treat" kibble initially, with the intention that I would give it to my cats in small amounts. I liked the list of ingredients, but it was a trifle more expensive than my old kitty kibble, so I thought I would just use it to supplement the cats' diet. My cats had other ideas. They took to this new food immediately, and made it quite plain that they wanted it as their main course from then on.

We also supplement (very lightly, mainly because I don't take the time to do otherwise) with a homemade diet (with our vet's approval).

The Homemade Diet

The homemade diet is basically a diet you make for your pets. It consists of a lot of raw meats and fishes (though I hear that you should always cook some fish, especially salmon), cooked grains, and raw and cooked vegetables. I've read a fair amount about this diet, and have tried it in the past, but didn't stick with it for various reasons. (Chief being that one cat wouldn't eat it, and since I had to feed her kibble and canned food, the other cats would eat that too, so what was the point?).

However, my vet had a book, Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: The Ultimate Pet Diet, by Kymythy Schultze. This book is simple, short, and thorough; it gives all the information you need for feeding your cat a raw, homemade diet. The author writes in a positive, encouraging manner, and provides plenty of testimonials in the back to encourage you to make the plunge. As a result of reading this book, I am gradually returning to feeding my cats more raw foods, hoping that even my pickiest cats will make the changeover. I have to admit I was highly skeptical when she recommends feeding your cats a whole cornish game hen (cut up), bones and all, but to my amazement, my cats love it, and there is very little left when they are done.

Although this book provides all the information you need, you can get more information on feeding your cats a homemade diet by Googling for BARF (bones and raw food) diets.

Supplements I Feed My Cats

Even if feeding a raw diet, supplements are required, and especially if feeding kibble and canned food. I use a combination of supplements to help my cats in various ways.

Over the kibble, I lightly sprinkle Cosequin (from Nutramax Laboratories—once upon a time, this was available through vet prescription only, but now can be purchased from such sites as Drs. Foster and Smith) for my aging cats. Cosequin contains chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and manganese ascorbate. These are all supplements intended to help with join problems. After starting to supplement my cats' diet with it, I noticed a definite change for the better in my oldest cat's agility. She also slimmed down, possibly because she is able to be more active.

I sometimes also add a mixture of the following supplements to the canned food:

There is some overlap in these supplements, but each contributes something unique, too. And my cats love it. They much prefer the canned food with this blend in it than the plainer stuff.

Why Feed Your Cat High-Quality Foods?

If you are currently feeding supermarket cat foods, when you check out the prices of the higher-quality foods, you may experience a bit of sticker shock, and you may wonder why you should spend the extra money to feed your cat these foods. Here's why.

The foods you find in the grocery store are usually "kitty junk food" with little nutritional value per ounce. As the old saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out." Just as you would not feed your children or yourself cardboard or ground-up parts of chickens of questionable provenance, just so you should not feed your cats the kind of junk that passes for pet food in the grocery store. Instead, go to a feed store or a pet shop to find a high-quality food. It may cost more per pound, but your cat will eat less and will be healthier.

Why, you may ask, will your cat eat less? The reason is that a cat will attempt to consume enough food to get the nutrients it needs. A lower-quality food has more fillers of little or no nutritional value in themselves, and the "food" itself also has fewer nutrients per ounce than the higher-quality foods. Hence, your cat has to eat more ounces of the poor-quality stuff to get anything like the kinds of nutrients available in the higher-quality foods. Each mouthful of a high-quality cat food is packed with nutrients. One benefit is that your cat's stools will be less voluminous on a better diet, or so I have heard. Another, and more important, benefit is that your cat will be happier and healthier.

Note that if your cat has special diet or health concerns, such as diabetes, you must consult with a vet to make sure you are meeting your cat's needs. In addition, here is some helpful information.

The Old Farmer's Almanac Weighs in on Feeding Your Cat

Check it out here.

For the Aging Cat (and Dog!)

If your cat was growing older even thirty years ago, there wasn't much that you could do to help keep him or her healthy and pain-free. All that has changed, and continues to change. Many advances have been made in the past few decades in the knowledge of health and nutrition and the role that various supplements play in the health of all animals (including humans!).

As a result of this relentless research, we can now buy numerous products for which the manufacturers make a variety of claims for improvements in health. It can be bewildering to try to decide what to buy—what works, what doesn't work, what is a waste of money, and what is more precious than gold.

Since I have two cats who are beyond the decade mark, and another approaching it, and since I know from personal experience how much of a difference the right kinds of supplements can make in my health, I decided to do some research to see if there was something I could do in the way of prevention to help my cats stay healthy and pain-free for as long as possible.

One of the key things to do, of course, to keep your pet in top health, is to feed your cat a good, high-quality diet, as discussed above. Another thing that can help is to add one or more supplements to your cat's diet. For that purpose, I have researched and can recommend the following products: