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What Should I Feed My Cat?

Dear Dr. Margaret:

I own a cat that is now 1 year old. The Breeder I bought her from told me to feed her dry food, but my veterinarian told me that dry food is bad for cats. She believes that the only reason cats like it is because dry food has an additive in it that makes cats addicted to it, so they crave it more.

My veterinarian is strongly against dry food so if we have a problem with the cat and we have been feeding her dry food she gets mad.

The breeder, on the other hand, only feeds her cats dry food and is against wet food. I am so confused. Both cats I have owned have been sick with urinary tract infections and major blockages.

What is the best food to use, and why, and please let me know the best brand of dry food to use and the best brand of wet food to use for a pedigreed cat.

Dear Liz:

Although your veterinarian is entitled to her opinion, many other professionals, myself included, would disagree with her campaign against dry food.

Dry food is often extremely beneficial to a cat's physical well being. Dry food typically contains less fat and additives like magnesium, ash and phosphates, which are linked to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, cystitis and urethral obstructions. Dry foods usually have a larger amount of dietary fiber than moist foods.

A rich source of dietary fiber significantly improves the health of the entire gastrointestinal tract. Fiber-rich diets can decrease the chances of your cat developing colitis and megacolon. Vegetable fiber, which is added to many dry diets, also aids in the digestion of hairballs.

Dry foods are also very helpful with matters of oral hygiene. Dry food, unlike moist, requires chewing and gnawing of kibble to be swallowed. This exercise can help decrease plaque, tarter and gingivitis. Many dry formulas actually are enriched with enzymes that create a healthier oral environment just by eating them. This is a claim yet to be made by moist foods, which require only lapping and swallowing for digestion; good for a geriatric cat with no teeth, but not optimal for a young growing cat.

Moist food certainly has attributes as well. Typically, it is higher in fat and calories, and therefore more palatable. Many cats that are ill or debilitated will eat moist food because of its taste and ease of digestion. Canned food is much higher in moisture content than dry formulas and aid in hydration, if your can has been ill or suffers from metabolic conditions that cause dehydration.

Owners who give their cat's daily medication that requires a meal to accompany administration (diabetes, behavioral disorders, and seizure patients, for example) often rely on moist food to help the medicine go down. Similarly, cats who require assistance with eating (hepatic lipidosis, postoperative patients, prematurely weaned kittens, etc.), are often kept alive with wet food.

As far as choosing the ideal food for your cat, you have many options. I typically recommend weaning them from a moist diet to either an exclusively dry diet or a mixed diet. Dry formulas by Hills Science Diet, Iams/Eukanuba and some of the Purina products are my first choices.

The most important nutritional considerations for a 1-year-old cat are to maintain an ideal weight, provide enough energy through calories, aid in oral, digestive and urinary health as well as provide essential vitamins and minerals for skin and coat conditioning. Many diets will claim to do this. You must discern which of them is best suited for your cat, a factor that usually rests in palatability.

Something else to consider; whenever you change any aspect of your cat's diet, do so gradually. It may take several weeks to completely wean him/her from one diet to the next, but it is much more kind to the digestive tract.

Good luck to you, Dr. M.C. Lane