Sunday, October 09, 2011

He's a Big Cat, I Cannot Lie

My cats are big cats, and Sandy is the larger. Like me, he believes in conservation of movement. If he can reach it without having to get up, he will not get up.  He doesn't like to get into things and get in trouble, like Zigzag does. I play with him with a variety of toys.  Together they do that cat chase thing, jumping over tables, just one paw touching, flying over chairs and the couch, zipping in a second from one end of the room to the other.  So while Sandy would lie down rather than come to you, he does play and get plenty of activity.

I bring this up because when I took them for their annual checkup last month, their vet tried to scare me into thinking I needed to put them on diet food.  Last year, she wanted me to limit their dry food, and only let them have the food for a limited time each day.  Both visits, she said, "These cats are big-boned and tend to weigh more, and you have to be careful about them getting overweight."

I think this is a sad example of our societal eating disorder.  Excess weight is so scary, such a bad bad thing, that pets are put on diets before they've even reached full adult age.  They aren't even overweight yet, but in the attempt to start those good eating habits, I as their caretaker am told to limit their calories or the big bad will happen.  If they are big-boned and genetically prone to weigh more, why this fear of letting them weigh more?

I told her I'd tried the year before to separate and limit their food, but separating them made them too anxious.  She interrupted me, "You mean it made you anxious? You couldn't listen to their meowing?"  I stopped, confused.  Oh, she thinks I couldn't bear to make them go without food.  "Nooo... they wouldn't eat because they were anxious when I tried to separate them."  I don't think she really heard me, as I suspect she looks at me and thinks I am transferring my own "eating disorder" to my cats, while I likewise think she is putting this irrational fear of weight that Americans have onto my cats.  Don't get me wrong, I think she's a great vet, except for this.  She did say, check it out, do your research, make your own choice.  Perhaps she is paid to hawk their products, but doesn't necessarily believe in them.

She handed me a brochure for Purina Overweight Management food with valuable coupons.  So just like the societal eating disorder for humans, the one for animals is brought to you by those who would make money over it...much more money than for their regular food.  Sorry, but I'm not buying it.  I don't trust Purina.  I've always bought good health food for cats, and Purina doesn't qualify.  This brochure had a "success" story about a cat that lost a bunch of weight and was so much happier.  Not a word about ingredients, about nutritional information, but only about weight loss and calories.  So I looked it up. First ingredient?  Corn gluten meal.  Second? Wheat gluten.  Finally, the fourth ingredient is poultry by-product meal.  Hey, I'm a vegetarian, but I don't expect my cats to be!

Compare that to my Trader Joe's brand, first ingredient chicken meal.  Even that is not quite as good as the dry food these cat experts found, in which the first ingredient is unadulterated chicken.  My vet did say that cats don't get overweight if they eat only wet food.  When my kittens found me, I wanted the best for them.  I tried giving them only wet food.  For a while, they really liked it. Then they started eating less, and they started eating my books, eating electrical cords, shoelaces, anything plastic.  They wanted to chew and crunch.  They were weaned on dry food with a little bit of wet, and that is what they prefer.

So within the first year, I broke down and started buying dry food, but only the good stuff.  I looked at ash content (the lower the better), at protein percentage (the higher the better, obviously) and moisture content.  I used to swear by Science Diet, but Bench and Field Holistic Natural, at Trader Joe's, stacks up even better.  It even has blueberries in it.  TJ's now has its own brand of healthy cat food as well, and I can't really see a difference, except the first is in a star shape, and the second, a saucer shape.

It took a while for the cats even to be interested in wet food again. They wouldn't touch Trader Joe's brand.  I started getting a variety, small cans only, and only the healthy brands.  If it was the same two days in a row, they wouldn't eat it.

I was curious, just how "overweight" is my sweet boy Sandy?  I didn't know when I adopted them that they are part Maine Coon, as their mom was slender and small-boned, normal hair.  According to the chart on this web page, the average weight of a Maine Coon is 16 lbs.  Male cats can range from 15-25 lbs.  It seems my Sandy could be just above average weight, with his big bones, yet I'm supposed to start depriving him of calories, and limiting how much food he gets.  Zigzag is currently 12.8 lbs, and Sandy, 17.0.

Rather than buy a cat food that bulks up by adding grains that cats aren't able to digest (is this weight management via adverse food reactions?), I'm going to continue to give my cats all the dry food they want, the stuff that at least starts its ingredients with a form of chicken.  I've started giving them a small can to share morning and evening, instead of just evening, and they are liking that.  They also seem to like the food more with the addition of probiotic powder (oh...another Purina product).  I'm figuring, more wet food means they will naturally eat less dry food.

While I researched, I discovered according to some it actually is good for cats to be able to nibble unhindered, and that is better done with dry food, as the wet food will go bad.  I knew too much ash content is bad, but didn't know why.  It has to do with urinary tract disease.  Regular grazing, rather than segregated amounts of food, keeps the pH level of the urine from fluctuating too much.

All of that to say, I'm sure I'm doing the right thing for my cats.

Zigzag shows his belly
Zigzag shows his belly, Sandy looks on.

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