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Dry Cat Food: Should Carnivores Eat Corn Meal?

10/29/2006

Feline nutrition is truly a fascinating topic. I could talk forever about how cats evolved, and how important an understanding of their evolution is to feeding them properly. But for now, let's just focus on the topic of dry cat food.

Domestic cats evolved in the desert. Their ancestors lived entirely on the prey that they caught, and got their liquids from the bodies of the prey as well. Needless to say, they had to develop the ability to exist without much water. And they did: cats are extremely good at concentrating their urine so as to conserve water. A cat's urine is much more concentrated (meaning it has a lot less water in it) than a dog's or a person's, for example. They also have a less sensitive thirst mechanism, since living in the desert there was no point to going around feeling thirsty all the time. So cats don't get as thirsty as other animals when they are dehydrated either. (That's why older cats with kidney problems often need their owners to give them fluids under the skin).

How does this connect to feeding them dry cat food?

Well, cats who eat dry cat food take in a lot less water than cats who eat moist food. Because they evolved to get liquid from their food, they don't make up for the lack of water in the food by drinking enough to compensate. So their urine becomes very very concentrated, and guess what - this causes crystals to form (remember chemistry class? Or think how you can only dissolve so much salt or sugar in a little water- if there is not enough water, the crystals don't dissolve).

So cats who eat dry food are more likely to form crystals and stones in their bladder, and in boy cats who don't have a very big opening (ahem), this makes them more likely to develop a life-threatening urinary obstruction. Ouch!

What about corn meal? Well, dry cat food is often composed mainly of corn meal. But wait, cats are CARNIVORES. Their bodies evolved to utilize animal proteins, not grain. They are not designed to run on carbs, and their bodies don't know what to do with all the carbs in dry food...so the carbs are converted to fat, and voila!  before you know it you've got a fat, potentially diabetic cat on your hands. Corn meal is very inexpensive, so it's a nice cheap ingedient to put in dry cat food, but it is a completely unnatural diet for a cat.

The solution? Ideally, cats should be feed non-dry food (such as canned, pouch, or a <em>balanced</em> homemade diet) at specific mealtimes, such as twice a day. Another problem with dry food is that carnivores also aren't designed to nibble constantly, and this may also contribute to the development of diabetes since cats who do this need to manufacture a lot more insulin every day. You need to be careful though- cats can get very upset if you change their diet, and a hunger strike can lead to liver problems. It's important that cats like their food. The more non-dry food in their diet, the better, but plenty of cats live long, happy lives on dry food, so if your cat is addicted, don't despair!

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