ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Are chubby cats cute and happy? As youngsters their bodies can tolerate abuse but like us, as they reach middle age, they pay for the mistakes of their youth. Diet matters.
Dry cat foods are marketed on the perception that kitties are just small dogs but with short ears. Kibbles conveniently baked into odorless nuggets make owning a cat almost as convenient as a house plant.
But heavy on starch (carbohydrates) and proportionately low in meat (protein), dry diets have created a burgeoning population of muscle wasted, dangerously corpulent cats with arthritic joints and fat-infiltrated livers.
Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) is often fatal in a species that should be lean and mean as it prowls the wilds in search of hapless rodents and wounded birds. Diabetes, a once rare feline disease, is now almost as common as hairballs.
The best diet for healthy cats of all ages is canned kitten food because it has adequate amounts of protein and is appropriately low in carbs. This is not my opinion; recent research confirms studies published years ago: Cats require a feline-specific diet. It’s not baked and stamped into pellets; it comes in a can. Healthier nutrition costs more.
If your cat is fat (over 10 pounds), but in otherwise good health, he can lose the blubber and build muscle by snacking from a can on demand (my cats and their dad are clear on the demand part). No need to measure; nearly all porky pussy cats self-regulate.
Feline obesity is a preventable disaster. A liver loaded with fat can feign health until its owner loses her appetite. In just 48 hours a rotund and formerly robust kitty can begin to die from liver failure. Intensive medical care and a feeding tube saves some; others die tragically. Recovered livers can survive long term on a prescription liver-sparing diet.
Cats have outnumbered dogs as pets since the mid-1990s because more of us are away from home for longer durations. If you read my weekly diatribes with any regularity, you recognize the importance of an enriched indoor feline environment. Now you know what to feed them. Beware – pet food advertising is insidious. P.T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute. If you’re the sucker your cat will suffer.
Dr. Jeff Nichol provides medical care for pets at the Petroglyph Animal Hospital in Albuquerque (898-8874). He treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and in Santa Fe (505-792-5131). Questions? For answers, Like my Facebook page at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 6633 Caminito Coors NW, Albuquerque, NM 87120.