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The Best Cat Foods

Cats are carnivores, not "cornivores." Why, then, are most commercial, dry cat foods so full of corn? (Look for yourself at the ingredient list on the bag.)

The immediate, "easy" answer could be cost. It's certainly cheaper to use corn meal as the primary ingredient.

It's also easier to work with, for a number of reasons. It can be baked, formed into any shape or size as a "kibble bit." Corn meal can also be mixed with other ingredients as simply as sprinkling salt into a bowlful of batter. Then, as a batch of bits tumbles in a drum, they are sprayed with flavoring agents, called palatants, which are usually in an oil suspension.

It's cleaner than dealing with animal parts, where the potential is much higher for bacterial activity.

So, we have lower cost, lower risk of bacteria, and greater convenience, as it's easier to obtain, transport and process corn.

But the protein requirement for cats is much higher than for dogs. In the wild, cats eat meat, and pretty much only meat. They may appear to snack on grass and mint leaves (the reasons still have not been made entirely clear), and they may obtain some vegetable matter as they consume the digestive tracts of their prey. But they are what's known as "obligate carnivores."

Thus, to satisfy the cat's absolute need for protein, some must actually be present in their food. You can't make a cat into a vegetarian. A dog might manage it, with proper dietary combinations, but not a cat.

Where does the added protein come from? Why, meat byproducts, of course. The source of such byproducts is seldom specified clearly. Most ingredient lists simply say "poultry" or "meat" byproducts, but there is nothing specific about that.

What can you do?

  • If you can afford it, buy the premium cat foods now available that are made from meat sources by companies that are proud to say so.
  • Look for a protein "rating" of at least 50 percent. Most corn-based cat foods are much less than that, usually in the 21 to 33 percent range.
  • If you can't afford premium products, at least supplement Kitty's meals with the real thing now and then... say, a few ounces of raw meat daily.
  • Check out the pet food supplements (think vitamin pills) offered by some of the premium food companies.
  • Feed a raw diet. This requires a bit of homework, as you need to fully understand your cat's needs. There are web sites, blogs, forums and groups online that can help you. Search on "raw feeding pets."
  • Prepare your own cat food. This, too, requires some homework, not to mention the time it takes to do it.

Simply pouring dry food bits from a bag every day may keep your cat alive, but may not provide a fully balanced diet for Fluffy. Many owners feel it's worth the extra effort and cost to go the extra mile, as their cats are healthier and require far fewer visits to the vet.

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