I’d like you to just ignore what ever you’ve heard or seen with cats who’ve been fed kibble, and walk along the path of catness with me for a moment.
Cats are unique in the animal kingdom in a number of ways. Perhaps that’s why we are so attracted to them!
I have found what they are fed really needs to reflect who they are, in order for them to thrive.
That’s true of all species, by the way.
And, just so we’re on the same page, I’m using the word “kibble” to mean any dry food, aside from dehydrated food. It’s crunchy, in a bag or box, and ready to serve. And most cats LOVE it. Yours may be one who does.
The cat is originally from the desert regions of Egypt. As such, she has evolved a highly specialized water scavenging metabolism that has allowed her to survive on the moisture present in her prey. You may have noticed that cat urine is highly concentrated and strong in odor. This is a reflection of her water concentrating ability.
And, while dogs are really more omnivorous and, like their scavenger cousins, the coyote, could live on a wide variety of food stuffs, Puff is really an obligate carnivore. In other words, a consummate prey eater, by design.
Built for predation
Not too hard to see, anatomically, right?
- Look at the teeth structure: sharp, pointed canine teeth, great for tearing flesh. The molars are knives, (not grinders like ours) for cutting flesh.
- Her claws are sharp, retractable, and firmly connected to her paws. She can zoom up a tree, sure, but you can easily imagine these enclosing her prey, too.
- Puff’s tongue is barbed, covered with extra tough epithelial cells, made for, you guessed it, licking the meat off of her prey.
So, hardly a cereal eater, right? Puff’s a predator, no question about it!
Problem #1: It’s Dry!
One of the most important things we must do for this water conservator is not dry her out by feeding dry food! [I know, your cat likes dry food. And perhaps you’ve always fed dry food.] But:
Feeding kibble dries your cat out.
Have you ever watched a cat drink? They are lousy drinkers! Splash, splash, lap, lap, and splash some more! Why? Well, they have a tongue and mouth parts that are not well designed to drink.
Remember that coarsely barbed tongue that’s there to lick the meat off of bones? And the narrow jaw and sharp canine teeth that are made to bite and tear prey?
Not made for drinking.
Contrast that to the mouth of a horse or even a dog. The horse can literally suck huge volumes of water without much tongue work at all, and a dog can actually use its tongue like an upside down spoon, shoveling water in pretty efficiently. Watch a dog drink in slo mo!
So what happens when we feed dry food to Puff? We force her to drink. We’ve taken away her usual, instinctive archetypal diet (prey), which is 80-90% moisture by weight, and given Puff a food that is about 10% moisture. And because she’s not well adapted to drinking, but is now thirsty, she tries her best but never gets enough.
Her Bladder and Kidneys Weigh In
This dehydration puts stress on her bladder by creating more concentrated urine; so concentrated in fact, that it precipitates crystals out of solution. This is even more likely when the kibble’s protein sources are the common byproducts and other nefarious waste from the slaughter house.
If your cat is a guy, that can be a big problem (more on this here). Even the female will have a greater likelihood of cystitis or bladder inflammation because of these crystals “rubbing” the delicate lining of the bladder.
More importantly, though, you are pushing Puff into chronic kidney failure, which is an incurable chronic disease. It typically shows up in mid- to later life, subtly at first.
- There is a larger volume of urine, and it’s pale and watery.
- The coat looks dull and disheveled.
- Vomiting increases in frequency.
- There’s less energy for play and grooming.
- And the thirst is really growing steadily now. Faucets, toilets, anywhere.
A simple blood test will confirm the diagnosis, but at that point, it’s likely that 75% of the kidney tissue is nonfunctional. And irreparably so, even with the best of natural methods like homeopathy. We are able to slow the progression with the careful use of remedies and supplements, but we never get a complete cure as we do with other organ diseases.
This disease makes life shorter than it should be for Puff, and saps her energy.
Cats have much more likelihood than other species to get this kidney failure.
Why? Because they are commonly, inappropriately fed dry food. (There may also be a vaccine link in this illness. See Vaccinations: Safety.)
So, reason #1 to avoid kibble: It dries your cat out.
Problem #2: Kibble is Sweet!
First, understand that kibble is kibble is kibble, no matter how “Natural!” “Organic!” or “Grain Free!!” the label may claim it is. And kibble takes something to make it stick together, something besides meat, which is the main ingredient in a carnivore’s diet.
How to get it to stick, and hold a cute little shape after it’s “shot from cannons” like puffed rice? [literally, extrusion is the kibble making process, where, under tremendous pressure and heat, small blobs of the meaty mix are forced through a hot tube to explode out the end in puffed, crunchy pieces]
Goo, Goo, Gooey.
Starch. That’s what makes things sticky. That’s most often grain, frequently corn, as it’s cheap and plentiful, but there’s enough starch in the food world that choices abound. As the “grain free” fad has swept the pet food world and manufacturers fall over themselves to capture that market, you’ll see other starchy ingredients instead.
Tapioca. Potato. Peas. Sweet potato.
What are starches? Strings of sugar molecules, chained together. Simple carbohydrates.
Think with me here. How much carbohydrate would a predator get in eating prey? I think we’d agree: very little. What little intestinal contents might be consumed may have some carbs, predigested, mixed with beneficial bacteria and enzymes, but how much as a percentage of the whole prey?
Less than 10% would be my guess.
And simple sugars cause your cat a whole host of problems, like diabetes, unheard of when I was in vet school in the late ’70’s, and now quite common.
Feeding kibble is feeding sugars to a carnivore.
Sugar Diseases in Carnivores
- Liver Disease
- Dental Decay
So, reason #2 to avoid kibble: It’s full of sugars.
Sugars masquerading as starch. Clearly cat unfriendly, and leading to preventable chronic diseases that are difficult to cure.
So what to do if you’re presently feeding kibble to Puff?
If you have dry food out all the time, start here: Worst Case Cats.