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Dr. Patrick Mahaney Debunks Cat Nutrition Myths for AOL PawNation

kitty-question-5-1Should you let your cat drink cow's milk? Why does my feline chew on environmental materials? Find the answers to the above questions and more via AOL's PawNation: Cat Nutrition Myths Debunked. Most pet owners admit that while their feline companions are wonderful, intelligent and talented, they can sometimes be a little confusing. And by a little, we mean a lot. Thankfully, there are experts who can help us better understand our furry friends. Celebrity veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney is here to answer all of your perplexing questions about feeding your cat. Q: Cats can drink milk, right?

A: When owners serve their cat a saucer of cow’s milk, it’s a non-species-appropriate offering that could potentially create digestive tract upset and clinical signs including vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, or other conditions.

When cats nurse from their mother, they consume species-specific and biologically appropriate breast milk, which nourishes all body tissues and is essential for proper immune system development and overall health.

Goat’s milk has a smaller molecular structure than cow’s milk, so it’s more digestible (i.e. takes less time to digest). It's also lower in lactose (milk sugar), so less of the enzyme lactase is needed to digest it. Some goat’s milk, like Honest Kitchen’s

dehydrated Pro Bloom powder, contains a diverse array of probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and digestive enzymes that can enhance the health of the feline (and canine) gastrointestinal tract.

Q: My cat likes to chew on plastic bags as well as the corners of wooden tables. Does that mean he needs more crunch in his diet (aka more dry food)?

A: Cats that show interest in chewing on plastic bags or other objects in their environment could be clueing their owners into vital information about their current health status.

The tendency for cats and other animals (including people) to inappropriately ingest environmental materials is a common behavior called pica. The reasons why a cat exhibits pica are multifactorial and can have underlying medical causes or could be due to a primary behavioral problem.

A thorough veterinary examination and any recommended laboratory diagnostics (blood/urine/fecal testing, X-rays, ultrasound, etc.) should be performed to rule in or out any potential health causes.

Hyperthyroidism is an adult and senior cat ailment that motivates an affected feline to exhibit pica, as well as eat larger quantities of their own food and drink more water. Physical examination, blood testing, and other diagnostics (urinalysis, nuclear scans, etc.) can help to rule in or out hyperthyroidism.

If no underlying medical problem contributing to pica is discovered, then owners should address the behavioral aspect of the issue by providing more environmental enrichment (toys, elevated walkways, scratching posts, attention, etc.) or pursue a consultation with a board certified veterinary behaviorist.

Q: Is organic cat food better for my cat?

A: Organic food isn’t always better for your cat. In general, I am a proponent of pets eating organic over non-organic nutrients. There are strict regulations to ensure that organic food ingredients lack pesticides and other chemicals that could potentially cause harm on a short or long-term basis.

Yet, in our efforts to feed our pets organic foods, we could end up providing them with food or treats that are vastly different from the format which a natural diet provides (i.e., whole foods). Feeding pets processed foods like kibble and most canned foods containing organic ingredients doesn’t necessarily provide them with additional health benefits as compared to eating a non-organic,

whole food diet.

Kibble is made through a process called extrusion, which requires high-heat cooking (over 400 degrees Fahrenheit) that denatures proteins and deactivates enzymes inherent to the digestive process.

Instead of feeding an organic dry food to your cat, I suggest instead choosing a commercially available or home-prepared nutritionally complete and balanced diet containing whole foods like real (cooked) meat, fresh vegetables and fruit, grain, seeds and other ingredients, even if the components aren’t all organic.

Q: Is fish a healthy "human food" option to feed to my cat?

A: Fish is certainly one option as a healthy human food that can be fed to our feline friends. Of course, the type of fish and its preparation could lessen its value as a wholesome choice.

For example, if you were eating a piece of high-quality, fresh, wild (non-farmed), cooked, boneless salmon and chose to offer a small portion to your cat, you can likely do so without threatening their health. Yet, if your meal was frozen fish sticks that were made with a lower quality fish (pollock, etc.), processed with preservatives and coated with a yellow corn based crust, then offering a stick to your cat isn't a healthy choice.

One of my top fish treats for cats is Honest Kitchen’s Smittens, which are single-calorie,

human-grade, heart-shaped morsels made from line-caught Haddock originating in the pure waters of Iceland.

If you are going to give your cat any additional snacks, even a piece of a healthy, non-fish-stick option from your dinner plate, make sure to reduce his portion of cat food (by around 25 percent is my recommendation) to ensure that his daily caloric needs aren’t exceeded.

Q: I know it's an endless debate, but I recently heard that dry food is better than wet food, because it helps to clean cats' teeth. Is that true?

A: No, it's not true that dry cat food (kibble) is better than canned cat food—from the standpoint of having a beneficial effect of cleaning teeth.

When the tooth encounters a piece of kibble, the morsel shatters and subsequently provides no abrasive effect to scrape plaque (invisible layer of bacteria), tartar (yellow-brown deposits from chronic bacterial growth), or other food debris from tooth surfaces. Additionally, many cats don't even chew their dry food and instead gulp the pieces down whole. Of course, if food isn’t chewed, there is no way that it can clean a cat's tooth.

Yet, there are some commercially available, veterinary prescription cats foods that are touted to clean teeth by resisting shattering upon tooth entry

and require multiple bites to appropriately chew. This creates a flossing or scraping effect to remove plaque from tooth surfaces.

Unfortunately, such foods are made with feed-grade ingredients (chicken by-product meal, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, powdered cellulose, pork fat, etc.) that differ vastly in their format as compared to the way nature makes food (i.e., minimally processed, whole foods).

Therefore, my top recommendation is to commit to a brushing your cat’s teeth every day.

Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond). Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook. Copyright of this article (2014) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.
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