Many feline health problems can be improved with proper nutrition. Raw food, especially raw frozen food, fits the profile of what a cat evolved to eat in the wild, which is a moisture-rich high-quality protein diet. By giving your own carnivore the meat his ancestors ate, his digestive system and other organs work at peak efficiency. This type of eating can also help stave off the risk of urinary tract disease and chronic kidney disease; two common problems for many felines.
To get the story around the health advantages of raw food for cats and other moisture-rich foods, we talked to Williams Shift Lead Josie Stewart-Lewis. Josie been a Muddy for one year, and she’s already well-versed in the healthy advantages of raw food for cats.
MB: One interesting thing about most raw foods is its low carbohydrate count. Why are fewer carbohydrates beneficial for cats?
JSL: Cats don’t necessarily digest carbs because they are obligate carnivores. That term is exactly what it sounds like: Their bodies are obligated to eat meat to maintain optimal health. Cats aren’t omnivores like humans.
Cats were animals that evolved in the desert, so they relied on prey to get all their nutritional requirements. They don’t get many benefits from most carbohydrates because their digestive system doesn’t produce the necessary enzymes to digest them.
MB: What are the benefits of adding raw food, and therefore more moisture and high-quality protein, to a cat’s diet?
JSL: When you add raw food to your cat’s diet, you’ll spot changes in their skin and coat in a few weeks. You’ll also notice smaller stools, and some people report that their cats’ breath smells better, too.
Raw food, unlike other cat food options, also contains natural enzymes that make it easier for cats to digest. Those enzymes, combined with the moisture in the meat, makes it easier for their digestive system to use.
MB: One of the things that plague some cats is chronic kidney disease. Can you explain why we sometimes recommend raw to prevent kidney disease?
JSL: One article I read said that one in five cats over the age of 15 get kidney disease. So, it’s a prevalent problem in older cats. Most cats live in a state of constant mild dehydration. They’re evolved to get moisture from meat, so they don’t naturally drink enough water to stay hydrated. And being dehydrated is hard on the kidneys.
So one of the reasons it’s good to feed your cat a high moisture diet, like one found in many raw foods, is to help your kidneys work more efficiently. If your cat is well-hydrated, your cat’s kidneys can work to filter out the toxins in your cat’s system.
The same concept works for preventing urinary tract infections. If your cat is well-hydrated, it helps keep the urinary system healthy and prevents bad bacteria from thriving.
MB: Lots of cat owners prefer freeze-dried raw food for the added convenience. So what are your best tips for adding moisture to this type of raw food?
JSL: There are a couple of different ways to get moisture into your cat’s diet, depending on your cat’s flavor preferences. So, if your cat doesn’t like the frozen raw food, you can feed freeze-dried raw but add warm water to the food to increase the moisture. You can also add bone broth or goat’s milk as a way to rehydrate it and make it a little tastier.
Using warm liquid is best because it emulates the heat of a fresh kill. It’s also more appealing to the cat because warm food has more smell, and cats rely on smell over taste to choose foods. If your cat prefers wet food, which is already moisture-rich, you can boost the moisture content even further by adding some warm liquid to that.
MB: And what do you recommend for owner’s who say that their cats will only eat kibble?
JSL: If your cat isn’t even willing to eat canned food, you can try small amounts of warm liquid in his kibble. Once you start adding liquid to any type of food, it’s important that you clean the bowl after every meal and don’t let it sit out. Don’t just add more kibble and liquid, because your cat’s bowl could be a breeding ground for bacteria.
When adding different foods to your cat’s diet, it’s important to be patient. Think about placing a very small amount of new food in a separate dish near your cat’s old food. That helps your cat learn that the new item that he’s seeing is actually food. There’s plenty of other food transition tips your can try if your cat is resistant to eating kibble.
MB: Raw food is often the foundation of many of our recommendations for healthy cats. But what are other options for getting the benefits of more moisture if raw doesn’t work for your household?
JSL: We recommend raw food to cat owners for many different types of reasons. Ultimately, having an easily digestible food with plenty of protein and packed with moisture benefits the health of many different cats. But wet food or gently cooked foods offer many of the same benefits to cats.
Of course, there are other things you can do if raw food doesn’t make sense for your household or your cat’s specific needs. If you want to add more moisture, you can provide multiple sources of water throughout the house. Using a cat water fountain is also great for some cats because many cats prefer to drink moving water.
There are also a lot of water-rich treats available. There are two moisture-rich filets that we carry as treats for cats. There’s also a treat that’s shredded fish or chicken in a broth that’s a great way to add moisture to your cat’s overall diet. We also have goat’s milk and kefir which is a way for dairy-loving cats to get some extra moisture.***
Josie Stewart-Lewis is the shift lead at our Williams store in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not helping customers find the right moisture-rich diets for their animals, she’s spending time with her two dogs, Ronan and Kahlua.
This post is part of our Just Add Water campaign, which talks about the health benefits of adding moisture-rich foods to your dog or cat’s diet. Both species can significantly benefit from eating wet, raw or other moisture-rich foods in addition to kibble. To learn more about the benefits of moisture in your dog or cat’s diet, talk to a Muddy in one of our stores.