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Feline Nutrition

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Fresh Foods

We in the U.S. have been almost totally brainwashed into the concept the "fresh is best." This holds true if and only if fresh is balanced, which it often is not.

A well-balanced fresh-food diet for a cat would consist of meat (muscle tissue) for protein; saturated and unsaturated fats for protein (polyunsaturated fats, such as those in margarine, are not usually found in a carnivore's diet); sugars, starches, and other carbohydrates; cereals, grass, and certain leafy vegetables for fiber; various organs for vitamin content; bones for calcium and phosphorous; blood and vegetables for iron and mineral content; and small amounts of this and that for trace elements and pleasure. All these requirements are contained in the average mouse.

Since few of us will raise mice specifically for cat food, we may feed our pets a varied and well-balanced fresh-food diet with a little thought. The following foods have the characteristics and effects listed:

Meat (muscle tissue): this is the basic food of any carnivore. The meat may be beef, horse, pork, lamb, chicken, whatever (even mouse). Most meats should be lightly cooked to kill parasites, especially pork and fresh-water fish. The cheaper, fatty cuts of meat will also provide the fat the cat requires (buy the cheap hamburger, it's better for the cat). As a special treat, try giving your cat a mouse-sized gobbet of almost-raw body-temperature rabbit or chicken when he is not especially hungry and watch the hunter come out. He will probably stalk it, throw it in the air, pounce on it, and eventually eat it. This is all part of the natural order of life.
Liver: cats have a weakness for liver. This is an evolved trait to guarantee that the liver of the prey will be eaten and the cat will obtain sufficient vitamin A and iron. In the home, the cat will take all the liver it can get. If too much liver is given, the cat will succumb to vitamin-A toxicity, which can be fatal. As in all things, moderation is the key. The liver (especially beef liver) should be very lightly cooked. When eaten raw it often causes diarrhea, when overcooked, constipation.
Kidneys: usually quite inexpensive, kidneys (especially beef kidneys) provide a good source of iron and several critical vitamins. Because the uric acid content is high, kidneys should be soaked in cold water for a hour or two prior to cooking and serving.
Heart: heart in general but especially poultry and rabbit hearts are a favorite among cats and provide top-notch protein. Do not remove the fatty tissue and paracardial sack, as they provide a source of needed fats.
Lung: lung has little food value and should not be served. Most cats won't eat lung by itself.
Udder: like lung, udder has little food value and should not be served.
Spleen: spleen will often cause diarrhea and should be avoided.
Tripe: fine for dogs and large cats, tripe is usually too tough for our small cats. Tripe stew, on the other hand, is excellent, as the meat is softened by stewing and the broth is good all around.
Offal: the offal of small animals, such as rabbits, is fine if cooked lightly to kill parasites. It is, after all, what they eat in the wild.
Bones: bones are good food. The bones of larger animals, such as beef bones, are usually too big for a cat to get a handle on, but a cartilagineous knuckle or tail bone may be just the ticket. The bones of small animals may be served lightly cooked to kill parasites, but do not serve the cooked bones of birds, especially the long bones, as cooking makes the bones brittle and they may shatter and become lodged in the throat or puncture the esophagus or stomach wall. Bones of any size may be pressure-cooked until soft, but this destroys the marrow, which the cat considers the best part. Bone meal may be used to provide needed calcium and phosphorous.
Fish: cooked, boned fish is almost always welcome. Avoid raw fish in quantity as a vitamin-B toxicity may easily develop, especially with cod, tuna and other oily fish. Do not feed fish organs, especially fish livers.
Milk: milk is a food, not a drink (the only cat drink is water). This food will provide an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus needed for strong bones and teeth, as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, a large percentage of cats lose the ability to digest milk as they grow older. To test your cat for milk tolerance, give it a small bowl of milk, then watch its stools for the next six hours. If diarrhea develops, the cat cannot digest milk, if the stool remains normal, it can. An acidopholus-enriched milk, available at most large supermarkets, can often be consumed by cats (or people) that cannot tolerate normal milk. Acidopholus is the symbiotic bacterium that lives within the intestine and produces the enzyme that metabolizes lactose (milk sugar). The most common cause of milk intolerance is an acidopholus deficiency. Acidopholus- enriched milk carries its own acidopholus culture with it.
Yogurt: many cats like plain yogurt and, like milk, it is an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus. Unlike milk, yogurt is one-step removed from fresh. It has already been consumed by a bacterium, and is therefore partially digested. This makes it very easy for cats and people to finish digesting. Being sensitive to terms like "digested," the dairy industry calls yogurt a "cultured" product.
Butter: an excellent source of fats, good for growth and coat, butter is a good but somewhat expensive treat upon which a cat will gladly pig out. We suggest the occasional small pat as a special treat.
Cream: combining the tastes and benefits of butter and milk, sweet cream is kitty champagne! Treat it as such.
Cheese: most cheeses will cause constipation if fed in large amounts. The occasional small piece is healthful and appreciated. Cats don't seem to care much for the exotic cheeses, such as limburger, brie, or bleu, possible they are put off by the smell of the mold (we humans eat the damnedest things!).
Margarine: since most margarine taste pretty much like butter, cats will usually treat them like butter and take all they can get. Unfortunately, margarine is not butter, and does not contain the calcium and phosphorus that makes butter so beneficial to cats. The polyunsaturated vegetable fats used in most margarines go straight through a cat. Think of margarine as a mild and good- tasting cat laxative (really a lubricant), and use a small pat of it as a loving treat/preventative/cure for hairballs and constipation.
Eggs: raw egg yolk is beneficial and tasty, providing protein, sulfur, calcium, phosphorus, and a host of other vitamins and minerals. The raw egg white, on the other hand, contains avatin, which breaks down and destroys the B vitamins. If you must feed your cat whole eggs, cook them first, which congeals the white and destroys the avatin.
Vegetables: cats are carnivores, but they do eat the vegetable contents of their prey's stomach and viscera. Small amounts of vegetable matter such as potato or pasta, about 5% of the total diet, can be consumed providing the vegetables have been cooked first (cooking breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates and aids digestion. If you are feeding too much vegetable matter, or not cooking it enough, it will show up as constipation or diarrhea, depending upon the vegetable.
Fruits: unlike vegetables, fruits contain primarily simple carbohydrates and need not be cooked. The author had a calico cat, Gigi, who loved melon: watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe -- she loved them all! Like vegetables, be moderate and beware intestinal distress.
Cereals: many cats like cereals. Again, in moderation, cereals such as oatmeal, wheat farina, corn-meal mush, etc., are quite beneficial as providers of carbohydrates. Avoid raw cereals, as cats cannot digest the starches. Absolutely avoid grits (and hominy in general), as the residual lye is toxic to a cat.

R. Roger Breton
Nancy J Creek

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