Do cats have sweet teeth? Science may have an answer

I swear I have a cat with a sweet tooth. Whenever I’m eating things like sugar cookies, donuts, or cake, Kali is all up in my face, trying to get my food off my plate, out of my hand, and she even sniffs at my mouth if I don’t let her have anything. If I drop a crumb? It’s like dropping a piece of steak or chicken – she is all over it like a vacuum cleaner. Cats are strict carnivores, so what is the deal here? Do cats have sweet teeth?

Science is actually working to answer the question, “Do cats have sweet teeth?”

Well, according to Scientific American, no. Cats literally have no way to taste sweetness at all, unlike most other mammals. They don’t have the taste receptors necessary to taste sweets, apparently:

“They don’t taste sweet the way we do,” says Joe Brand, biochemist and associate director at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “They’re lucky. Cats really have bad teeth as it is.”

Okay, so what’s the deal with Kali, then? What is it that she tastes or smells in sweets that she absolutely must have?

Some scientists, like those quoted in Scientific American, argue that it’s not so much that cats have sweet teeth as it’s possible that they might be able to taste very high concentrations of sugar. If that’s true, then cats that are more sensitive to sweetness—even if they don’t taste it the way we do—will try and eat our amazing sweet treats.

Maybe it’s not the sweetness they’re after, though

Others arguing against the idea that cats have sweet teeth believe that it’s not the sweetness they want, but rather, they’re going after the fat. Indeed, things like cake, donuts, sugar cookies, and especially frosting, aren’t just high in sugar, they’re high in fat. Cats’ taste receptors are geared to taste fat, so there’s a chance that’s what they’re after.

So, do cats have sweet teeth? Science says no, but there’s so much anecdotal evidence that suggests otherwise that I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer here. And I wholly believe that Kali has a sweet tooth or three.

Feeding Cats Fish – Is It A Good Idea?

We frequently see cartoons showing cats eating fish. Indeed, cats do seem to love fish. We feed our cats a little bit of fish with their raw food diets and they love it. Even so, is feeding cats fish a good idea for more than an occasional treat? According to Dr. Michael Fox, the answer is an emphatic NO!

What’s wrong with feeding cats fish?

Fish contains certain enzymes that destroy thiamine in cats. Thiamine is a necessary B vitamin for their metabolism. Without it, they begin exhibiting neurological issues, such as bending or curling their necks, head tilt, circling, and even seizures. They may also start vomiting more.

House cats are descended from desert-dwelling species of cats, most likely the African wildcat. That cat’s natural prey is rodents, rabbits, and maybe reptiles. Not fish. While fish is great as an occasional treat for cats, feeding them a diet primarily of fish can make them very sick.

Additionally, commercial cat foods made with fish tend to contain higher levels of magnesium and phosphorus than is safe for your cat. These things can be issues for cats with a history of urinary problems. Phosphorus is a major problem for cats with kidney disease. Cats eating primarily commercial cat food made of fish can be at a higher risk for UTIs and crystals. Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM, has a list of reasons why fish-based cat foods are bad for your cat. To read the article in full, click here.

Feeding cats fish also exposes them to heavy metals

Beyond all that, fish can be contaminated with unsafe levels of heavy metals. This is a problem even in human food, so it’s likely even more of an issue for cats. This food also contains a preservative known as ethoxyquin, which is banned from human consumption. Why feed your cat something that’s so unsafe for you it’s been banned?

So in general, it’s best to avoid feeding cats fish products altogether. Whether it’s commercial cat food or raw fish, feeding it as more than a very occasional treat can be harmful for your cat. It’s best to stick with foods that are closer to their natural prey, such as poultry.

Type 2 Diabetes In Cats – Lowering The Risk

It’s hard to know exactly how to prevent certain diseases in our cats. For instance, chronic kidney disease and type 2 diabetes are somewhat common in older cats. We have an idea of how to prevent type 2 diabetes in ourselves, but since dietary options seem so limited for pets, it might seem as though it’s impossible to even try to prevent type 2 diabetes in cats. However, an article by Dr. Jennifer Coates tells us how to minimize the risk.

The right diet is the biggest thing you can do to help prevent type 2 diabetes in cats

Despite seemingly limited options, the first thing to consider is, obviously, diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, and while they can process limited amounts of carbs for energy, their bodies aren’t designed to process large amounts on a daily basis. Yet, that’s what we do to them with commercial food, particularly dry food.

As with people, too many carbs for too long can cause insulin resistance, resulting in type 2 diabetes in cats. Dr. Coates says that cats need a low-carb, high-protein, moderate-fat diet to reduce that risk. There are commercial foods out there that provide this kind of balance; you don’t have to make your own cat food. You do want to look for a food with a higher percentage of protein than carbs, however.

Also, don’t think that “grain free” means “low carb,” because it doesn’t. Many grain-free foods still contain high amounts of carbs. So choose a food for your cat based on the amounts of protein, fat and carbs contained inside, and find one that has the highest percentage of protein possible. This will reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in cats.

The right amount of food can also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in cats

Of course, diet is only part of the solution. Another other part is fixing the amount your cat eats. As with people, type 2 diabetes in cats is linked to weight. Dr. Coates says that obesity is probably the number one risk factor for diabetes, and feeding too much food can wipe out all the good you’re doing by feeding the right diet.

One thing you can do is feed your cat on a schedule, instead of free feeding him. If your cat is a kitten, then feed him with the goal of maintaining a slim body type. When he grows up and you’re ready to switch him over to adult food, you should ask your vet how much food he needs on a daily basis, and what an ideal weight for him is.

All cats are different, so an ideal weight for one cat may be overweight, or underweight, for another. Weigh him at least once a month, and fine-tune his portion sizes based on whether he should gain or lose weight.

These are two of the most important risk factors for type 2 diabetes in cats that you have control over. There are other risk factors, too, which you may not be able to control, and your cat may still develop diabetes despite your best efforts. However, as with ourselves, it’s wise to control what we can so that we minimize the risk of our cats’ developing certain conditions later in life.

Cats Eating too Fast – How do you Slow Them Down?

One problem that we cat parents can run into is our cats eating too fast. You might not think this is that much of a problem if you’ve never experienced it, but for many of us, our cats eat too fast and then vomit right after they’re done eating. If they’re free fed, they might just go back and eat again, but if they’re not, then they’ll be hungry until their next mealtime. Plus, frequent vomiting is not healthy. How do you get your cat to slow down her eating?

We have a problem with one of our cats eating too fast

When we free-fed our cats, Aria had a bad, bad habit of gorging until she threw up, and then she’d go right back to gorging. We had to pull her away from the food bowl sometimes to get her to stop gorging and let the food she had in her stomach settle down a little.

She was less able to do that when we put them on a feeding schedule, but even on a raw food diet, she still manages to do it. Cleaning up slightly used raw cat food is not the most pleasant experience in the world, plus, this isn’t good for her. We’ve often wondered what we can do to slow down her eating.

If you have cats eating too fast, there are ways to stop it

Fortunately, Cat Channel has some advice for how to do this:

  1. Feed your cats smaller meals more frequently, or consider getting a slow feeder. Feeding small meals has two effects. The first is obvious: She can’t eat too fast now. The second is weight control. If you feed her on a schedule, you can better control her calorie intake and thus, her weight. Slow feeders can help to accomplish this, too.
  2. Spread your cat’s food over a larger area, like a tray, instead of a bowl. This makes it so she has to slow down as she moves around the tray to get the food.
  3. You can also soak dry food in water to make it expand, because that’s what happens in your cat’s stomach. If the food has already expanded, then not only will she eat less of it and be less likely to vomit right afterward, but it won’t be able to further expand in her stomach.
  4. One other thing you can do is buy a feeder ball and make her play to get her food. This slows down her eating a lot, and also gives her exercise.

Here’s how we stopped Aria from eating too fast

We split Aria’s food into two bowls, so she has to look for the second portion of her meal. This gives her a chance to start digesting the first half, and makes her feel fuller so she eats the second half a little slower. So far, she hasn’t vomited up an entire meal because she ate too quickly again.

If you’ve got cats eating too fast, try these things to get them to slow down. Cats eating too fast isn’t healthy for them, and you yourself have got to be sick of cleaning up after them for it.

How to Relieve Your Cat’s Dry Skin in Winter

Winter dry skin doesn’t just affect us. It can also affect our pets. Cats can suffer from winter itch just as easily as we can due to the dry air, and even drier heat in our houses. While you probably treat your dry skin with various lotions and moisturizers, you can’t really do the same with your cat. What are some ways you can alleviate your cat’s dry skin?

Things you can do at home to help your cat’s dry skin

The biggest and most important thing you can do for your cat is avoid bathing her at this time of year unless it’s absolutely necessary for some reason. Any soap you can use will strip her skin and fur of much-needed oils, exactly the way soaps strip your skin of oils. Her skin can also get flaky if you bathe her at this time of year. The best treatment for a cat’s dry skin is actually prevention, so don’t bathe her unless you absolutely have to.

Regular brushing also helps to reduce a cat’s dry skin, because it removes dry, dead hair and dander. Dead fur and skin can accumulate, even though cats groom themselves, and cause discomfort and itching. The drier her skin, the more dead fur and skin can accumulate in her coat. So help her out by brushing her regularly.

Another way you can relieve and prevent your cat’s dry skin is with a high-quality diet. We feed our cats a homemade raw diet that has a lot of water and some fish oil in it. Water helps keep our cats hydrated, while the fish oil helps maintain healthy levels of skin oils. You don’t have to feed your cat a raw diet to relieve her dry skin, but a feeding her a high-quality, wet food can do wonders for her, especially in the winter.

Remember, your cat’s dry skin may not be winter itch

If you see your cat scratching a lot, don’t assume that it’s just winter itch, especially if the scratching isn’t normal for her. She could have an underlying medical condition or a parasite that’s causing the problem. Inspect her fur and skin in the areas she seems to be scratching, to see if there’s a rash, a bite, or anything that might indicate a problem.

Also, if she’s scratching so much that she’s cutting herself, or giving herself bald spots, then there’s a problem. In any case, if you even think your cat’s dry skin might actually be something else, it’s important to call your vet. Skin conditions, parasites and other problems can’t be cured with brushing and diet. But if there’s nothing wrong, then the steps above can go a long way towards helping her with her dry skin.

Thanksgiving Safety Tips for Cats

Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and it’s a fun time with family and friends, but not always for your cats. While some foods are okay for cats, like bite-sized pieces of boneless turkey meat, other things, such as bread dough, sweets and vegetables aren’t so good for them. Below are some Thanksgiving safety tips for cats.

Image by Satya Murthy, under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Why only boneless pieces of turkey?

While cats in the wild can, and do, swallow the bones of their prey, remember that this turkey has been cooked all the way through. That means the bones are brittle and will shatter into sharp pieces, which can lacerate your cat’s digestive tract. Turkey bones are also thicker and heavier than the bones of, say, sparrows and mice, meaning your cat could choke on them.

Turkey giblets are safe for your cat, but make sure you do not include the neck bone with this particular set of scraps. Gravy is salty and fatty, and should be kept away from your cats as much as possible to avoid gastrointestinal upset.

No bread dough

Have you ever eaten enough bread dough to get really bloated and crampy afterward? Imagine your cat eating what you think is just a tiny bit of dough. This is possibly one of the most important Thanksgiving safety tips for cats out there. The yeast will continue to work, which causes a lot of painful gas. Besides that, yeast can ferment, which can result in drunkenness in your poor kitty that could result in a trip to the emergency vet. Bread dough is a huge no-no.

No onions, garlic or chives either

This includes powders, and is also very important when it comes to Thanksgiving safety tips for cats. Many people like to make garlic mashed potatoes, put sour cream and chives on baked potatoes, put onions or onion powder in their stuffing, and the like. These things cause gastrointestinal upset in cats, and they can also lead to red blood cell damage. So anything that might contain onions, chives and garlic should be kept out of reach of your cats this Thanksgiving.

Sweets

Chocolate contains both methylxanthines and theobromines, both of which are dangerous for cats. Methylxanthines can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, while theobromines can cause heart attacks. Nuts are very fatty and can cause gastrointestinal upset, and coconut has oils that can also cause diarrhea.

Thanksgiving safety tips for cats that don’t include food

There are other important Thanksgiving safety tips for cats out there, too. The most important of these is creating a safe place for your cats to go if they get stressed when there are lots of people and noise. Make sure she’s got her food and water, a clean litter box, and her favorite blankets and toys in that place.

Hopefully, these tips will help you and your cat have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

From Kittenhood to the Golden Years: Nutrition to Make your Cat Thrive

Cats and kittens have nutritional needs that are very different even from dogs, to say nothing about how different those needs are from ours. While I’m a strong advocate of raw feeding, I also freely acknowledge that there are good commercial foods out there that contain the nutrition cats and kittens need not just to survive, but to thrive.

Did you know that cats nutritional needs change as they move through their life stages? Kittens need a lot more protein, to support their rapid growth. I recently ran across a great article on Petco’s website, titled “From Kittenhood to the Golden Years: What Your Cat Should Eat to Thrive,” which breaks down the types of nutrition cats require at each life stage. I recommend that you read the full article here, but I’ve included a fantastic infographic from that article, with permission from its creator, that also breaks it down.

Hopefully, with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make better decisions regarding your cat’s nutrition for whatever life stage he’s at.

Click to Enlarge Image

 

 

When your Cat Stops Eating, What Should you Do?

This article is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations

Most longtime cat owners will go through situations where their cat stops eating his food, and have experienced the frustration of trying to get him to start eating regularly again. It’s important to determine the reason he’s not eating as quickly as possible before trying to get him eating again, as lack of appetite is often a symptom of any number of health conditions.

When your cat stops eating, it causes a whole lot of problems besides weight loss.

Cats need regular feeding to maintain liver health as well as overall health. While hepatic lipidosis is often spoken of as applying mostly to overweight cats, if your cat stops eating, even if he’s a normal weight, he can start to develop this condition in as little as 72 hours. Therefore, if it’s been more than 24 hours since he’s eaten, it’s time to call your vet and get him looked at, so you can find the problem and get it treated.

Sometimes your cat stops eating for a really simple reason, such as an abrupt change in diet. If you’ve recently changed the brand or type of food you’ve been feeding him, try going back to his old food and see what happens. If he eats that, but won’t eat the new stuff, then you simply need to make the switch gradually by mixing the two together (this is always a good idea anyway; cats tend not to like abrupt changes to their diets). Start with just a little bit of the new food mixed in with his old food, and gradually change the proportions until he’s eating the new food. This can try your patience a little, but is important if you want your cat eating the new food.

If your cat stops eating for more than 24 to 48 hours, you should call your vet

If a change in food isn’t the case, then once you and your vet determine the problem and the appropriate course of treatment, it’s time to start trying to get him to eat again. Cats that have been sick may need their appetites stimulated by something in order to start feeling hungry again. Start with whatever food, commercial or otherwise, he was eating before, and go from there. Right now, the important thing is to get him eating again.

If your cat stops eating because he’s actively sick, ask your vet for recommendations as to how to get him to eat, and how much is considered “good.” Cats that are actively sick tend to not feel well enough to eat.

If your cat is, indeed, sick, here are some ways to get him eating again

If your vet decides he needs to be on a special diet, you should remain in close contact with him while you’re trying to get your cat to start eating, and ask about alternatives if he starts turning his nose up at the food your vet has recommended or prescribed.

You can also ask about any risks there may be with giving him a few of his favorite treats, a few pieces of cold cuts, small pieces of cooked fish, baby food (without vegetables), things of that nature, in order to stimulate his appetite if he’s still not eating.

If your vet gives you the green light on these, then start trying them one by one. There are also certain products at places like Petco and PetSmart, like The Goodlife Recipe’s Catnip Flavored Treats, that cats often go crazy over. Or you can ask your vet about Tomlyn’s NutriCal nutritional supplement, which is specifically designed for when a cat stops eating. Follow any guidelines your vet gives you about any of this, and take it from there.

Don’t forget to ask him when you need to worry, and at what point you’ll need to come back in if your cat stops eating again, or if he continues to refuse to eat. Depending on what the problem is, it can occasionally be necessary to put him on a feeding tube until he feels well enough to eat on his own.

The most frustrating thing, when a cat stops eating, is that it can take a lot of time and many different types and brands of foods to get him eating regularly again. If you had him on a grain-free or raw food diet and he suddenly won’t eat that, but will eat whatever he was eating before the transition, you may have to transition him all over again. Here, too, the important thing is to get him eating again, and you can worry about what he’s eating later.

Is Feeding Cats Vegan Diets Safe?

Is it Best to Feed Cats Dry or Wet Food?

We all try to feed our cats the best possible diets, but with so many different foods out there, how do we know what is actually the best? There are all sorts of information out there about what’s best for their internal health, their dental health, their energy levels, even their cognitive function. However, the first thing to consider is whether it’s best to feed cats dry or wet food.

The arguments for dry food

For a very long time, vets recommended their clients feed dry food for dental health. However, lately, vets, especially younger vets, have started recommending their clients feed wet food to their cats. Why is that? According to Petplace, vets are not 100 percent sure whether it’s best to feed your cat dry or wet food. However, Dr. Particia Kuhly says that recent studies actually indicate that wet food is better.

The consistent argument for dry food seems to be dental, but Petplace says that veterinary dentists aren’t thrilled about using dry food for teeth-cleaning purposes. They believe that relying solely on crunchy foods to keep teeth clean is akin to relying on an apple a day to keep your own dentist away.

Another consideration in whether to feed cats dry or wet food is storage. Dry food is easier to store, and often lasts longer. Wet food, by contrast, has to be refrigerated after it’s opened, which can get a little difficult if you’re not feeding a full can at each meal. You can also leave dry food out, so your cat can eat whenever he’s hungry, and you have one less thing to think about in the morning, or in the evening after a long day.

Whether to feed cats dry or wet food depends on a lot

Dry foods also contribute to urinary tract problems, and diets out there to treat urinary problems are basically the pet food industry trying to address a problem they themselves created.

On the other hand, wet foods seem to aid urinary health, along with helping to manage kidney disease and the formation of stones and crystals. It also seems to help with the development of idiopathic cystitis, which is an inflammation of the bladder that causes bloody urine and frequent trips to the litter box. Studies are increasingly pointing to wet food as the right choice when deciding whether to feed cats dry or wet food.

Health should be a consideration in deciding whether to feed cats dry or wet food

PetMD says that, as long as either food is nutritionally balanced, then whether to feed cats dry or wet food comes down to taste and lifestyle. However, Dr. Karen Becker cites a specific study that linked dry food to feline lower urinary tract disease. Most of the cats in the study, who developed urethral obstructions, were fed a diet of only dry food.

Another study that Dr. Becker cites fed cats that suffered from feline idiopathic cystitis a diet of wet food, and others a diet of dry food. Only 11 percent of the cats on the wet food diet had a recurrence, while 39 percent of the cats on the dry food diet had a recurrence.

There are other studies, but it’s looking more and more like the debate over whether to feed cats dry or wet food is shifting towards wet food. Raw food would be better, and we feed our cats a homemade, raw food diet, but many people have neither the time, nor the storage space, for that. If you feed your cat dry food, consider also feeding wet food at least once a day, to help her get the moisture she needs that she’s not getting from her water.