Chris Kouwenhoven

The pet food controversy rages

Well, I expected that not everyone would agree with me about what to feed Fido and Fluffy, but I really didn't expect to ignite such a firestorm of controversy! Much of the debate has been over the value of the moisture difference between canned and dry pet food. So, today, let's consider both sides of this disagreement and perhaps find some middle ground.

The controversy over canned pet food is a long standing one. Personally, I do not believe the amount of water in the quantity of food normally fed to a cat really has much effect on meeting their need for fluids. On a daily basis a normal adult cat would not consume enough canned food to significantly add to the total water intake for the day. Owners sometimes tell us that their cats never drink water, but I have some serious doubts about that. Perhaps their water bowl stays fairly full, but our pets are sometimes more resourceful than we think. Often cats (and frequently dogs) will drink out of open toilet bowls because the water is fresher than in their water bowls. I encourage pet owners to change the water at least three times a day if Fido or Fluffy seems reluctant to drink. Many water supplies contain significant quantities of chlorine which will deter many animals from drinking. As you know, cats are often very sensitive and respond to smell much more than taste. For this reason, I suggest trying bottled water to see if this increases intake. I have also had some success with adding a small amount of the water from water-packed canned tuna fish to the cat's water. Naturally, we should not provide only the tuna pack water because of the salt content, just a small amount to "tickle kitty's nose". The bottom line here is that we must encourage our pets to drink water from some source. This need for water is particularly critical for male cats, both neutered and intact.

Another issue one of our readers (Stephanie, a third year student at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine) raised was the effect on tarter by eating dry pet foods. She noted that some veterinarians feel that the effect on tarter was questionable. I was happy to hear that, because it is this type of disagreement that causes us to continually re-examine things we believe are true and from that advance our knowledge.

The effect of dry food on tarter may be controversial, but the stimulation of the gums by eating dry food cannot, in my mind, be doubted. Such stimulation would be sufficient reason to feed it, but I have found that dogs and cats eating dry food have much less accumulated tarter than those on food with more water added.

I also suggest to pet owners (well, dog owners, since you really don't "own" a cat...they only allow you the privilege of caring for them!) that a small amount of leftover people food can be a treat for their four legged friends. This may be a significant source of vegetables that might otherwise not be available to Fido or Fluffy. But again, moderation is the key...only SMALL amounts (5% of the total) as a treat, not the main meal. Such treats should always be well mixed with the pet's regular food. Their regular pet food is formulated for their needs; your diet is not suited for them.

Just a reminder to our dog owners out there so that you don't think I am being disparaging to dogs when I say dogs are owned and cats are not. Remember, dogs in their natural state live in packs and have a basic need to belong to one. Even in a one dog household, your dog sees you as the "Alpha Wolf" or leader of his or her pack. Cats do not have this social need. So we can honestly say that we "own" dogs, but not cats.

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