In this issue:

1. News Bites

  • Wellness cat food recall
  • Research finds that cats prefer food similar to their natural prey
  • Xylitol toxicity
  • Good news, bad news about puppy mills
  • Spring has sprung: Beware!
  • A new case of Mad Cow disease in  Canada

2. Pet Health Insurance

3. Declawing Update

4. Lifestages, Lifestyles, and Cat Food

1. News Bites

Wellness cat food recall. WellPet, maker of Wellness pet foods, announced a recall of several canned cat foods on March 1, 2011 (not that you would know it from looking at their website now). Affected products, which contain low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1), include Wellness canned cat food Chicken & Herring with best-by dates of Nov. 10 to Nov. 17, 2013, and Wellness canned cat food with best-by dates of April 14 to Sept. 30, 2013. If cats are fed this food exclusively, they could develop signs of thiamine deficiency within a few weeks, such as muscle weakness, inability to hold the head up, staggering, and seizures.

Research finds that cats prefer food similar to their natural prey. In a classic “duh” study, Waltham® Centre for Pet Nutrition and a pair of Australian universities discovered that, given a choice, cats would rather eat a diet that provides about 52% of their daily calorie intake from protein, 36% from fat and 12% from carbohydrate. An average prey animal, such as a rat, contains about 55% protein, 40% fat, and 10% carbohydrate. The experiments suggest that cats mayonly be able to process ingested carbohydrate up to a certainlevel–more evidence that dry food is completely inappropriate for cats. The best way to achieve this target is a homemade or raw diet, or with canned food (most are in the general vicinity of 40-50% protein, 40-50% fat, and 10% carbohydrate). (For our in-depth e-book on What Cats Should Eat, including Dr. Jean’s recommended brands [now available for Kindle], please visit our Bookstore); For an excellent canned food comparison tool, see Janet and Binky’s canned food chart.and for an analysis of quality and safety of individual brands and flavors, check out the Petsumer Report, which is well worth the modest subscription cost.)

Xylitol toxicity: It was 2006 when poisoning by the artificial sweetener xylitol  was first described in dogs. Now the problem is getting worse, as more and more human products are using xylitol as a sweetener, including natural non-sugar sweeteners, breath mints, toothpaste, mouthwash, and sugar-free gum, candy and even baked goods. Symptoms including vomiting, weakness (due to low blood sugar), lethargy, hemorrhage, and liver failure. In addition to dogs, xylitol toxicity has also occurred in ferrets. Cats are thought to be less susceptible, or perhaps they are just less inclined to chow down on artificially-sweetened items. Nevertheless, keep all xylitol-containing products out of the reach of all pets.

Good news, bad news about puppy mills: Several states have recently enacted tough laws to crack down on puppy mills (commercial breeders who supply pet stores and internet sellers; and lest we think this is only a dog problem, there are also plenty of “kitten mills”). However, consumer demand remains high. This conflict may be causing even worse problems, with more and more dogs being imported from other countries. As of 2006, it was estimated that nearly 300,000 dogs had come across U.S. borders. But there is no real way of tracking how many pets are being imported, where they come from, where they are going, and whether importers are complying with vaccination policies. Many imported puppies have congenital defects due to irresponsible breeding; and they are often infected with diseases and parasites, including rabies and parvovirus.

Spring has sprung: Beware! Winter is officially over (the vernal equinox occurred on March 20), but as we all look forward to nicer weather, we need to remember that spring poses a number of hazards to our pets, including burgeoning populations of fleas and ticks. Flower bulbs are toxic to both dogs (who may see them as ball-like toys) and cats, for whom lilies are especially dangerous. Fertilizers, pesticides, and other lawn and garden products can be harmful to pets; and cocoa mulch is attractive to some dogs, who may eat it. Spring also triggers seasonal allergies in many pets who are allergic to pollen and other airborne particles.

A new case of Mad Cow Disease in Canada: A 6-year old dairy cow was diagnosed with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, aka Mad Cow Disease), according to the The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). This brings the total number of officially mad cows in Canada to 18. How many cows are merely annoyed is unknown. However, this makes choosing organic products all the more important.

2. Pet Health Insurance

The idea of pet insurance has been slow to get off the ground, but is becoming much more common. If you are concerned it will lead to the same huge and expensive mess that human medicine is in, there’s good news! What has ravaged the human health industry is managed care; but the original idea of a third-party payer (the insurer) is closer in spirit to car insurance than to current human health insurance.

If you have a young animal, especially a purebred one, pet insurance is a reasonable investment given the high cost of veterinary care. Depending on the policy, most common health problems and injuries that can afflict a dog or cat over its lifetime are covered. Each policy has restrictions and exclusions, so be sure you do your homework to find the best option for your companion. For instance, dental disease is the most common health issue in pets, but many policies do not cover routine cleanings or other dental care. (Read more….)

3. Declawing Update

A totally inane and irrelevant poll was recently published, showing that 59% of American pet owners think it is OK to have a cat declawed.

Polls can be manipulated in many ways, both intentional and unintentional. The sample design, the number and demographic makeup of people sampled, the way the questions are asked, the order in which the questions are asked, the laxity of the margin of error, and the way the data are analyzed, all affect the outcome. As Winston Churchill said, “Polls are the worst way of measuring public opinion and public behavior, or of predicting elections—except for all of the others.” This particular poll did not mention whether the respondents actually knew what declawing involves. We believe this was not a consideration, because the vast majority of people who understand the true nature of the surgery (amputation of 1/3 of the cat’s paws) are against it. 


The poll also reported that 32% of cat owners have had their pets declawed. But 36% of all pet owners said declawing was “not OK.” Eighteen percent say they would favor a law making the procedure illegal, and cat owners were more likely to support a law banning the declawing of cats—24 percent favor such a law, 16 percent strongly.

Public opinion is subject to change; and change is  moving in favor of more humane treatment of all animals. The veterinary profession is only just now getting clued in, the American Veterinary Medical Association having added animal welfare and prevention of suffering to its Veterinarian’s Oath late in 2010. (Please ask your veterinarian to sign our petition agreeing to abide by the recently revised Veterinarians’ Oath). The inertia of the veterinary profession is huge and could take many years to shift, especially since there is also a strong financial disincentive to admit that a lucrative procedure is inhumane or even cruel.

While we wait for veterinarians to catch up, we’re doing our best to educate people about declawing. Check out our new Declawing category, featuring just-published articles on Physical Consequences of Declawing, Annotated Reference List, and Studies Pertaining to Declawing.

4. Lifestages, Lifestyles, and Cat Food

The number and types of commercial cat food seems multiplying like rabbits. One online store carries 353 different dry foods, and 735 varieties of canned food! Here’s a sampling of the lifestages cat food is made for:

  • Babycat (0 to 4 months)
  • Kitten (0 or 4 to 12 months)
  • Adult (1 to 7 years)
  • Mature (7 to 10 years)
  • Senior (over 10 years)
  • Young adult (from time of spay/neuter to 7 years)
  • Young male (from time of neuter to 7 years)

In contrast, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has come up with its own lifestage classifications:

  • Kitten (birth to 6 months)
  • Junior (7 months to 2 years)
  • Prime (3 to 6 years)
  • Mature (7 to 10 years)
  • Senior (11 to 14 years)
  • Geriatric (15 years+)

This system divides lifestages by nutritional needs, behavior, and diseases common to each age group. It makes more sense in a way, because cats do tend to become overweight in middle age, and lose weight as seniors. But even AAFP recognizes that “any age groupings are inevitably arbitrary demarcations along a spectrum, and not absolutes.”

Then there are what I call “lifestyle” foods, including breed-specific diets. There are dozens of choices, including active, indoor, weight management, hairball, sensitive stomach, grain free, gluten free, urinary, kidney, hypoallergenic, multiple-cat, skin and coat, Siamese, Persian, Maine coon, and many more.

In addition, there are multiple food forms: dry, semi-moist, canned (including pouches), raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried, and homemade.

Pet food manufacturers also like to make quality claims to distinguish one from another. Today we have premium, super-premium, ultra-premium, gold, platinum, four-star, plus, extra, professional, prescription, human-grade, and of course, natural and organic. Except for the last two, there are no rules or definitions for any of these terms.

Yet after all is said and done, there are only TWO nutritional standards for cat food: adult and growth (kitten, pregnancy, lactation). “All life stages” foods comply with growth requirements. Everything else–everything–is purely marketing. The differences between these foods are primarily cosmetic–minor alterations in protein, fiber, and fat percentages, and perhaps one or more “glamour ingredients” such as blueberries, Omega-3 fatty acids, or kelp. These labels are designed to appeal to you, and have little to do with your cat’s health. (For more info, check out our other articles on pet food labels and marketing hype.)

Now, think about the cat species for a moment, and consider how nature divides up the feline’s lifestages. Young kittens and cubs, of course, nurse from their mom; this milk diet continues for 3 or 4 months, but after just a few weeks they are gradually introduced to solid food in the form of a variety of prey animals. And that’s what they eat until their dying day. So the “natural” cat only has 2 nutritionally distinct stages: nursing, and the rest of their lives.

It’s worth pointing out that, in nature, neither mother’s milk nor prey animals are cooked, pasteurized, irradiated, kibbled, freeze-dried, or otherwise processed. Milk contains the sugar lactose, which provides plenty of calories to support rapid growth; but once weaned, cats have no physiological need for carbohydrates. Their natural diet is grain-free, gluten-free, fresh, and raw; and it’s good for their skin, coat, liver, teeth, body weight, activity, allergies, kidneys, bladder, and every other age, body part and condition.

So when you’re choosing a cat food, don’t fall for the hype. Get the best quality wet foods you can afford and that your cat will eat. Don’t feed just one food all the time; cats need variety. Avoid foods containing “meat chunks” or “nuggets,” “shreds,” or other shapes, which are not meat at all but formed from texturized vegetable protein. Make sure your cat’s food covers all life stages; this is the most appropriate standard. If you’re still feeding dry or semi-moist food, today is a good day to start the transition to a better diet. For more information, please see our Nutrition category, which contains dozens of articles on holistic nutrition, supplements, and the pet food industry.

Please visit our Bookstore and check out our recently updated e-book, What Cats Should Eat, as well as other publications on feline obesity, lower urinary tract disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and more! What Cats Should Eat is also available from for their Kindle reader.