Friday, May 12, 2006

Does kibble kill cats?

Cats are obligate carnivores - meaning they will become very ill and eventually die without meat. Cats have utterly no nutritional requirement for any sort of grain and derive little benefit from the various grains added to most commercial cat food (and yes, there are grains in canned food - despite the attractive pictures on the label, they are not all meat.)
Fact A: Cats need a meat based diet.

Domestic cats descended from desert-dwelling wild cats and retain some of those traits, including a very low thirst drive. This means that cats fed a dry, kibble-only diet are much more likely to develop myriad health problems and live a shorter than necessary life in low-grade dehydration. A typical, optimum rodent based wild diet contains 60-70% moisture. Kibble contains at best 10% moisture and most cats will not drink enough water to make up the difference. This constant state of dehydration can lead to early renal failure, constant urinary tract problems, crystals and bladder stones and bladder infections.
FACT B: All-dry diets are not good for cats.

Grain-based foods (virtually all kibble sold on the market) are heavy in carbohydrates. Unlike humans, cats derive little energy or nutrition from carbohydrates and are more likely to have diabetes, become fat, sluggish and have poor muscle tone - if this is your cat, she is neither happy or healthy.
Kibble manufacturers add flavorants, vitamins and minerals to compensate for an inferior product but these are a poor substitute for proper nutrition. Kibble also has artificial stool hardeners (usually beet pulp) added, because the cat will have constant diarrhea otherwise on the grain by-product based food.
FACT C: Cats are natural Atkins-diet eaters.

Dry kibble is bad for cats' teeth. Although many kibbles have artificial abrasives added (ptrophosphate salts, insoluble vegetable fiber, cellulose) and are sized to encourage chewing rather than gulping, these are generally insufficient to maintain good dental health for the life of the cat. How would your teeth feel after eating a bowl of dry cornflakes for every meal? Would you have cereal mush between your teeth and along your gums, fermenting away? So does your cat. And she can't swill it away by drinking lots of water or brushing her teeth.
Ideally, carnivores will maintain healthy mouths by chewing and eating small bones, cartilege and gristle. Dental diseases are rampant in pets and the bacteria overload in an unhealthy mouth puts stress on many internal organs, potentially leading to disease and early organ failure.
FACT D: Kibble is not good for teeth and gums.

So - the bottom line here is - do not feed an all dry diet! At the very least, even cheap canned food added to a kibble diet is better than feeding all dry, even if you buy a "better" brand of kibble.
Want some veterinary references to the above? OK.
Here, this one's REALLY good.
There's tons more like that, just google "kibble cat health" or similar and ignore websites selling anything.

And read Leigh-Ann's excellent May 5th blog entry on cat nutrition!

So, Carina, what does your cat Elvis eat?
He absolutely adores whole ground rabbit (bones, guts and all.) I buy it for a little over $2/lb, it looks like coarse hamburger. He will also eat chicken necks and various bits of raw this & that along with the dogs. I also keep various brands of canned cat food on hand; I do not want an unnaturally picky cat and he eats most although does not appear fond of beef. Despite what I wrote above about the Evil That Is Kibble, I do keep some on hand because he really likes it! He eats so little that I keep it in the fridge for fear of spoilage, and mostly I buy Innova EVO, which is a grain-free kibble. He's nuts about it. Although it's pricey, it is a more concentrated food without a bunch of junk bulk added to it. I imagine a cat would need to eat much less of it to maintain a decent lean weight.


Anonymous Leigh-Ann said...

I enjoyed reading this -- you had some sources I hadn't seen before, and they were informative.

I have a question about chicken necks -- how/where do you buy them? Can I just go to the local grocery store and ask the butcher for chicken necks, or should I try to buy them from a place like Whole Foods? I also keep meaning to order some tracheas, gullets, and hooves from for the dogs. I unfortunately need to separate our large dogs if I give them any special treat to eat, which makes it tough to let them gnaw casually on bones, but I'd be happy to try them on some raw things which wouldn't last as long.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Carina said...

Here's another handy site - if you go to the nutrition page on, you'll find a list of raw purveyors. There's also a list of good things you can add to kibble, if you want to mix it up a bit for your dogs. has excellent stuff, I hear - but it would cost me as much for shipping to the midwest as for the product! I get various things (including the ground rabbit) from
I sometimes buy whole pasture-raised chickens from some folks that bring them to the farmers' market; they have the necks attached and Elvis gets it. Seems the best way to get "oddball" things like this is through independent butchers, Asian markets, like that. Whole Foods could probably get them - I get lots of stuff cheap in bulk from a little butcher, he just sold me a 10lb bag of necks for $5.00.
Another really good site on cat nutrition is - I didn't include it, because they also sell their product. (Nothing wrong with that, I just generally feel one is more likely to get biased info from a commercial site.) But, they have lots of interesting information there.
Hey, you should buy green tripe for your dogs! They'll inhale it, it is doggie crack and very good for them. :~)

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Leigh-Ann said...

I don't even know if we have any independent butcher shops here -- there certainly aren't any in our part of town. We once had a fish shop but it went out of business. I know I can buy packages of gizzards and hearts at the local grocery store (I know because I like to eat them), so I'll ask if they could at least order me some necks. Do I just feed them raw, straight from the package, or do I make sure they've been frozen first?

As for dogs on crack, I dunno... I think maybe dogs on marijuana is more my speed (no pun intended) :) They've been going a hundred miles an hour today, jumping and spinning in circles, because they can hear the stray kitten in the bathroom and it's made them crazed with curiousity. I'm definitely going to try some of the "innards" that Green Tripe sells though, so perhaps I'll have them toss in some tripe too and we'll see what happens. I just hope the dogs don't invite friends over...

2:35 AM  
Blogger Carina said...

Dogs like the gizzards too! And if there's any hearts in there, chop one up for the kitties. Heart has lots of taurine & the texture is close enough to canned that cats are more likely to take to it. (How do you cook gizzards? They seem so tough!)
Any meat at the grocery store has been already deep frozen (colder than a home freezer), at the plant, the distribution center, in the truck, in back of the grocery store, often for weeks. And yes, raw - cooked bones are very dangerous because they're not digestible. You may read that kibble and raw shouldn't be fed in the same meal; this is an internet legend stemming from a single, misunderstood study on digestion rates. So don't worry about that.
Poor wee kitten, I hope she's not too stressed. She's awfully cute!

5:17 AM  
Blogger Scooby, Shaggy & Scout said...

Hi Carina! Came over here from Leigh-Ann's site after reading the comments about feeding cats. You have wonderful information here (Leigh-Ann as well) and I have been trying to switch to all canned for some time. I need to get out of the habit of leaving dry out for munching all the time. Nobody needs food available 24/7 anyway. It's ok to get a little hungry while waiting for dinner! I know I do this out of convenience for myself and that will ultimately not be good for the cats so it's time to get my act together! Scooby is pretty hooked on the dry though. He will take some convincing but I MUST BE STRONG! Right?? Thanks for the wonderful info! sss's mom

7:29 PM  
Blogger Scooby, Shaggy & Scout said...

P.S. So THAT'S what the beet pulp is for!

7:34 PM  
Blogger Carina said...

Cats can be SO picky and set in their ways! Elvis was a stray who moved in last summer and is fairly un-picky, and he thinks he's a cat in a small Rottweiler suit so he'll eat a lot of what they eat.
Try mixing some canned clams (cheap in dollar stores and very high in taurine) into the food, maybe. Elvis says to tell Scooby those are excellent. :~)

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Leigh-Ann said...

To cook gizzards, I just simmer them in water for an hour or so, until they're fork-tender. I usually toss in a few spices when I'm cooking them for myself, so I'll add a bit of sage, savory, thyme, etc. In my family, cooking a turkey was all about eating the extra goodies packed inside, so we'd try to fairly divide the heart, the gizzard, the liver, the neck, etc. Perhaps we were cats in a previous life :)

The little kitten is doing fine and not stressed at all. She's confronted our two 100 lb. dogs a couple of times and just calmly sniffs them. I really need to find a home for her quickly, though. She's already bored with being kept in the bathroom, but I don't want to get attached to her or get used to having her around. We've already got far too many pets, and I know it would be better for her to find another home.

Regarding kibble, I'm still surprised at how much cats seem to like kibble. I've never had one which refused to eat it, yet I've had cats which don't like wet food. I really don't understand the appeal of dry, bland, and crunchy.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Carina said...

The butcher I go to sells spiced turkey gizzards, ready to cook. Apparently a popular item & he says they're delish....I'm not much of a meat eater so I've never tried them. Hmmm.
Good for Kitten - maybe putting a note with her photo at some vet offices would yield homes? I used to foster dogs, and that was how they found homes for most of them; plus the vet could give one of the required references.
Kibble isn't that tasty, apparently most animals won't eat it "plain." It's sprayed with fat and strongly flavored stuff to get them to eat. I know what you mean, though, most cats love it, especially the cheaper brands!

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Moo said...

I'm so confused our vet specifically told us to feed our cats on dried food because the wet food is almost all water and the dry stuff is better for their teeth and I have been saying for MONTHS that I think it's cruel and I know they'd rather have meat but was assured by the vet that Iwas being soft and yes they'd rather have it but it's not as good for them... I am SO changing back to wet food!! Why would my vet not know if it's bad though... the cat shelters here all use dry food too for the same reason - we foster kittens for one of them. odd odd odd!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Carina said...

Heh. It is confusing....but vets don't necessarily know all there is to know about nutrition (any more than human doctors do, and my ex was a doctor...he & his colleagues were often SO clueless about all sorts of things!)
Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago the Mike Fox column - a sydicated column written by a vet - someone had the exact same question, her vet had told her to feed only canned. His response started out "Your vet needs to go back to vet school, or find another line of work...." LOL.
I don't think his columns are archived, but here's his site:

My vet lectures people to feed at least 50% canned. (I like my vet!)

3:54 PM  
Blogger Carina said...

"Someone had the exact same question, her vet had told her to feed only canned."
Duh. Senior moment, I meant kibble.

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Leigh-Ann said...

Moo, I'd imagine some shelters feed only kibble to save on time and expenses. If you had to feed 200 cats twice a day, I can see how it would be easier to just scoop kibble from a bucket than to open can after can after can...

I know some places feed both, just so the cats can eat whatever they prefer, but kibble is definitely less expensive for places on a budget. It's probably easier to get donated, too, because so many bags would get torn in production and wouldn't be able to be sold.

3:54 PM  

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