High Fiber Cat Food and the Feline Obesity Epidemic
Feline obesity has become as monstrous an epidemic as it has for the American adult population. It is the biggest nutritional disorder of indoor cats. Carolyn McDaniel, VMD, claims that about 10% of cats treated by vets are overweight and 40% are obese. Obesity in felines is defined as a body weight of being 20% or more above normal weight. Normal weight for a cat is 10 pounds on average but varies by breed. Feline obesity reduces a cat’s quality of life. It also gives rise to other disorders such as osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, and diabetes. Cardiovascular health is a dire concern as well.
What is the answer to reclaiming the health of our fat cats? Cat food marketers will convince you high fiber cat food is the way to go. Ideally, the fiber makes the cat feel full from less food than what they are used to eating. This seems simple enough, but high fiber cat food can do more harm than good if not managed properly. Let’s take a closer look at what we are feeding our tubby buddies.
Issues with High Fiber Cat Food
We can start to understand the effects of high fiber cat food by first looking at the two types of fiber. Fermentable fiber is easily broken down but can make stool soft. This is not the kind of surprise you want to find when cleaning the litter box. It could also leave your furry friend with a dirty bottom. That is not pleasant for your pet or the surfaces around your home. The second kind of fiber is non-fermentable. It is not broken down easily but completes a more thorough job of cleaning the gastrointestinal tract. However, this type of fiber can make the cats stool very dry and lead to constipation.
Despite the weight loss hype, most of the extra fiber tends to be stored as fat in the average indoor cat. This only impedes the goal of healing the cat. Additionally, the high rate of carb absorption causes less protein to be absorbed. The main energy sources of a feline diet should be protein and fat. Without regular protein sources in the diet, healthy lean body mass cannot be sustained. A low lean body mass equals a low metabolism. A low metabolism causes quicker weight gain.
Although there is no requirement for carbs (fiber) in the feline diet, there are studies of wild cats that prove that very small amounts of fiber are okay. Wild cats will consume whole prey, meaning that chunks of bones pass through with all the other good bits like fur and internal organs. The bone chunks are not absorbed but still act as a fiber by keeping a clean digestive tract. Compared to a control sample fed beef with vitamin and mineral supplements, the wild cats produced healthier stool samples.
What to Look For in High Fiber Cat Food
First of all, your cat’s weight loss journey should be monitored by a veterinarian. If your cat’s vet still insists on a high fiber diet, be wary when browsing the aisles. Poor quality, high fiber cat food is marketed in such a way that it profits from the feline obesity epidemic. The plant-based ingredients used cost less than others that would create a more well-rounded meal. These budget fiber sources are merely fillers to make the cat less hungry in between meals. Though the hunger pangs are curbed, the cheap pellets provide little to no nutrition.
Many of the cheaper high fiber cat food brands will list powdered cellulose as one of the main ingredients. Powdered cellulose could be corn husks, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, and sometimes just plain old wood chips. These are the type of filler ingredients mentioned earlier and should be avoided. Higher quality non-fermentable fiber sources include flax seeds and whole grain. Moderately fermentable fibers, which contain traits of both fiber types, include pea fiber, oat bran, soy fiber, and beet pulp.
The ideal feline diet should be high-protein and low-carb. In this diet structure, lean body mass is sustained while weight is dropped. In very obese cats, calorie intake should be reduced too. This is harder to achieve with the dry, high fiber cat food pellets as they have more calories. When reducing calories in a dry food diet, there will not be enough per meal to satisfy the cat’s hunger. Although it is easy to leave a bowl of dry food out, this allows your cat to overeat. Scheduled, controlled wet food meals ease the struggles of weight loss and improve fluid intake.
Fluid intake is crucial since cats do not tend to drink a lot of water. Wet cat food helps to ensure proper fluid levels, but if dry food is needed, look for crude fiber contents of 3% or less. Another tactic to keep a healthy fluid intake is the water fountain. A cat will show more interest in moving water than still water.
High fiber cat food diets are sometimes proposed to solve constipation, diarrhea, and hairballs too. However, higher fiber intake should not be the first attempt at curing your cat. Consult your cat’s vet first to make sure there aren’t other factors at play. If the gastric problems are caused by other health issues, high fiber cat food could worsen the symptoms.
If the symptoms and their rate of occurrence do not yet warrant a vet visit, consider canned pumpkin and Vaseline. 100% canned pumpkin can safely enter your cat’s diet at a teaspoon per day. It is easy for your cat to digest and contains a healthy amount of fiber. In regards to hairballs, a half teaspoon of Vaseline can be fed 2 hours before or after meals. While these are safe options, do not waver a vet visit and risk prolonging health problems that may be present. Vet visits are expensive, but it is worth the well-being of your dear, pudgy animal partner.