Kibble is likely the single largest underlying cause of most of the diseases and other illnesses sweeping in epidemic proportions across our domestic cat populations. Obesity, diabetes, urinary tract issues, inflammatory bowel disease (often a precursor for intestinal cancer, or lymphoma), kidney disease, skin and ear allergies, vomiting and diarrhea are just a few of the ailments that have been traced back to kibble diets. Our beloved cats – like birds of prey, sharks and snakes – have exceptionally specialized gastrointestinal systems built to process a very specific diet of animal parts, not highly-processed, synthetically supplemented dry cereal bits.
Put the wrong type of fuel in a high-performance engine long enough and you will ruin that engine.
First step: If you are free-feeding, you need to switch to scheduled meals, three a day (four for kittens). This is important for a variety of reasons, over and above the fact a free-fed cat will have no incentive to eat anything new you offer.
Obesity is probably the most important of those reasons. The cat’s sense of satiety is triggered by the presence of a certain amount of animal-based protein in her meal. If there is not enough of that protein, or if it is in a form the cat’s body does not recognize (as happens when those proteins are altered by the extremely high temps of kibble processing), the cat will keep returning to the bowl as long as food is present. Since carbs are converted almost directly into fat, and the vast majority of kibble products are very high carb, this almost invariably leads to obesity. Besides being very uncomfortable to an animal that evolved for an athletic life of running, leaping and climbing, the cat’s ability to groom will eventually become affected, causing dirty fur, itchy skin and general unhappiness. Obese cats are also at risk for diabetes. (More on the connection between carbohydrates and feline obesity here, here, and here).
In addition, a carnivore’s digestive physiology has incorporated hunger as an integral part of its healthy workings. Indigestible solids are retained in the stomach until digestion of other food products is completed and it is, in fact, hunger pangs which propel this material forth. If the cat is never allowed to become hungry, that movement is compromised, leading to discomfort, hairball regurgitation and other digestive issues.
CatInfo.org has written a great deal about transitioning cats off kibble: Transitioning Dry Food Addicts to Canned Food. If you are switching from kibble to raw, or even kibble to canned to raw, you can also join CatCentric’s Facebook group to ask questions and get help.
Some Studies (see Studies and Publications for more)
On September 22, 2011, the Winn Feline Foundation highlighted a study that, among other things, linked kibble diets to urinary tract blockages (Feline Urethral Obstruction).
During a panel at the 2010 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo, Dr. Demian Dressler, a highly-regarded veterinarian oncologist, talked about his research conclusively linking kibble to cancer, and decried the pet food industry’s practices of using ingredients detrimental to the health of the pets for whom their products are intended. One third of cancer deaths… and Kibble-Cancer Link Explained.
Top 10 Pet Medical Conditions of 2011 (VPI Pet Insurance)
1. Bladder Infection
2. Chronic Kidney Disease
3. Overactive Thyroid
4. Upset Stomach
5. Periodontitis/Dental Disease
7. Intestinal Upset/Diarrhea
8. Ear Infection
9. Skin Allergies
10. Lymphosarcoma (Cancer of Lymph Node)
Top 10 Pet Medical Conditions of 2010 (VPI Pet Insurance)
1. Lower Urinary Tract Disease
3. Chronic Renal Failure
7. Skin Allergy
8. Periodontitis/Dental Disease
9. Ear Infection
10. Upper Respiratory Infection
From The Experts
Much has been written about this subject by highly-educated veterinarians, feline nutritionists and other experts. Below are a few quotes (and a video!) from some of those experts, as well as links to their articles or sites.
For further information on the health implications of feeding kibble, see CatInfo.org by Dr. Pierson and the Feline Nutrition Education Society’s site. For examples of amazing improvements in health and vitality, check out the testimonials here and on FelineInstincts.com.
Dr. Lisa Pierson, Feeding Your Cat: Know The Basics of Feline Nutrition
“Cats have a physiological decrease in the ability to utilize carbohydrates due to the lack of specific enzymatic pathways that are present in other mammals, and the lack a salivary enzyme called amylase. Cats have no dietary need for carbohydrates and, more worrisome is the fact that a diet that is high in carbohydrates can be detrimental to their health…”
Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, Diabetes and Obesity: Preventable Epidemics
“If you worry about switching forms of food because you have been convinced that dry food is essential to good dental health for your cat, consider this: veterinarians today, whose feline patients are almost always consuming dry food as their complete or nearly complete diet, are seeing as much oral and dental disease in their patients as ever before. While the feeding of a crunchy kibble may have an intuitive appeal for dental health, the reality is that there are no scientific studies that prove dry foods provide better dental health throughout a cat’s life than wet foods do. In my practice, I have a majority of my patients consuming exclusively wet diets. My patients require no more regular dental care and experience no more disease of their teeth and gums than patients on other practices in which I have worked where dry food was the norm. There is no dental benefit from dry food that even begins to offset the terrible harm done from feeding the wrong metabolic fuel to our cats.”
Dr. Jean Hofve, Why Cats Need Canned Food
“Dry food is very dehydrating. Our feline friends descend from desert-dwelling wild cats who are well adapted to limited water resources. Their ultra-efficient kidneys are able to extract most of their moisture needs from their prey. However, the end result is that cats have a very low thirst drive, and will not drink water until they are 3-5% dehydrated (a level at which, clinically, a veterinarian would administer fluid therapy). Cats eating only dry food take in only half the moisture of a cat eating only canned food. This chronic dehydration may be a factor in kidney disease, and is known to be a major contributor to bladder disease (crystals, stones, FUS, FLUTD, cystitis).”
Anne Jablonski, Duke’s Story: Inflammatory Bowel Disease
“Inflammatory bowel disease, with its attendant symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting, is the body’s rebellion against trying to process foods it was never built to eat. A cat can never be a successful herbivore or omnivore and will never win any battle against digestive illness without consuming the enzyme-rich, meat-based food he or she was biologically engineered to ingest. Cats with IBD are desperate for biologically available nutrition while their increasingly exhausted bodies stay busy violently rejecting the inappropriate food that is moving through their compromised digestive tracts.”
“Cats suffer more than dogs from poor nutrition because they are obligate carnivores requiring a meat-based diet. Too many veterinarians are profiting from selling dry cat foods high in cereals and soy; these only too often lead to obesity, diabetes mellitus, urinary tract and inflammatory bowel disease, and other chronic degenerative diseases. The veterinarians then profit from treating these diseases and from prescribing expensive special diets that would not be needed if the cats had been fed properly from the start.”
Dr. Karen Becker, What’s Wrong With the Newest Grain-Free Craze?
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Created 03/12/12; Updated 08/11/15