Like humans, cats are increasingly sick: overweight, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer… So whose fault is it? Is this a power issue or is it something else?

To know if we are giving our cats good food, and to know how to give them the best food, it is simple, it is enough to know the evolution of the cat over time and to compare the nutritional characteristics that allow the cat to survive without the help of man those we offer him when he lives with us.

But where do cats come from?

The domestic cat ( felis silvestris catus ) is a carnivorous mammal of the felidae family, small in size and generally hairy (the cat of the “Sphynx” breed is a hairless mutant). It is, with the dog, the most widespread and popular pet, maintaining a special relationship with humans since its domestication over 8000 years ago.

Felids are carnivorous animals, which appeared on Earth at least 25 million years ago. We find in this family the Lion, the Tiger, the Panther or the Jaguar. It’s unclear exactly what level Akuma is at, as the photo below shows:

scottish fold cat disguised as a lion
My cat with a lion wig 🙂

The fact that felids are carnivorous is a perfectly accepted scientific notion which does not suffer from any controversy (it is a little different for the dog) This is explained by marked morphological characteristics which leave no room for discussion. First of all, the jaw and the dentition, which you can touch with your fingers, are characteristic: there are four long canines used for killing during hunting. Their size is modest in cats, but some felines have canines that can reach more than 15 centimeters. The incisors (small front teeth) are used to pull hair or feathers and meat from bones. More at the bottom of the jaw we find the molars which are not very developed because the felines chew little, they tear. This aspect is confirmed by the sharpness of two particular molars called “carnivorous”. The name is pretty self-explanatory!

In the digestive tract, we see in felids a very short digestive tract. A long digestive tract would indeed be a major disadvantage for survival with a very significant increase in the risk of death from food bacterial contamination (with a short digestive system and therefore rapid transit, felines avoid food poisoning by eating raw meat. )

The common characteristics between the different felines are evidence of a close biological evolution. Indeed, cats, like all carnivorous mammals, descend from a common ancestor who evolved from miacids, small forest predators that lived 66 to 33 million years ago. About 30 million years ago the miacids gave birth to proailurus which are considered to be the first “real cats”. Information on the latter is nevertheless fragmentary: the tropical environments in which they evolved do not offer good conservation of fossils, they make it difficult to understand and document their way of life.

Differences between domestic cat and wild cat?

The very first paleontological discoveries show the existence of foci of domestication of the cat in Egypt more than 2000 years before our era. However, archaeological studies dating back to 2004 have uncovered a 7500 BC old tomb on the island of Cyprus in which human remains were found alongside those of a cat. However, the cat is not a native of the Cypriot island. Its presence is due to human action which voluntarily installed it on site. This indicates that the domestication of the cat began between 8,000 and 10,000 BC in the Fertile Crescent (Israel and neighboring countries).

This date coincides with the establishment and development of agriculture. The most likely theory is that with the advent of crops, man must have stored the resources he had cultivated. However, these were the target of pests such as rats and mice, of which the cat is the natural predator. The latter were then gradually “tolerated” near human camps in order to protect the harvests. The result is a progressive domestication of the cat which has gradually diverged from the wild cat via natural selection: the most sociable cats have thus found themselves with a substantial advantage in terms of survival because it is easy to imagine that the humans with whom they lived began to feed them regularly. This particular relationship with the cat also explains the differences in behavior between the cat and the dog. The cat remains a much more independent animal as it always has been.

The first domestic cats were therefore strict carnivores, just like the wild cats we talked about above. Without meat, they could not hope to survive or prosper. But what about today?

The domestic cat: a pure human creation

But what about our domestic cats today? After all, isn’t it possible that their food needs have evolved over the past 10,000 years, especially with the drastic life change they experienced then from wild life to domestication? What information can modern science give us?

Genetic analyzes have shown that the DNA of modern domestic cats is similar to that of the African wild cat ( Felis silvestris lybica). As proof, despite the genetic changes brought about by domestication, domestic cats can still reproduce with the African wild cat. Hybridizations are also carried out by men for aesthetic purposes to give pet cats a more exotic appearance. These hybridizations gave birth to the breeds of cats that we know today. Akuma, for example, is a Scottish Fold, he has a mutant recessive gene that gives him small, folded ears. Like many breeds, the Scottish is sometimes the victim of serious diseases, because of hybridizations which impoverish the genome of the cat. In the case of the Scottish, some of them develop serious bone disease which often results in death.

julien venesson's cat
My cat is a scottish fold, which I picked up when he was going to be abandoned by his former owner

This depletion of the genome also takes place through the cat’s new lifestyle: less and less independent, it spends more and more time indoors and some cats are even exclusively apartment cats. Concretely, these cats have lost over time their extraordinary natural orientation abilities. So if we take them outside, they never get very far. Their character is also less reckless.

Some veterinarians believe that the domestication of the cat resulted in a change in the size of its digestive tract, which would have become longer, allowing it to have a diet distinct from that of the wild cat. To date, there is no scientific proof of such a modification. If such a mutation were in the works, it would only be in its infancy because it takes several tens or even hundreds of thousands of years of mutations for a digestive system to undergo profound changes during evolution, all at least if we judge by our knowledge of other living beings.

Our feline companions therefore share many physical and physiological characteristics with the African wild cat: the two species have similar nutritional needs.

How does the wild cat eat?

Felis silvestris lybica still exists in the wild. It is found in the savannas and deserts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is a solitary nocturnal hunter who feeds mainly on small mammals. When the opportunity arises, it also eats fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians (frogs…) as well as insects. The African wild cat therefore has a diet very rich in protein through lean meats. Eating its prey as a whole, it also has interesting contributions of vitamins A, B (B2, B6, B9 and B12) and mineral salts (iron) from offal as well as calcium and phosphorus via the bones that ‘it is brought to lick, chew and swallow when they are small.

We also note, in the wild cat as domestic, that it regularly swallows small quantities of plants such as grass or leaves. Two hypotheses explain this behavior: on the one hand, plant fibers accelerate transit, which is an advantage for a carnivorous animal as we have seen above; and on the other hand, the fibers would also make it possible to catch the hair present in the digestive tract, which the cat accumulates when it washes itself while licking itself, an activity in which it spends a lot of its time.

How to feed your domestic cat?

What are the “animal by-products” of dry cat food?

Have you taken a look at the composition of the kibble you feed your cat? If you buy them in the supermarket, the composition is always more or less noticeably the same. Here I take the composition of the Purina One Adult chicken nuggets, which enjoy a good reputation: Chicken flour 26% min. – Whole corn – Whole wheat – Corn gluten – Chicken by-products – Rice 4% min. – Animal fat – Soy flour – Egg powder – Malt flour (3).

The other ingredients are additives: various vitamins, trace elements.

The first point that calls out is: what are chicken meal and chicken by-products, also often called “chicken by-products”? Why not just say “chicken” or “chicken meat”?

It is the European Commission which gives us the answer. Indeed, here is what are the animal co-products or by-products, according to the European law to which the manufacturers comply: ”  Animal by-products are the parts not directly consumed by the human being of slaughtered animals. ; they also include animals that die on farms and kitchen and table waste (i.e. food waste from restaurants, catering establishments and kitchens) that contain meat products, cooked or raw, or have been in contact with these.  “(4)

Clearly, animal by-products are the remains of food waste that it is impossible to reuse normally. They include meats from animals that are too young (including fetuses), meats with various lesions such as parasitic lesions, expired meats, meats that have been subjected to chemical or biological pollution or even meats from sick animals.

The problem is that these animal by-products are very toxic (bacteria, etc.). Therefore, the solution used by manufacturers consists in cooking these meat residues at very high temperature in order to kill the harmful agents. We end up with a very cooked product, without bacteria, but still rich in chemical pollution and poor in proteins (there is very little muscle meat left since it is waste). To top it off, cooking at high temperature will generate carcinogenic substances, exactly the same as those produced during a barbecue or over-cooking in our kitchen. Have you ever seen a wild cat cook its meat?

80% sugars for a carnivore

Commercial kibbles are therefore ultimately very low in animal proteins which nevertheless constitute the basis of the cat’s diet. Aware of the problem, manufacturers add vegetable proteins to their kibbles, because these proteins cost even less. This is what you can see under the names “corn gluten”, “wheat gluten”, “soy flour”, etc.

In the end, we end up with products that contain only 4 to 20% of protein , a major part of which is of poor quality (animal by-products) and another part is biologically unsuitable (the cat has never been adapted to eat. vegetable protein because it is not vegetarian).

The rest of the composition is even more incredible: 70-80% of the product is represented by cereals: corn, wheat, rice. Immediate consequence: the croquettes bring significant amounts of carbohydrates which are an aberration for a cat. Concretely, we can compare this cat’s diet to that of humans: it’s exactly as if you were eating fast food (Mac Donald type) every day, all year round. Your pancreas goes out of order, you are hungry all the time (most domestic cats are bulimic), you gain weight, you become diabetic, and high blood sugar levels attack your kidneys (this diet explains more than 90% of kidney problems in domestic cats). To top it off, these high blood sugar levels accelerate the growth of cancerous tumors:in the event of cancer , your chances of survival are greatly reduced.

  • The problem of cereal intake is not just about massive carbohydrate intake. This also causes two other problems:
    As the croquettes are cooked at high temperature, the starch in the cereals is denatured and turns into pure sugar, very quickly absorbed, which further worsens the effects on the body. For more information on this concept see “glycemic index” on google).
  • We know that the consumption of cereals and more particularly of gluten, is associated with various diseases in some human beings , due to a still partial adaptation to these foods, introduced too recently in our evolution. This is even worse in cats, which are initially a pure carnivore.The intake of cereals and gluten therefore weakens the intestines of animals, increases their risk of autoimmune diseases, infections, etc.

All these issues are found in all supermarket croquettes: Whiskas, Friskies, Ultima, Auchan , etc. And also in foods in “fresh” form: boxes, trays, etc.

So, should we turn to the kibble offered by veterinarians or products from pet stores, a little more expensive?

Should you buy kibble from veterinarians or pet stores?

With conventional food, the majority of cats develop health problems. There are the major diseases of course: cancer, overweight, kidney problems; but there are also the small daily ailments: repeated ear infections, itching on the body, etc. This is a reaction of food intolerance, rather normal.

Aware of the problem, many veterinarians or specialty stores offer “hypoallergenic” or “special” kibble for sensitive cats or even just “normal” kibble which are supposed to be of better quality (and we are tempted to believe this being given the much higher price compared to products sold in supermarkets).

Here is the composition of a typical product. This is a Royal Canin product for “young male cats”: Dehydrated poultry meat, rice, corn, corn gluten, vegetable fibers, poultry proteins, wheat gluten , animal protein hydrolyzate, beet pulp , animal fats, mineral salts , fish oil , DL-methionine, Fructo-Oligo-Saccharides (FOS), soybean oil, sodium polyphosphate, egg powder, taurine , Indian rose extract (rich in lutein) , L-carnitine .

We immediately see the absence of animal by-products, which is good news. Unfortunately, there is also always a massive presence of cereals rich in carbohydrates. Thus, in the vast majority of cases, overweight problems go unresolved, neither kidney problems and food intolerances often come back as quickly as they left.

We could also expand to talk about what are the “animal fats” mentioned without further details, beet pulp or sodium polyphosphate but these elements are drops of water in the ocean of the problems already mentioned up to ‘here… Likewise, today there are dozens of variations of dry food: for kittens, for long-haired, short-haired cats, sterilized cats, overweight cats, etc. This is only a marketing blunder, the compositions of the products being almost always identical. In no case does the wild cat adopt a different diet according to its age, the size of its hair or another criterion! On the other hand, the commercial interest is real:

So how do you feed your cat to ensure good and long health?

BARF feeding mode

The BARF diet (acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food which can be translated as Raw Food and Physiologically Appropriate ) aims to respect the natural needs of domestic animals.

It is opposed to the industrial mode of feeding by giving the animal raw meat, offal and so-called fleshy bones (that is to say surrounded by meat). It tries to reconstitute as faithfully as possible an entire prey such as a cat might eat in the wild. In all cases, the animal should be given between 5 and 10% offal, between 10 and 15% edible bone and 80 to 85% muscle. Raw bones maintain good oral health in animals. The idea is simple to set up: it is necessary to apply to give to your animal the most natural food possible while avoiding all products transformed by the hand of the man.

The ideal is to give in addition access to catnip (in an apartment) or to the lawn (in a house with a garden).

This food method is excellent for the health of the cat. A cat who switches from a conventional diet to this generally sees all or some of its problems disappear, including overweight; but it also has disadvantages:

  • You have to be vigilant about the freshness of the meat to avoid bacteriological risks (e. Coli, salmonellosis, etc.)
  • It is relatively expensive
  • He still asks for time that not everyone has because of work, children, etc.

A first alternative already consists in giving cooked meats or offal. This facilitates supply and hygiene issues. Of course, the meat must not be cooked on the barbecue, one of the most harmful types of cooking! In addition, the bones should never be given cooked but always raw. Indeed, if the animal swallows a cooked bone, it can break in the digestive tract and the sharp ends can puncture it. Obviously, a cat is only given tiny bones, but the cat will rarely be good enough to swallow a cow bone all at once.

This is ideal, but sometimes the BARF type or partially cooked diet is too complicated or impossible. As far as I am concerned, I have 4 cats, 2 dogs, a child and a job that occupies me much more than 35 hours, so it is very complicated to set up a BARF type diet. Fortunately, there are still alternatives when it comes to kibble.

My advice for croquettes

There are a few brands that are a little more concerned with animal health than the big names we’ve been talking about here. These companies obviously do not have a storefront and you will never find their products in pet stores where the products on display are above all the result of upstream work carried out by the trade commissioners.

Thus, there are several brands on the internet that sell dry cat food without cereals or animal products. Their problem is mainly related to their potato content, a food that has only been consumed by humans for a few thousand years (and therefore for even less time by cats) and which contains substances harmful to the body. intestinal health , in addition to being too rich in too quickly digested carbohydrates.

This category includes the brands “ Taste of the Wild ”, “ Purizon ” or “ Nutrivet ”.

Finally, I know of only a few brands that have done away with both grains, animal by-products, and potatoes. For a long time, I took kibbles from the “ Orijen ” brand .

Here is the typical composition of their product “6 fish for cats”: whole fresh salmon (14%), whole fresh herring (12%), dehydrated salmon (12%), dehydrated herring (12%), dehydrated hake (12%) , fresh whole flounder (3%), fresh pike-perch without bones (3%), fresh pike without bones (3%), fresh freshwater whitefish without bones (3%), salmon oil (3%), herring (3%), chickpeas, red lentils, green lentils, peas, pea fibers, rapeseed oil, sun-ripened alfalfa, yam, pumpkin, butternut squash, spinach leaves, carrots, red delicious apples, Bartlett pear, cranberries, wrack, licorice roots, angelica roots, fennel, marigolds, sweet fennel, peppermint leaves, chamomile, dandelion, savory, rosemary (8).

We note the presence of legumes but in tiny quantities. This is a way to naturally increase fiber intake.

Today my choice is more towards Yarrah Bio cereal-free croquettes. Here is the composition of the chicken product: dehydrated chicken from organic farming (26%), peas, yellow peas, tapioca , chicken fat , sunflower seed pods , dehydrated wild herring from MSC certified sustainable fishing (4 %), minerals, brewer’s yeast, dehydrated algae, dehydrated nettles *. To this are added the classic additives (vitamins, taurine, etc.). I particularly liked the fact that the fish came from sustainable fishing as it is the highest standard for marine biodiversity to date.

Good health to our four-legged friends!

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