If you could see the menu through your cat’s eyes, do you think they want to eat the same food every day?
Many of us never think to ask. In fact, the vast majority of domestic felines eat the same food for every meal. Every day of their lives.
But how can this be a healthy – or enjoyable – nutrition plan for anyone?
Before we get into the benefits of a diverse diet for our cats, let’s address…
Common Concerns About Changing a Cat’s Diet
- My cat won’t eat it different food. Cats have developed a reputation for being finicky eaters. And it’s not entirely untrue. What’s important for us humans to realize is that the pet food industry utilizes palatants (flavor enhancers). These additives have an addictive quality for our cats – which often causes us to believe they will only eat one type (flavor or brand) of cat food. The only thing required to help break this addiction is our patience – and sometimes some trickery. And a helpful hint is to try new foods in sample or small sizes to find new brands and flavors they will eat.
- My vet said not to switch foods. This may be true – but should not be common. There are health issues like IBD/IBS that require a deliberately formulated diets. If your cat has a diagnosed health condition when you vet says that, ask what foods/proteins/brands would be beneficial for this issue. If your cat does not have a health issue, it could be that your vet has not fully evaluated the benefits of a diverse diet. Ask. Be curious if your vet says this as a general rule.
- My cat will vomit or have diarrhea. This is a big one and deserves a logical question for context. If I only ate fast food for an entire year and then decided to try fresh-pressed juices and salads, what would my body do? If you’ve ever eaten the same food – even for a week – you know the answer. This new food would be rejected (or perhaps more accurately – ejected) in unpleasant ways. Some cats will scarf down a new food – and react the same way. This doesn’t mean the new food is bad. It means your cat’s body need time to adjust to diversity. Start slowly with small amounts.
All of these points deserve an honest, thoughtful evaluation – not the total elimination of the option for a diverse diet. But why?
The Benefits Of a Diverse Diet
More and more evidence exists that supports the fact that our domestic cats benefit from variety in their diet for a number of reasons.
- Healthy Immune System. Providing a variety of proteins helps build a diverse and strong microbiome – the heart of our cat’s immune system. A healthy microbiome is also linked to improved cognitive health.
- Healthy Digestion. A diverse microbiome helps to maintain a healthy GI tract and proper digestion. Variety helps build a strong gut – which is essential for overall health and absorption of needed nutrients.
- Prevents Food Sensitivities. It’s no wonder fish, chicken, wheat and corn are the biggest culprits of food allergies. They are some of the most common ingredients used in commercial foods. Over time, the additives/ingredients in the same food can essentially start ‘attacking’ a cat’s immune system. This results in negative reactions like vomiting, inflammation, itchy skin, and digestive issues.
- Prevents Food Aversion. Cats can’t fast from food for long periods of time like humans or dogs. 24 hours is concerning. 48 hours needs a vet check . Throughout the pandemic, supply-chain issues caused many foods to remain out of stock for long periods – causing panic for many cat parents because their cat only eats that food. Pet food recalls also make certain foods disappear. Providing variety isn’t just healthy – it ensures there’s always a back-up plan that can literally be life-saving.
Some cats love trying new things. For others, change of any kind can be very difficult – so slowly introduce diversity into a cat’s diet. Different scents, textures, proteins, and brands can make meal-time one of the most enriching ‘adventures’ our cats get to enjoy.