Ask Elizabeth: September 2010

Im very confused about feeding my cat. Feather is a healthy 14-year-old Siamese companion. Over the years Ive offered Feather a variety of products from different pet food manufacturers – everything from Tender Vittles to dry grocery store brands to fancy little pop-top cans. Whatever I scoop into her bowl, Feather will eat it.

Nevertheless, Ive become terribly concerned about her nutrition over the last few years. Inspired by the melamine toxicity problem which occurred in 2007, I decided to pay closer attention to what I feed her. Luckily, I had not fed any melamine-contaminated foods, but the news story really frightened me; I vowed to feed Feather only the best, healthiest food for the rest of her nine lives.

After a lot of research, I settled on Product X twice daily about two years ago. Feather felt great and I felt confident every time I opened a can. Imagine my shock when I read last month that the manufacturer recalled Product X due to insufficient B vitamins! Elizabeth, I was fit to be tied! My first response to the news release was to start cooking for Feather. I roasted a chicken and, of course, she loved it. But Im worried that a chicken diet wont give Feather all the nutrition that she needs. I know that cats are carnivores but will it improve her diet if I add vegetables to the roast chicken and blend it up? What about vitamins and minerals? I look forward to your opinion and advice.

You are not alone in your desire to find the best diet for your furry companion; Ive often heard my colleagues here at the Feline Health Center talk to cat owners about nutrition and diet options. Let me tell you what Ive learned from them about home cooking.

Ive heard my humans at the FHC support cat owners who decide to cook for their cats, but they always insist that owners do their homework before putting on their aprons. The FHC Consultants strongly recommend that cat owners work with their veterinarians to develop a reciple for their homemade diet. Its really absolutely impossible to make a complete and balanced home cooked cat food without using a specific list of ingredients and quantities. Your suspicion is correct: Roast chicken alone will definitely not provide adequate nutrition for Feather. We cats are unique in many ways, including special dietary requirements that set us apart from other (lesser!) carnivores. A diet that fails to give enough, or too much, of certain nutrients can cause significant health problems. I dont want to scare you, but poorly balanced diets have caused blindness, heart failure, muscle weakness and other significant health issues in cats.

There are books and online sources that offer cat food recipes; Ive asked my editor to include a few with my letter. These can be a terrific starting place for you and Feather, but its important to have your veterinarian approve the specific recipe that you plan to use. This is even more important when planning a diet for a cat with an illness or condition that calls for specific dietary therapy. In these situations, veterinarians often suggest enlisting the aid of a veterinary nutritionist to develop the cat food recipe.

Im sure that if you decide to become Feathers personal chef, youll follow a recipe developed with her species, age and medical requirements in mind and whip up some cat food in your kitchen that shell love. With a recipe, quality ingredients and attention to detail, you can be confident that the homemade diet you produce will fulfill the basic three requirements of any diet:

(1) the cat food must be safe (free of toxic materials);

(2) it must be clean (free of infections agents);

(3) it must be a complete and balanced diet.

All of this talk about nutrition has left me a bit peckish so Ill sign off here by sending along my regards for Feather. Shes a lucky Siamese to have you as her health care/nutrition advocate! Love, Elizabeth.