Q. Thank you for your thorough publication. I have a question about feline nutrition and dehydrated cat foods. I recently introduced my 12-year-old Siamese cat to a raw, grain-free, freeze-dried dry cat food. He took to the food straight away but only eats the turkey/liver pieces. Do these freeze-dried pieces provide balanced nutrition? Will they dehydrate him? What are the pros and cons of freeze-dried feline food? Thanks for your consideration.
A. Thanks for getting in touch, and these are good questions for discussion. There has been much debate regarding the best foods to feed cats recently, and some of the controversies are likely made much more obvious by trends in pet-food development over the past couple of decades. Perhaps a general discussion of some of these principles would be helpful.
In choosing a cat food, we recommend you look for a package label from the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) stating that the food is nutritionally complete and balanced for the cat’s stage of life (i.e., kitten versus adult). Pet-food companies can meet AAFCO guidelines by either making sure that a food has the appropriate nutrient composition in its formula or by conducting feeding trials in cats. Generally, the latter is preferable, but either choice is fine.
To answer your question about your kitty only eating the freeze-dried turkey liver pieces and not the rest of the food, it is quite possible, if not likely, that this will not provide a nutritionally complete and balanced diet. Even if this food does have an AAFCO statement on it, this would refer to cats eating all of the food and not just some components of it. You can verify this by contacting the company that produces the food.
It is not likely that these freeze-dried pieces would dehydrate your cat provided that you provide enough fresh water and that your cat is healthy. However, cats do get a significant portion of their water intake through their diet, so regular veterinary check-ups may help in this regard (this should be provided for all cats anyway).
Your question also raises a couple of other points. The first is that the feeding of raw foods, even if it freeze-dried, may expose cats and their owners to potentially harmful pathogens such as bacteria and parasites. This issue is the subject of ongoing research, but we don’t generally recommend that owners feed raw foods for this reason.
The other issue is that there has been some concern regarding the feeding of grain-free foods to both cats and dogs, as this practice has, in some cases (rarer in cats than in dogs) been associated with the development of heart muscle problems (called cardiomyopathy).
This issue has been significant enough that the FDA released a statement of caution about it, and this is also the subject of ongoing research. For this reason, out of an abundance of caution, we do not recommend the feeding of grain-free diets to cats. This position may change as we learn more, but we feel that it is best to be safe until we have a better understanding of this phenomenon.
I hope that this is helpful, and that this note finds you well. Please send us an update when you can.