Should Cats Eat Grain Free Food?

With the large number of people having grain sensitivities, it is no wonder that people wonder if their dog or cat would benefit from a grain free diet. Many pets may benefit from a different diet than the one they are currently on, but does that mean that it needs to be grain free?

Contrary to popular opinion, most cats do not need to be on a grain free diet. Doing so even has the potential to be harmful.

Diets Including Grain Free Foods

Cat foods come in a variety of different types, with some being prescription and others being non prescription. Of these, grain free diets are largely non prescription foods which is where the problem may rest. The companies that make these foods may not be putting all of the science into their diet that a company with a prescription food is generally going to putting into it.

A major factor in your cat’s diet is what kind of protein source the food is made of. Many foods contain chicken or fish and this is often the deciding factor in whether your cat can tolerate it or not. Some kitties need to have a special food, such as a hydrolyzed diet, where the protein content is broken down into smaller pieces than the protein normally exists in.

Different brands do make grain free cat foods. These utilize carbohydrate sources other than grains, such as using peas or potatoes instead of corn or wheat. While these foods may be fine to feed, some cases of heart disease have developed in cats being fed a grain free food, so make sure to discuss the diet option with your veterinarian.

How to Know if Your Cat Needs a Special Diet

There are a few different signs you may take note of that indicate your cat may need a special diet. A dull or dry coat and flaky skin may indicate that a problem is present in your kitty’s diet. Changing to a food higher in fatty acids may benefit your cat.

Another sign of your cat needing a special diet is vomiting or diarrhea. Some cases may be attributed to hairballs, but others may be because your cat is unable to properly digest their food. Some diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, make it harder to digest normal pet foods.

If your cat is overweight, it might be time to look at changing his or her cat food. A mildly overweight cat will generally benefit from a non prescription pet food that provides all of the essential nutrients they need without all of the calories. Obese cats or ones that have trouble losing the extra weight may need to be placed on a prescription weight loss diet. Just because a food is grain free does not mean that it will be lower in calories than another cat food.

Discussing Diet Options With Your Vet

Anytime you are concerned about something with your cat, you should discuss it with your veterinarian. Your cat’s food is no exception. Make sure to discuss options with your veterinarian. Some foods may market themselves well and seem like a good idea, like some of the vegetarian or grain free diets. Unfortunately, that does not mean that your cat is going to be able to digest the food.

Your veterinarian can make diet recommendations based upon your cat’s age and lifestyle. A kitty that plays constantly is going to burn more calories than one who sits in the window all day and their foods will need to reflect that activity difference.

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What to Look For in Your Cat’s Diet

The most important thing to check in your cat’s diet is that you are feeding a “complete and balanced” diet. This is a designation by AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, who indicate if food meets feeding qualifications for a specific life stage or if it has to be fed as part of a complete and balanced diet.

The protein source you give your cat is also important. Cats are obligate carnivores, so feeding foods that are lower in protein may not support normal body functions. Likewise, vegetarian diets tend to be a poor fit for cats due to their protein needs.

Especially if your cat is overweight, you will want to watch the amount of carbohydrates that you are feeding. Dry foods are often higher in carbs than canned foods because of the process needed to make dry foods. Discuss with your veterinarian whether a canned food diet might be beneficial for your cat.

The type of carbohydrate source can be important for some cats. Just like people, some cats are sensitive to grains that come from sources like wheat and corn. In these cases, grain free diets may be necessary for your cat.

How to Transition a Cat’s Diet

Transitioning your cat’s diet needs to be a gradual process that takes place over the course of 10 to 14 days. You will start by offering small amounts of the new food mixed with the old food that they have been eating. Normal recommendations involve giving around a quarter of the diet as the new food, while feeding three quarters of the mix as the old food. You will slowly shift this ratio until you are feeding just the new food.

When you transition your kitty’s diet, it is important to monitor for changes in their behavior, energy and bowel movements. If your cat develops diarrhea, you should stop giving your cat the new food and potentially discuss it with your veterinarian. Also make sure that you are not mixing up the canned foods you are offering at the same time, which also has the potential to upset your kitty’s tummy.

In Summary

Most cats do not need to be on a grain free diet, but some would definitely benefit from it. It is important to discuss these concerns with your veterinarian so that they can help you determine the best cat food for your kitty. More pressing concerns for your cat are often issues such as your kitty’s weight, where a weight management formulation may be important to select.