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As our waistlines have expanded, so have those of our pets. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s ninth annual clinical survey (2016) reports that nearly 54 percent of dogs and 59 percent of cats were clinically overweight or obese in the US. To put some numbers on that, they reckon that equals an estimated 41.9 million dogs and 50.5 million cats (based on 2016 pet population projections provided by the American Pet Products Association). Being overweight puts puss and puppy at an increased risk for weight-related disorders such as type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension and many cancers.

Portly puss

A recent Swedish cross-sectional study using data from medical records for cats visiting an academic medical centre and from a questionnaire on insured cats found that the factors associated with increased risk of puss being obese were: “Eating predominantly dry food, being a greedy eater, and inactivity”.

What’s the ideal weight for a cat? The Cat Bible author and Radio Pet Lady, Tracie Hotchner, says “it is hard to judge since cats come in so many shapes and sizes. However, if your cat has a belly that hangs down and swings when she walks, you need to make some plans to reduce her weight. Oftentimes this will simply mean removing all dry food and feeding canned or raw instead, which research shows is the best diet for every cat.”

Dry food is not appropriate for domestic cats she says. “Numerous veterinarians who share my dismay over the widespread use of dry food are concerned about a cat’s digestive system being challenged to process foods it is not designed to eat. Cats are not ‘little dogs’ yet a dry food developed for canines was then manipulated to give to cats.” Hotchner views dry food for cats as an addictive harmful source of nutrition which she calls ‘kitty crack’ as she believes it encourages felines to consume carbohydrate-heavy plant-based food sources which their body is not designed to digest and metabolize. Keep in mind the wild ancestors of puss snoozing on the sofa were obligate carnivores and their diet was essentially the small animals they hunted. Despite appearances, the domestic cat still closely resembles its wild ancestor.

Who thought of dried food for cats and dogs? And when? It has a fascinating past as GI News editor Philippa Sandall discovered researching Seafurrers, her book on ships’ cats. The story goes that in the late 1850s, an Ohio electrician named James Spratt journeyed to London to sell lightning rods. He noticed dogs hanging around the docks at Portsmouth tucking into scraps of hardtack (ship’s biscuit) and had a eureka moment. He patented a similar biscuit for dogs (they can digest carbohydrate-based foods) and the rest is history. Spratt’s Patent Meal Fibrine Dog Cakes were a baked mixture of wheat, beet root, and vegetables bound together with beef blood. Dried food (kibble) for cats followed.

To whet your appetite, here’s a World War 2 “dry food incident” reported by a 17-year-old Massachusetts seaman who saved the ship’s cat after they were torpedoed. “We were in the lifeboat seven and a half days with not much to eat besides hardtack,” he said. “The cat didn’t like hardtack and wouldn’t eat a bite until some flying fish landed in the boat. Before we got to shore, though, she ate hardtack and liked it.” It’s likely the lifeboat lad improvised a grainy seafood salad to tempt puss’s taste buds (and his own) by tossing crumbled hardtack with flying fish flakes moistened with a little water and puss focussed her attention on the fishy bits surmises Seafurrers author Philippa Sandall.

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