Here at Sunfox, we take great care in choosing what to feed our cats and kittens. We firmly believe that feeding the highest quality diets now, even though they may cost more, lead to fewer vet bills down the road! So for those who may balk at the cost of foods we recommend, remember you can spend your money now on quality food, or later on veterinary care for your cat. Good health and long life of our kitties is our ultimate goal. And you don't have to just take our word for it - here's an article that probably explains these principles much better than I can, written by a veterinarian. Please especially note the links to other articles at the bottom of that page!
Cats are carnivores. Period. They cannot have a vegetarian diet and survive, nor are they omnivorous like dogs and people. They need meat and the amino acids and enzymes it provides to stay healthy. The healthiest possible diet for a cat is one which mimics its natural diet in the wild - mice (bones, skin and all), occasional insects, small birds. I'm not suggesting you feed your cats mice, but you can try to get as close to a natural diet as possible.
My kittens are raised on a combination of premium quality dry foods, premium commercial canned kitten foods and homemade raw cat food. Below are recommendations for each.
1.Homemade raw cat food. There are many recipes available. The good ones will contain meat and bones, a small amount of vegetables, and no grains. I also add some vitamins and minerals. Some of my cats prefer this; some won't go near it. The kittens all eat it with gusto when they are small. Here is a link to a page that talks about recipes. Because I feed a combination of homemade and canned foods, the raw food I feed is mostly chunks of organic chicken or turkey, along with a calcium supplement to balance the calcium and phosphorous to proper levels for cats by Merritt Nutritionals. I also occasionally feed ground meat and bone. I don't add vegetables because they get those in their canned food. As for using grocery store bought meat instead of the organic meat - well, the cats know the difference and much prefer the organic.
Something I have recently starting using is freeze dried raw food. While even more expensive than raw food, it is very convenient for traveling, and my cats love it. There are 2 different brands they like - Stella & Chewy's beef and chicken, and O'Paws (made by Oma's Pride, packager of raw meat and mixes for cats and dogs). They particularly like the freeze dried rabbit and ground bone, or the venison.
2.Commercial cat foods. One of the problems with commercial foods is that some are denatured - they are treated with kerosene, charcoal and other disgusting stuff to make them unfit for human consumption. Ever open a can of pet food and get a whiff of petroleum-like odor? It has been denatured. I try to find foods that are not denatured. UPDATE 2008: It seems fewer and fewer foods are being denatured, which is very good news!
Another problem is that all kinds of junk can legally be put in pet foods, including carcasses of diseased animals and euthanized pets. Gross, isn't it? These are listed on the label as "by-products". By far the worst label you can find says "meat by-products" - what kind of meat? This is when it gets really scary. When a label says "chicken by-products", it usually means parts like feet, beaks, feathers - not really desirable, but not really harmful either. Other things - such as rendered dead dogs and cats - can legally be added to pet food. So by all means avoid anything that says "meat by-products" because you have no idea what you might be getting. THESE LABEL DESIGNATIONS ARE ON BOTH CANNED AND DRY FOODS. Avoid anything with meat by-products.
Remember the pet food recall of 2007? Manufacturers were trying to artificially increase the protein content of their foods by adding a chemical which was actually toxic to animals! I know several people who lost pets to sudden kidney failure because of these foods.
I look for foods that are "natural", but even that has its problems. There are no guidelines about the use of the word "natural" in pet foods, and it doesn't mean the food is using human grade ingredients or is not being denatured.
Look at the label - the first ingredient should be a type of meat - chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, etc. Some foods include vegetables - these aren't really a big part of a wild cats diet (how many veggies, seeds and grains could actually be in a mouse's stomach?). However, they can provide some fiber to the diet. It's debatable whether cats, as carnivores, can derive any nutritional value at all from veggies, but most veggies or fruits used in cat foods won't hurt cats. Some foods also include rice or wheat. The rice, again, is for fiber, and to fill up the cat so it doesn't have to eat as much. Unfortunately, grains are pure carbohydrate, and turn to sugar in the body. (For more information on carbs and cat health, see this article.) Wheat is used to make a gravy, so the food looks more palatable to humans, so then we will think our cats will like it, too. Since canned food is cooked in the can, no preservatives are necessary - the can is the preservative. And in dry foods, frequently the first ingredient (or a very prominent one) is corn. Often the corn used in dry foods is of very poor quality and can lead to digestive and allergy problems. I recommend dry foods with rice or oatmeal instead - or preferably, no dry foods at all, since they are merely a convenience for us humans.
One food I recommend is Wellness, by a company called Neura. Yes, it's rather expensive, but the ingredients are all human grade, and the cats like it. This is the food I recommend above all other commercial foods.
Other things I try to avoid are foods with tuna. Tuna is addictive, some cats will get to the point where they don't want to eat anything else! Tuna has an ingredient that interferes with the vitamin E in a cat's body, and the cat can become very ill. Salmon is another thing to watch for - it's not bad in itself, but many manufacturers put artificial colorings in the food to give them a red color, and these aren't good. Salmon oil has essential fatty acids that are very good for cats, so if you want to feed salmon make sure the manufacturer hasn't added a bunch of dye to make the food look more natural.
3.Brands of canned foods I use:
Authority (Petsmart's brand) Innova Evo
ExcelEagle Pack Holistic
Nutro Max Gourmet
(Avoderm in the big cans is very soft and has a high water content. This is good for kittens, but also for cats you are trying to coax to eat something. And the cats really like them. They are appropriate for any cat.)
NOTE AS OF 2007: Some of these foods or certain products of 2these brands may have been on the Pet food recall list. Please check the list before feeding ANY pet food, and feed only foods that have NOT been recalled.
Feeding your Somali
As a breeder and cat rescuer, I used to provide my new pet owners with a notebook that includes articles on various topics, along with other information the owners may find helpful over the years. Since most of the folks who have my Somalis or rescued cats also have access to the internet, I moved all the information here, so that it can be updated whenever necessary. These "care and feeding" pages contained the text and links to the articles in the notebook, along with additional links on the various topics. I hope you will find this helpful, whether you have a Somali or any other domestic cat. See the links above for the various topics.
4.Dry foods. Dry foods have some of the same problems as canned - denaturing, by-products, etc. In addition there are a couple of other problems with dry foods.
First, dry foods are dry. They are made up mostly of cereal, not meat. Cereal and grains really have very little nutritional value to a carnivore. Dry foods are heavy in carbohydrates, which turn to sugar in the body. Cats are basically desert animals - they have evolved to get most of their water needs from their prey. Obviously there is not much water in dry food, so cats have to drink water to compensate. Some cats don't drink enough water and can have urinary tract problems. One new dry food that contains no cereal or grain is Innova Evo. It's an excellent food, but many cats get diarrhea when they are switched - they need to eat it for 2-3 weeks and the soft stools will go away.
Quality of ingredients. In addition to all the concerns listed for canned foods, there are some additional concerns. The vast majority of dry foods use corn as the grain/starch to bind the ingredients together into cute little nuggets. Other than being a starchy veggie, corn in itself isn't harmful. I've used it in homemade food without problem. However, the quality of the corn used in most dry foods is quite low. Of course, higher quality ingredients cost more, and the company would have to charge you more, so they use a poor quality of corn for their product. I'm sure the same is true of rice, but I have not personally had problems with food with rice in them. I do have a domestic shorthair cat who throws up violently if she eats foods with corn or wheat. The vets thought her problem was the protein itself, that she was allergic to beef or chicken or whatever, and had her on lamb or venison. I can feed her raw or cooked beef, chicken, or most other meats with no problem. She can even eat the better canned quality foods containing these proteins, and canned foods with rice. However, she can't eat any commercial foods containing corn or wheat. So I avoid those for all the cats.
Another problem with many dry foods is that, by themselves, they are not very interesting to a cat. They smell like cereal!!! So the pet food companies spray them with processed fats to make them smell and taste better. Unfortunately, these fats can go rancid and spoil the foods. So, they add chemical preservatives - even some that have been banned for human consumption, like ethoxyquin. Yuck.
Finally, many people will free feed dry food - leave it out all day and night for their pet. Cats have evolved to eat one to three small meals a day, and sometimes even go without food for a day or two, depending on what they can catch. So their digestive systems have a chance to rest in between meals. However, a cat that nibbles all day long doesn't give his system a chance to rest. Digestive enzymes and acids are continually produced. Eventually, digestive problems can occur. Not to mention that free-feeding dry foods is often the cause of obesity in cats, a very dangerous condition.
I do free feed my kittens. Kittens, like babies, need many small meals throughout the day. Moms, too, whether pregnant or nursing, get to have as much as they want. However, I use dry food with adults only as a supplement or a snack, not as the main ingredient.
Finally, I have had some serious skin allergy problems with some foods that use corn - I used to use Iams Hairball formula, as some cats with digestive issues needed the extra fiber. But it made other cats itch. In addition, I no longer use any Royal Canin, as it causes skin allergies in some of my cats, and in fact other Somali and Abyssinian owners have had similar problems. Still, I know others who still use it with no problems.
5.Dry foods for kittens:
Wellness kitten.Innova EVO (no grains)
Innova EVO (NO grains)
Wellness Indoor - high in fiber for those that need it
The EVO can be too rich for some cats, and cause continued diarrhea. At this point I am only using it with kittens, and mixing it with the Wellness kitten.
I also tend to mix these foods together, usually trying to match expiration dates so one doesn't start to spoil before the other. This is kind of "hedging your bets", because if one food isn't completely balanced in itself, all together I think they balance each other out. This also gives the cats some variety. Wouldn't you just hate to eat the same food day after day after day?
6.Treats. I use dry food for treats sometimes. I also use cooked chicken - Louis Rich grilled chicken strips mostly. Sometimes the cats will get a treat specifically for their teeth, or "Pounce" hairball treats. Just remember that treats - even the chicken - are not nutritionally complete and should be limited. Meat flavored baby food can also be a tasty treat - especially when you need to give medication.
Some people are adamant about not giving their cats table scraps. I disagree. While I don't normally feed dairy products
(cats are lactose intolerant), if I'm eating macaroni and cheese, the cats get to lick the plate when I'm done. I don't recommend feeding them from the table - you don't want a cat in your guest's lap at dinner time! And it's not terribly sanitary to have cats walking on your table, although they may do it anyway. A little taste of human food isn't going to hurt your cat once in a while. Do check out the section on Household Hazards for human foods that can be toxic to cats (chocolate, for example). Remember that if you feed scraps while you are eating, your cat will likely become an obnoxious brat at dinnertime! So wait until you are done, and give the scraps in their regular food dish or their feeding spot.
7.Obesity. This is a dangerous condition that can sneak up on a pet owner - and pet! Unfortunately, once a pet is overweight it takes a long time and lots of patience to reduce his weight. Never put a cat on a crash diet - if a cat doesn't eat for a few days, he can develop hepatic lipidosis, a serious and deadly disease of the liver needing immediate treatment. If you decide to put your cat on a diet, watch very closely and see what he eats. He may not like his new food, and make himself sick by not eating. Better to take things slowly.
8.Changes in diet. Anytime you want to make changes in your cat's life, but especially diet changes, make them slowly. If you find a new food you would like to try feeding, don't make a sudden switch. Sudden dietary changes can cause diarrhea and upset tummies. Mix the old food in with the new, and gradually (over several days or even weeks) reduce the amount of old food until only the new is left. Since cats don't like change, this is the easiest way to get them to accept a new food and not go on a hunger strike.
9.Water. ALWAYS have plenty of fresh, clean water available. Your cat is unlikely to drink it after he has dropped his food into it, or his tail has dipped in it and left cat hair floating on the top. I change the water at least twice a day, more if necessary.