After our look last time at vegetarianism in pets, this time we’re going to the other extreme—the high-protein, low-carb, so-called “Catkins” diet (a little wordplay on the low-carb Atkins diet for people). This is a far more prevalent trend in pet diets, and one that I’m glad to see—with a few reservations!
Looking at wild carnivores, it’s clear that what they mostly eat is other animals. Large canids like wolves, and often coyotes, hunt in packs and can dine on big game animals like deer, elk, or moose, while foxes scale it down. All big cats but lions are solitary hunters, and their prey are also proportional in size, although even a domestic cat is quite capable of bringing home an adult rabbit.
The carnivore’s diet has a few things in common across the spectrum of possible prey, which represents a sort of “ideal” we should be shooting for in feeding our pets. • High protein (50% or more) • High moisture (60-75%) • High fat (30-40%) • Low carbohydrate (less than 10%)
A rat, for instance, has about 55% protein, 38% fat, 9% carbohydrate, and 64% moisture (calculated on a dry matter basis). The “dry matter basis” is the only valid comparison of pet foods, particularly between dry and canned foods. The water is calculated out by subtracting the moisture percentage on the label from 100%, leaving total dry matter. Then you divide the ingredient of interest, for instance protein, by the total dry matter.
This sounds complicated, but if even a math moron like me can do it, you can too! (Hint: your cell phone probably has a built-in calculator!) It’s essential to master this concept in order to accurately compare pet foods. For example, a dry food containing 30% protein and 10% moisture contains 30/90 or 33% protein, while a canned food containing 10% protein and 78% water actually contains 45% protein. So even though the canned food label claims a lot less protein, it really contains much more than dry food.
Many canned foods, especially kitten and cat foods but also many dog foods, already fit our “high-protein” qualification and also contain 10% or less carbohydrates. (You can get a ballpark estimate of carbs by subtracting the other labeled ingredients, including moisture, protein, and fat, from 100%.)
There are quite a few “low-carb” or “grain-free” dry pet foods as well. Remember that “grain free” does not necessarily equal “low carb.” In most grain-free dry foods, cereal grains like corn and rice have been replaced by white potatoes, green peas, carrots, or other starchy vegetables, or by dairy products such as cottage cheese.
Now, there’s no doubt that grains are problematic for dogs and cats; corn-based dry foods in particular are much to blame for the current pet obesity epidemic. Getting away from grain-based foods is a great choice for many pets. It’s been proven many times over that the best and safest way to help a cat lose weight in by putting them on an all-wet, low-carb “Catkins” diet (which could be canned, raw, or homemade). Studies show that dogs lose fat and maintain lean muscle better on the same type of “Catkins” diet, but “Dogkins” just isn’t a very catchy title!
However, you still have to read labels and assess ingredients to make sure you’re getting just what you want in a pet food. Shoot for around 45% protein in a dry cat food, and at least 35% in a dry dog food (on a dry matter basis).
Be aware that high protein dry foods tend to be higher in fat as well, and should not be fed free choice (available 24/7). It is definitely best to feed these foods in timed meals, and make sure you do a gradual transition from the current diet (see previous posts on Switching Foods) to minimize tummy upset. Unlimited consumption of these foods will often result in weight gain, so don’t overfeed! Many of these foods now come in a “reduced calorie” formula, but it’s a lot easier to prevent weight gain in the first place!
High protein dry cat foods are also very dehydrating, and ideally should not be the sole diet. Do feed your cat at least 50% canned food for that important kidney-protecting moisture. While dogs will drink more to make up for the dehydrating effects of these diets, cats will not.
Several manufacturers have also come out with “100% meat” canned diets. Most (but not all) of them are not balanced with minerals and vitamins, and are intended for occasional use only—not as a sole diet for your pet. They are suitable as a basis for a homemade diet.
Here are just a few examples of the many excellent low-carb products you can find at Only Natural Pet Store:
Frozen Raw and Non-Frozen Raw meat-based diets are usually high in protein and moisture, and low in carbs. Many cats and dogs do very well on these diets, but if you want to try raw food, make the switch slowly, and be very cautious if your pet has pre-existing medical conditions affecting the digestive tract and discuss it with your vet first.
When used correctly, low-carb diets work extremely well for weight loss in both dogs and cats. They help maintain healthy skin and coat, vibrant energy, and are far more appropriate for carnivores than mass-market pet foods that are loaded with corn and soy. There's less yard and litterbox clean-up, too, because more of the food is digested and assimilated. At Only Natural Pet Store, we carry a wide variety of great-quality natural pet foods, but grain-free, low-carb and raw foods are among the most premier of products and will benefit your pet's health in many ways!