By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
Cat owners think they understand their feline friends' needs, but sometimes they may not. According to a recent survey by the Kelton Global of more than 500 cat owners, its turns out the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) may be easier to understand than domestic cats.
Jill Cline, a Ph.D. nutritionist and Nutritional Insights Manager for pet food company Royal Canin, St. Charles, MO, says she was shocked that according to the survey, nearly three of every four participants said they didn't consider their cat's health when selecting a pet food.
"The fact is, health, as well as age, lifestyle and potentially, breed, are where you should begin to determine which nutritional choice is best for any individual cat," Cline says.
A laundry list of medical problems can be addressed, at least in part, with diet. For example, cats that are spayed or neutered require significantly fewer calories than those who are not. Of course, growing kittens have different needs than elderly cats. Today, there's even a diet to help "mellow" anxious cats.
The survey indicated that 65 percent of cat owners consider flavor or taste to be most important when choosing a food. Their hearts are in the right place, as they want to choose what makes their cats happy, but this is a misconception.
Of course, cats aren't people. The average person has about 10,000 taste buds, so no wonder we think so much about flavor. Cats have fewer than 500 taste buds (dogs have about 1,700). Cats also taste food differently than people; for example, they lack the ability to taste sweets.
"From the cat's perspective, shape (of the food) is more important, and most significant are the texture and smell," says Cline. "Cats simply don't perceive food like we do. First, they're driven by smell. Cats have an unfounded reputation of being finicky, mostly because of the way they naturally eat. Cats often don't dive into their food; they evaluate it first. Dogs tend to just gobble their food down. That's why it can it can so challenging to hide medication in cat food," she notes.
"Often, cats will naturally take three or four bites, then walk away for a time," Cline notes. "It's not that they're being finicky; it's what many cats do. Also, cats need significantly fewer calories compared to what some people expect them to eat."
An overwhelming 93 percent of cat owners surveyed said breed doesn't matter when choosing a diet. Cline notes a few examples as to why that perception is incorrect.
"Busy Siamese cats have a high (nutritional) energy need, and kibble ideally shaped for their uniquely-shaped mouths," he notes. "Heavy-boned Maine Coon cats, as they age, are prone to arthritis, which in part, can be addressed with diet, as well as large kibble for their square-shaped jaws. Persians actually have a hard time picking up ordinary kibble; they're not being finicky; they just can't get it. Almond-shaped kibble is far easier for Persians to grasp."
Nearly 60 percent of all cats are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. About half those surveyed suggested they don't consider their pet's weight when choosing a pet food. This is a factor which may contribute to pets becoming obese. Of course, both overweight and obese cats are prone to an array of health issues as a direct result of the extra pounds.
"Of course, we should be paying attention to what our cats weigh," Cline adds.
Here are some other things cat owners don't know about their pets, based on the survey:
62 percent of cats owners don't know it's normal for even contented cats to hide once in a while.
73 percent of cat owners don't know that a cat's jaws are made for cutting.
73 percent of cat owners don't know that their cats mark their territory daily.
The good news is, according to the survey, even if owners sometimes misunderstand their cats, they clearly love them. About three quarters of those who took the survey indicated they played with their cats daily; 94 percent petted their cats every day, and half said they kissed their cats daily, though no one polled the cats about how they feel about the smooches.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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