Sep 22, 2012 by     15 Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

Obesity is the most common health problem in our pet cats. One of the reasons is the TYPE of food being fed, not necessarily the number of calories. Cats are desert creatures and are true carnivores. In nature, cats eat mice, birds, reptiles, and bugs to build a healthy diet. Dogs and people are omnivores, meat and plant eaters.

Cats are unable to properly digest carbohydrates. Most dry foods have high carbohydrate levels due to the grain that is required to form the product.

A young healthy cat should be eating a diet similar to his wild cousins – one that is high in protein, high in fats, and low in carbohydrates. A mouse is composed of about 40-45% protein, 40-45% fat, and only 3-5% carbohydrates.

High carbohydrate diets may cause obesity and health problems.

Carbohydrates cause overproduction of insulin, increased hunger, and weight gain. There are health concerns related to this weight gain, not the least of which is diabetes. A cat with a high carbohydrate diet often has a flakey coat (some owners think this is dandruff) or some may be greasy. Overweight cats often are not able to groom as well, sometimes culminating in poor bathroom grooming behaviors. Weight can affect your cat’s joints causing them to forgo jumping, or they may be less willing to play.  It is not uncommon to have an obese cat newly diagnosed with diabetes who can be converted to a non-diabetic state just by altering the diet. The key is to significantly decrease the carbohydrate content in their diet and begin a slow weight loss program.

Cats are desert creatures and in nature derive a large portion of their water from the food they eat.

Canned food has a much higher water content than dry food. Cats should be encouraged to drink fresh water daily, with the use of kitty fountains or running water taps, to properly dilute their urine.

There is little evidence to suggest that dry food plays a significant role in maintaining oral health.

The research suggesting that dry food is better for oral health was done on dogs, not cats. A cat’s jaw does not go side-to-side as a person’s would, so there can be no true chewing. Cats use their teeth in the wild to catch and tear their food, and in the process mechanically clean their teeth. The food pieces are then swallowed whole.  Commercial dry kibble is throat sized, so our domestic cats have little opportunity to rip and tear into their food!

Canned foods have much lower levels of carbohydrates because they lack the grain needed to process the dry kibble. There are many good commercial brands of canned foods available. If your cat does not like canned food, there are a few brands of dry kibble that are lower in carbohydrates.

During your cat’s physical exam pre-existing medical conditions, sex, breed, and age are evaluated to allow us to make specific diet recommendations for your cat.

MYTH BUSTERS – Canned food is NOT fattening. Most brands of dry kibble do NOT help the teeth.

Dr Elyse Kent

Dr. Elyse Kent graduated from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1980 and completed an Internship at West Los Angeles Veterinary Medical Group in 1981.

In her early years in practice, Dr. Kent began to see a need for a separate medical facility just for cats, where fear and stress would be reduced for feline patients. In 1985, in a former home in Santa Monica, Dr. Kent opened the only exclusively feline veterinary clinic in Los Angeles, Westside Hospital for Cats (WHFC). Along with other forward-thinking feline practitioners from across North America, Dr. Kent founded the Academy of Feline Medicine in 1991. Through the efforts of these practitioners, feline medicine and surgery became a certifiable species specialty through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). Dr. Kent became board certified in Feline Practice in the first group to sit for the Feline exam in 1995. She certified for an additional ten (10) years in 2005. There are now 78 feline specialists in the world. Dr. Kent served as the Feline Regent and Officer on the Council of Regents for 9 years. She is currently the immediate Past President of the ABVP, which certifies all species specialists. She also heads up a task force joining certain efforts of the ABVP with The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). She currently serves as a Director on the Executive Board of The American Association of Feline Practitioners.

The present day WHFC facility opened in 2000. It was the fulfillment of a vision for a spacious, delightful, state of the art, full service cat medical center that Dr. Kent had dreamed of and planned for over many years.

Westside Hospital for Cats
2317 Cotner Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Phone: 310-479-2428

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  • Guest

    Carbohydrates do not appear to cause obesity in the cat. Two different prospective studies have shown that dietary carbohydrate does not result in weight gain in the cat- its actually fat (probably because of increased energy density in high fat diets; 

    Backus et al. 2007, 

    Nguyen et al. 2004). A retrospective epidemiological study showed a lower risk of obesity in cats fed “grocery” brands vs. those fed “premium” foods, which again points to fat vs. carb as the culprit (

    Donoghue and Scarlett 1998). Please stop perpetuating this myth- as you can see from the dates of these studies, we have known this for a long time. Canned foods are useful likely because of the high moisture content (and therefore lower energy density and tendency of spoilage which means owners are forced to meal feed which limits calories; Wei et al. 2011).

    • Thanks for your comment.  Could you please give us the journal where those articles were published?  It would be very helpful to have them for reference.  

      • Guest

        OK this is my 4th try- my replies keep being vaporized:

        Sure- here are the full citations. We need to focus on owner
        education about appropriate body condition and reduction of food provisions
        after neutering. The role of carbohydrate has been misrepresented by several
        vocal individuals on the speaking circuit and in book chapters/review
        articles., and the research has been ignored.

        Backus RC, Cave NJ, Keisler DH. Gonadectomy and high dietary
        fat but not high dietary carbohydrate induce gains in body weight and fat of
        domestic cats. Br J Nutr. 2007 Sep;98(3):641-50.

        Nguyen PG, Dumon HJ, Siliart BS, Martin LJ, Sergheraert R,
        Biourge VC. Effects of dietary fat and energy on body weight and composition
        after gonadectomy in cats. Am J Vet Res. 2004;65, 1708–1713.

        Donoghue S, Scarlett JM. Diet and feline obesity. J Nutr.
        1998 Dec;128(12 Suppl):2776S-2778S.

        Wei A, Fascetti AJ, Villaverde C, Wong RK, Ramsey JJ.
        Effect of water content in a canned food on voluntary food intake and body
        weight in cats. Am J Vet Res. 2011 Jul;72(7):918-23.

        • Thanks for your persistance.  We are looking into the issue with the disappearing post. I am going to review your articles so thank you.  
          I am posting a reply from Dr Steve Bailey because he too has had the disappearing post issue. 

          Clearly there is
          much opinion regarding diets for our pets, no different than the discussions we
          have about the diets we choose to eat ourselves.


          I agree that we
          need more, and larger, masked studies in cats to help us better understand diet
          in the cat and its consequences.  Just as
          with man, not all breeds and genetically distinct populations of cats will be
          affected similarly, and certainly there will be individual variation to
          contribute to our confusion and discourse. 
          No studies are perfect, but generally the more we think about something,
          the better we understand it.


          Empirically, it
          seems reasonable to think that a species would be adapted best to a diet that
          was eaten as the animal evolved.  Some
          like to refer to this in the cat as ‘the carnivore connection.’  In its natural setting cats would eat birds,
          rodents, insects, and a variety of other small critters.  This diet is hard to reproduce in domestic
          cats who live with us in our homes. 


          in the same vein as dogs and children, we have feed a dry kibble to our
          cats.  Dry foods are inexpensive and
          convenient to feed. To be clear, many cats have lived long and healthy lives on
          these diets.  However, over the past
          several decades we have been speculating about and examining the relationship
          between dry diets and diabetes, lower urinary tract disease, and obesity.  Increasing numbers of feline practitioners
          have been recommending canned diets preferentially over dry diets. 


          While not
          getting into the debate of fat, protein, and carbohydrate levels (which we are
          not likely to settle here), there are two recent articles that looked at water
          content of diet in relation to satiety, caloric consumption and weight gain1,2.  While I do
          encourage offering multiple and varied water sources as well, the only study I
          am aware of failed to show an actual increase in water intake by offering
          flowing water3.


          I think that
          most veterinarians make dietary recommendations based on the most current body
          of knowledge and professional opinions, which generally change over time as we
          continue to learn more, just as it does in human nutrition. Consider the
          updates made to the 1992 nutritional “Food Pyramid” in 2005, 2008, 2010 and
          20114. You should feed what you think is best for your cat; we
          should recommend what we think is best to feed based on our ever-changing
          understanding of diet and nutrition.   No
          single diet is perfect for all cats.  I
          just ate fast food, but I would not recommend it to you for your optimal



          Wei A, Fascetti AJ, Villaverde C, et al. Effect of water content in a
          canned food on voluntary food intake and body weight in cats. Am J Vet Res

          2.  Cameron KM, Morris PJ, Hackett RM, et al. The
          effects of increasing water content to reduce the energy density of the diet on
          body mass changes following caloric restriction in domestic cats. J Anim
          Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl) 2011;95:399-408.

          3.  Grant DC. Effect of water source on intake
          and urine concentration in healthy cats. J Feline Med Surg 2010;12:431-434.

          4. Harvard School
          of Public Health, “Food Pyramids and Plates: What Should You Really Eat?, The
          Nutrition Source, n.d. Web. Sept. 24, 2012.




          • Guest

            Well, now they are all showing up, so there are duplicates. Sorry- maybe its my browser.

  • I would love to see the published peer reviewed articles proving this theory. 

    • Dr Elizabeth Colleran

      With a diet high in carbohydrate, blood glucose rises, causing increase in insulin requirements. Lipoprotein lipase increases as more glucose enters adipose cells for conversion into fatty acids, with subsequent storage as fat. With a low carbohydrate diet, blood glucose and insulin levels are low and enzyme pathways are altered to conserve glucose, limit gluconeogenesis from amino acids ( to conserve body proteins) and mobilize fats. There is higher fat and protein consumption and higher protein levels are needed to support increased hepatic gluconeogenesis. the hepatic glucose production is responsible for a slow and steady rate of glucose being released into the bloodstream, maintaining consistent glucose level.
      Hoenig et all: Insulin sensitivity, fat distribute, and adipocytokine response to different diets in lean and obese cats before and after weight loss, American Journal of physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 292:R227,2007

      • Please may I have your contact details? Mine are above for Linda bach.

      • Guest

        It’s not black and white. Dr. Hoenig has reported results that contradict this as well:
        I wish science was simple, but it’s just not. We need to have open minds and critical thinking to achieve progress.

  • I would love to see the published peer reviewed articles proving this theory.  

    • Lindabach

       If you mean my comments My e-mail is let me have your e-mail and I will send you the details, some of my information was gained from books on small animals nutrition many of which are funded by pet food makers and those who work for them. The same firms who also pay for vets training, and the many re projects vet schools do in the UK, Anyway please tell me why if the dry food so many people feed their cats is so balanced, so good for them why are such a high proportion of them obese and suffereing fron conditions that where unheard of in cats up to 20 years ago?

  • Lindabach

    I had a cat who was nearly sixteen when I had to let him go. In 2000 a vet at a leading small animal hosp rec a certain brand of dry cat food to me, he was treating my other cat at the time. Benny was three then, so for thirteen years I fed him this food. He was always over weight after this, he was an active cat and he went out. So a few years down the line Benny would have been  around six then my own vet concerned at his weight gain told me to put him on a light dry diet made by the same company. This was surposed to be for “senior ” cats. In 2007 Benny was dig with a heart condtion and 2008 with Diabetes Mel. When I asked my vet what had caused his diabetes she said ” its just one of those things” ( this was not the vet who rec me the food in the first place, this vet had only looked after Benny since 2005, but she also sells this food.) I did not believe her, and I started to look into the subject myself, and I am convinced that the dry food I fed Benny caused his diabetes. I know this subject  is a very complex one, and one that is hotly debated within the vet prof in the UK. I wrote to all 42 members of the Council of the RCVS, the body that regulates vets in the UK. I had five replies. One vet said ” There is a known link between diet and feline diabetes, but this relates to obesity. It is true that dry food can encourage cats to take on more calories than it needs”.  My own vet, who I respect greatly will not discuss the issue of pet food with me, nor read any material I come across. I think pet food compinies have a very strong hold on the veterinary prof, and have their finges in many pies. But I am not giving up, feeding this food to a cat is an act of crulty as far as I am concerned, but the vast members of the public do it with the best of intentions. Its the vets who are at fault, most dry diets come as ” Veternary rec” or ” The number one diet Vet’s feed their Cats”. These animals have no voice and suffer in silence.

    • I am Lindabach, but I now know how to sign in as myself!! I would also like to say that the above vet who I quoted ( the RCVS has written to me to confirm his view is shared by them) still sells this food in his five vet practices, he is also Vice Pres of the Feline Advisory Bureau, and one of their supporters is the firm that makes the dry food I gave to Benny. If they know by their own admission that there is ” a known link ” etc why do they not tell the pet owners they sell the food to.

  • Drcatz

    Please refer to studies regarding the relationship between carbohydrates and diabetes mellitus in cats. First is in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 2003.  For general nutritional information, read “The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats” by Debra Zoran PhD, DACVIM.  JAVMA Vol 221 No 11, Dec 1 2002. Also Low carbohydrate versus High Fiber by Bennet N, Greco DS and Peterson ME.
    Dr. Elyse Kent

    • Guest

      There are a few studies looking at diet as a treatment for DM cats (no studies have proven a causative effect); however, the diets are not well controlled in any of them. One of the studies didn’t even have a control group. The diets vary in many respects, not just carbohydrate content. Its not scientifically accurate or appropriate to pull one factor out and hold it up as the causative factor when you are not controlling for fiber, fat, carbohydrate type, etc. etc. This needs to be looked at in a well controlled manner.
      Further, one of these studies, Hall et al. 2009 found no difference in remission rates between control cats and those on a “high protein/low carb” diet.Unfortunately, we cannot pick and choose research to support our ideas. We need to be more critical, and we can do better than that.