What disease do cats get from a lack of people food?
February 12, 2009 7:27 PM   Subscribe

What risk does a cat take in not eating people food?

A month ago I found a kitten a couple weeks old abandoned in the street. (She weighed about 1 kilo and was an estimated 5ish weeks old, if it matters)

I took her to the vet about an hour after I found her because she had an infection, and she got all cleaned up and a shot for the infection, all better now etc... Anyway, the vet stressed that it is important to mix people food with the cat food, otherwise cats can get diseases.

That sounded strange to me. What diseases is the vet talking about? If its not really that necessary I'd prefer to NOT feed the cat people food other than an occasional fish treat or something. At the follow up visit the vet said the same thing and our conversation got derailed before I got more information.

Purina Pro Plan Kitten formula was the food she recommended
posted by nzydarkxj to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh come on and give a real answer.
It's pretty common to include "people food" (or rather not catfood/dogfood) in pets diets these days. Here is a previous thread about healthy diets. Here is another. The only things I've heard is that it is easier for them to develop allergies and kidney stones on the regular brand store diet.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:50 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

No onions!
posted by pullayup at 7:53 PM on February 12, 2009

"People food" includes just about everything under the sun, and a fair chunk of it will kill a cat outright. If that's what this vet is telling people - not "offer some wheat grass" or "occasional tuna treats" or something, you know, specific, then they're being grossly negligent.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:56 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

What "people food" will kill a cat outright?
posted by iconjack at 8:14 PM on February 12, 2009

Googling for 'What "people food" will kill a cat outright?' led me to the following veterinary hospital webpage with the following information. I cannot attest to the accuracy of the information, but hopefully it can be a starting point for other research. I certainly matches up with other advice I have gotten from my vets.

From their New Kitten article:

"Diet should be less than 5% people food. Cats are used to a very bland diet. Definite No-Nos are:

1. REAL BONES—not even the beef ones. There is the possibility that any bone could splinter and perforate intestines, or even cause impaction; leading to surgery, hospitalization, or even death. Some people may get away with feeding their cats bones for years. We liken this to "Russian Roulette".
2. FOODS HIGH IN FAT—like chicken skins or steak trimmings. Fat will upset the pancreas, potentially causing needed hospitalization or even death. Once the pancreas has had a problem, it will usually have future episodes also.
3. SPICY FOODS—same potential for pancreatitis.
5. PORK PRODUCTS have been known to cause projectile vomiting.
6. CHOCOLATE—can cause gastrointestinal upset, cardiac problems and even death. "
posted by txsebastien at 8:20 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I understand there can be benefits and drawbacks of feeding cats people food (googling that is fairly easy, too) but specifically I'm wondering what possible problems could arise if I don't?
posted by nzydarkxj at 8:21 PM on February 12, 2009

My cat eats all cat food and she's extremely healthy and at age 8-9 plays like a kitten. I have been to plenty of vets in both the UK, where I used to live, and in the US, and not one has ever told me this.
posted by snugglebunny at 8:22 PM on February 12, 2009

What "people food" will kill a cat outright?


What disease do cats get from a lack of people food?

Your vet wasn't being very helpful, but, then again, it takes a special breed to become a veterinarian.

Cheap canned pet food is full of all sorts of crap, including ash, which can cause problems, poor health, disease, death.

You should probably buy some of the more expensive quality brands for your pet, but beware of spending too much.

I must say that vet practices in North America are getting almost totally out of control. When we moved back to Canada from Japan, we brought our dog. The dog was living with some minor medical conditions that had to be treated promptly, and so we took her to the closest vet we could find (we didn't have a car).

It turns out the guy was a "holistic veterinarian". We were temporarily residing in a wealthy suburban area, and the Land Rover set could pay for things like aromatherapy and acupuncture for their pets. But the vet continuously tried to upsell us during treatment, which was confusing, and finally aggravating.

There ain't no Hippocratic oath if you're a vet, so maybe you should find one who is more communicative.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:28 PM on February 12, 2009

OP, it's not all that easy to say because the vet didn't actually tell you what to feed the cat. I have no earthly idea what "diseases" he might be referring to. Deficiencies of some sort? Diabetes? UTIs? I've never heard a vet prescribe "people food" in general for any condition, but I feed my cats high-quality cat food and they have stayed pretty healthy.

I stand by my diagnosis of crack-smoking.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:47 PM on February 12, 2009

When my cat was sick and not eating my vet recommended that Toby eat tuna in water for days. That's the only time I've ever had a vet recommend people food.

Unless your vet can give something specific - I'm agreeing with the crack smokin' diagnosis.
posted by 26.2 at 8:59 PM on February 12, 2009

One of my cats will eat anything I hand him (or drop). Tortillas, buffalo, any meat trimmings, bread, cinnamon rolls, ice cream, carrots... anything except for raw leafy vegetables.

The other cat will not eat anything but cat food and raw red meat.

Aside from the first cat having a chronic viral respiratory infection and the second cat being tubby and lazy, neither of them have any health issues.

I've had several really excellent vets in my life. People who not only loved animals, but spent their free time studying recent research in veterinary medicine. These are people who've tried promising experimental treatments on several of my family's pets, with uniformly good results, based on papers they'd heard presented at conferences they attended.

Not one of them has said anything at all about feeding the cats anything but high quality cat food. Although when I asked about my one cat's omnivorous begging for e.g. cornbread, I was assured that I could give him anything but chocolate, onion, and bones so long as the quantity didn't make up a significant part of his diet.

I'm voting for crack smokin'.
posted by Netzapper at 9:34 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anyway, the vet stressed that it is important to mix people food with the cat food, otherwise cats can get diseases.

This really doesn't make any sense worded like that. The only thing I can think is that you misheard it or misinterpreted it (and I'm not ruling out the vet saying it in a confusing way).

It could have been an allusion to home-prepared cat foot, something that became a lot more popular after the melamine scare.

Or the vet could have been telling you that many retail cat foods contain fillers and other at-best-unhelpful additives. Another way some companies brand their premium foods is by calling them "human grade".

There are also recommendations deprecating the exclusive use of dry cat food.
posted by dhartung at 10:30 PM on February 12, 2009

In all of the excitement I think it's possible that you might have misunderstood the vet because this doesn't seem to make much sense.

You should call and ask for clarification directly from the vet if you are at all unsure, they should be glad to help and answer your questions.
posted by quarterframer at 10:48 PM on February 12, 2009

Your cat has some fairly specific dietary needs being an obligate carnivore (which means they are made to eat meat and nothing else). It needs to eat a diet which has been fully balanced for a cat and is nutritionally complete, i.e. contains all the necessary trace elements and minerals and stuff plus the right amount of macro nutrients like protein and fat. Feeding it something else definitely results in deficiencies and illness.

Any decent quality cat food should be fully balanced, but if you're unsure read the labelling and look for wording to that effect (I assume your food labelling and advertising laws are similar to ours so that labelling a cat food as 'nutritionally complete' means it actually is). If you're still not sure then ask at your local pet store, they should know which foods are worth buying. You can do the home bake thing too as mentioned above, which is fine as long as you hit all those needed nutrients.

If you feed your cat a diet that is correctly balanced and nutritionally complete then there is no earthly reason why you have to give it people food ever. Or anything else actually, that's what complete means. If you're feeding it crap that's missing necessary nutrients like, for example, taurine (an amino acid in meat) then yeah, mixing in some meaty people food will help correct that. But you and your vet should be aiming for better overall nutrition than that, which it sounds like you are but maybe not them?

I go to a cat only vet these days because in my experience many general vets don't know crap about cats. Their dietary needs are very different than those of a dog or other pets because of the obligate carnivore thing and your vet may not have an in depth understanding of this particular topic. When you think about all the different species and specialities and heath problems that a vet deals with it's not surprising that not all of them have in depth understanding of every one of them.
posted by shelleycat at 11:02 PM on February 12, 2009

I have never fed my cat anything but cat food -- other than the occasional bit of turkey, or every so often a little bite of cheese (she goes insane for American cheese and would gladly rip me apart to get some). I've had her since she was a year old, and she's 17 now, so obviously not eating people food has been just fine.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:18 PM on February 12, 2009

Omnivores, like us, pigs, and bears, have a larger complement of enzymes available in our livers to detoxify and break down proteins and other things than do pure herbivores or pure carnivores. That turns out to be the main genetic difference between omnivores and the rest.

A quarter pound of dark chocolate is enough to kill a dog the size of a German Shepherd, because they don't have all the enzymes necessary to break down theobromine. We do.

So "It's good for us, so it must be good for them" is flatly wrong. There are a lot of things we can eat that will make pure carnivores horribly sick if not outright kill them.

Cats can't break down theobromine either, so chocolate can kill them, too. (Coffee also contains theobromine.)

Onions are also poisonous to dogs and cats. And there are a bunch of other things. (Such as macadamia nuts, avocado, grapes, and garlic.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:37 AM on February 13, 2009

My cats eat only dry cat food (Hill's Science Food, so not cheapo Meow Mix) and they don't actually like wet cat food or people food, except for the odd tin of tuna (Hi-Life, made for cats).

Apart from them being very healthy, there's also the added bonus that if I need to answer the phone or the door in the middle of dinner I don't come back to find two cats chowing down on my food, as used to happen with my other cats, who I had from kittens and unwisely spoiled with treats of chicken, salmon, etc.
posted by essexjan at 2:36 AM on February 13, 2009

I once looked after some very elderly cats who lived on a diet of boiled brown rice mixed with cheap human-food tuna and a dash of cod liver oil. They were the healthiest old cats ever.
posted by hot soup girl at 3:47 AM on February 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe you should get a second opinion or another vet? When my cat had liver problems that caused her to lose 1/3 of her body weight, the vet stressed that 1) any food is better than no food; therefore 2) I could feed her people tuna if she wouldn't eat anything else; but 3) try to get her back onto regular cat food as soon as possible b/c the StarKist isn't nutritionally balanced for a cat.
posted by scratch at 6:19 AM on February 13, 2009

I feed my cats quality cat food and do my best to keep them from eating what ever I'm eating (almost always a losing battle) and they are healthy and happy. I have never had a vet tell me to mix "people food" in, but I guess as long as you avoid dangerous things like the link Chocolate Pickle lists it can't hurt too much. I would be worried about training them to expect it or make a connection that you eat similar stuff because you will never have any peace when you eat then.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:24 AM on February 13, 2009

Anyway, the vet stressed that it is important to mix people food with the cat food, otherwise cats can get diseases.

I have never heard this.

The only possible explanation I can think of is that by "people food" the vet meant "food provided by people." Meaning, you have to feed the cat, you can't just let her forage for whatever in the street.
posted by desuetude at 6:24 AM on February 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

The only people food our cat has eaten in the 5 or so months we've had him is one stray cheerio. And maybe one lick of chicken noodle soup. He's in great health.

Revisit this answer for more info about pet food.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 6:27 AM on February 13, 2009

Thanks again guys,

I've also never heard of that and it sounded strange. This is actually my 3rd, the other two are still going fine on pure cat food at 16.

To clarify, I'm fairly sure it wasn't a misunderstanding. She said it twice too. It wasn't a specific diet recommendation for my kitten (for mine she told me to buy the Purina I mentioned above), but rather a comment that cats in general should have a mix of people and cat food to avoid diseases cats can get from eating pure cat food.
What diseases, I had no idea, I marked a few best answers that I thought maybe she was talking about.
posted by nzydarkxj at 6:32 AM on February 13, 2009

I'm not sure if my first comment was deleted for some reason or if it just didn't post due to server oddities, but I'm going to wager the latter and repost:

I've never heard of this, and suggest you have a conversation with your vet specifically about this recommendation and get a lot more detail. It sounds like bad advice on the face of things, and may indicate you need to switch to another vet.
posted by odinsdream at 7:32 AM on February 13, 2009

Maybe she meant "disorders" more that "diseases". To my way of thinking in this context, a disease is something you catch from some bacteria or virus. But a disorder is more like what I'd expect diet to cause.

Male cats can get a urine crystalization thing if there is too much (or not enough?) of some component in their diet. I forget the specifics, there are special foods for male cats that solve the problem.

More generally, if the kibble they are eating doesn't have the amino acids and oils and protein and vitamins they need, they may survive just fine, but won't be in tip-top condition. Their coat might be drier, causing hairballs. Their digestive tract might suffer. They may not have the urge to drink as much water as they should. Bone density might suffer. Etc. Maybe a healthier cat will have a better immune system to fight off actual diseases.

In my experience, yes, cats do better when they are given a more balanced diet. This is a completely unscientific data point, but it stands to reason: we had kittens when I was a youth. We kept the mom and two of them. The others went to neighbors. The neighbors gave them nothing but kibble, and those cats did not live terribly long or healthful lives. Our three cats got a wide variety of food, and the mom lived to be 22, the other kitten is still going at 21, and the third died of FIV at 10. Besides that, he was healthy as a horse- loved to eat Flaming Hot Cheetos. IT was hilarious. He'd eat one, jump around like a nut from the pain, and then two minutes later, go in for another. And there's nothing more rewarding in the pet-owning world than seeing the blood lust in a cat's eyes (and the subsequent post-meal nap) when you hand it a nice piece of undercooked chicken.

Cats were designed to catch animals, kill them and eat them. To my way of thinking, the closer we get to that sort of diet, the better the cats will be. Especially if we can use our knowledge to not give them things that will kill them.
posted by gjc at 7:47 AM on February 13, 2009

Ask your Vet for clarification or just get a new one... 'Cause that's the dumbest thing I've heard since that girl who wanted to paint newborn kittens with fricken nailpolish.

Cats need to eat meat, bones (little bones - mice, small birds ect. - it keeps their teeth clean and free from any dental concerns), snacks consisting of miscellaneous things with legs (...ick) and some grass and that's about it. I don't know about you... but that's not even close to 'people food'. And while I have the soapbox out - people should hardly be eating most people 'food'. Even if, hypothetically, a person had a diet that consisted solely of wholesome nutritious foods... surely that person would apply that same logic when providing their pet's meals??

I hope you misunderstood :) otherwise... Wtf!!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 8:32 AM on February 13, 2009

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