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Why Feeding High Fiber Kibble to Fat Cats Defies Logic

May 02, 2012

Story at-a-glance

  • A recently published study tested the results of three different types of fiber on overweight cats. The purpose of the study was to measure how well the cats’ bodies were able to digest and assimilate the nutrition provided by the various fiber diets, and what changes occurred in the colon as a result of eating significant amounts of dietary fiber.
  • The primary result of the study was unsurprising: It showed the addition of fiber to the cats’ diets negatively impacted nutrient digestibility and energy drawn from the food.
  • High fiber kibble is exactly the wrong food for felines. They don’t efficiently digest carbs (fiber), the fiber interferes with digestion of other nutrients in the food (specifically protein), and dry food doesn’t come close to meeting a cat’s moisture requirements.
  • High fiber diets also don’t promote weight loss in overweight cats. In fact, they do the opposite. Since kitties have no ability to use carbs, they are stored primarily as fat, which is of course exactly what you don’t want to occur in an already fat cat.
  • Overweight cats should be fed species-appropriate, portion-controlled meals (they should not be free-fed), and they need regular aerobic exercise to build muscle mass and burn excess calories.

By Dr. Becker

In a study published recently in the Journal of Animal Science, researchers investigated the effects of three different types of fiber on overweight cats.

(Right off the bat, one has to wonder about the real purpose behind testing biologically inappropriate food on animals who already have a weight problem.)

Twenty-four overweight cats were fed one of four dry food diets:

  • A control diet with 11.5 percent fiber
  • Diet containing beet pulp with 26 percent fiber
  • Diet with wheat bran and 24 percent fiber
  • Diet with sugarcane and 28 percent fiber

The purpose of the study was to measure the effects of fiber on energy and macronutrient digestibility, fermentation product formation, postprandial metabolite responses, and colon histology.

In other words, the researchers wanted to know how well the cats’ bodies were able to digest and assimilate the nutrition provided by the various fiber diets, and what changes occurred in the colon as a result of eating significant amounts of dietary fiber.

Predictable Study Result

This particular study result will come as no surprise to those of you familiar with the unique nutritional requirements of obligate carnivores.

It showed the addition of fiber to the cats’ diets negatively impacted nutrient digestibility and energy drawn from the food.

The diet containing sugarcane fiber was the least digestible of the group.

The researchers concluded different fiber sources in dry food induce different physiological responses in cats, reduce energy digestibility, favor glucose metabolism in the case of the sugarcane fiber, and improve gut health in the case of the beet pulp fiber.

I confess to being annoyed by studies undertaken to see how well a particular species of animal can digest food they were never intended to eat in the first place. To test high fiber kibble diets on overweight cats seems especially reprehensible, since it was very likely fiber and other carbohydrates that made these kitties fat to begin with.

High Fiber Kibble: Exactly the Wrong Nutrition for Cats

I’m assuming at some point a pet food manufacturer will take these study results and spin them into a marketing campaign for a new ‘weight management’ kibble for cats.

‘Low fat’ and ‘weight management’ pet diets often contain huge amounts of fiber, so it’s in the interest of pet food companies to find types of fiber they can build advertising promotions around. If a study shows, for example, that sugarcane fiber “favors glucose metabolism” or that beet pulp fiber “improves gut health,” pet food marketers can use those results to position their products as beneficial.

The fallacy of the thing is that if a cat is fed a diet of species-inappropriate dry kibble for any length of time, it’s entirely possible a little tweak here or there in the ingredients can result in small improvements in certain measures. However, the overriding fact remains that not only are cats not built to digest fiber, the presence of fiber also hinders their ability to digest and absorb other nutrients and energy provided by the food.

Further, the lack of moisture in dry food is extremely detrimental for felines. Cats don’t have an efficient thirst drive like dogs and other animals. Their bodies are designed to get most of the water they require from their diets, and kibble can’t handle the job.

If your cat isn’t getting sufficient moisture from her food, she’s going without. You won’t find her at her water bowl lapping up huge quantities of the wet stuff to compensate for lack of moisture in her diet.

This puts her in a state of constant, chronic low-grade dehydration, which over time can contribute to major organ failure. With the huge popularity of dry pet food, I don’t think there’s any question why so many kitties today suffer from feline lower urinary tract disease and kidney failure.

The Myth of High Fiber Diets for Weight Loss

The theory behind fiber-filled pet food is it makes cats and dogs feel full.

Fiber may make your pet feel temporarily full, but he’s not being ‘filled up’ at the cellular level where it truly counts. As the study above points out, fiber blocks absorption of crucial nutrients into the small intestine. It acts as a barrier, preventing trace minerals, vitamins and antioxidants from being absorbed into your pet’s body.

Chronic deprivation of nutrients to the cells can result in feelings of constant hunger. This is because your carnivorous kitty isn’t getting enough protein to adequately sustain his biology. The constant hunger prompts many pet parents to feed more food. The end result is a pet that is still fat (and often fatter), but at the same time undernourished.

Next to water, protein is the most important nutrient for your kitty. Every cell of his body requires protein and when he doesn’t get enough of this essential nutrient, a host of negative side effects can occur.

The simple fact is the bodies of felines aren’t built to digest carbohydrates (which include fiber) efficiently. Cats lack the necessary enzymes to break down and digest carbs, or turn them into energy. The majority of carbs in a cat’s diet are therefore stored as fat.

Given the ingredients in dry cat food, it’s easy to see from a physiological standpoint how cats become overweight. To attempt to diet a kitty down by feeding a dry food loaded with fiber defies logic.

If Your Cat Needs to Lose Weight …

Implement portion control. Remember that regardless of her weight, your pet still needs a diet high in protein. Feed your cat a high protein, low carb diet and moderate the portions to control the amount of calories she consumes each day. Free feeding is not the way to have a slim, trim pet.

Exercise your pet. An overweight body slims down by moving more and eating less. So along with calorie restriction through portion control, you’ll want to create a good exercise program for your kitty. Daily aerobic activity is one of the best ways to build muscle tone, and muscle tone decreases the amount of fat your pet carries around. Muscle mass also increases metabolism, which helps burn calories.

Minimize treats. Occasional treats are fine, but make them protein-based and feed very small amounts. Make sure to include the calories in treats as part of your portion control plan.

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