Keeping It Fresh

Everyone knows quality ingredients are important when it comes to the food your cat eats (or any of us for that matter). But have you considered the importance of freshness? Yes, just like people food, wet and dry cat foods can go bad. Here's how to ensure that your cuddly creature's next meal is as fresh as can be.  

Shop at Busy Stores
Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, recommends that cat food consumers purchase their kitty vittles at stores with a high turnover of merchandise. "When there's a high volume of pet food sold, you can be assured that the food is rotated often and is as fresh as possible," she says. A small neighborhood store with a proprietor you trust to rotate and replace out-of-date stock can be just as viable.

Read the Product Codes
You wouldn't buy milk past its sell-by date, and you shouldn't purchase cat food that's gone beyond its best-used-by date either. Both dry and wet food have codes on the packaging that let you know when the product was manufactured, and by when it should be consumed. Natural brands have a shorter shelf life (about three months) while other commercial foods can last up to two years. Remember that the dates refer to when the product was manufactured, and not when you purchased it, so a dry cat food with a shelf life for 16 months will retain its freshness for 16 months after the day it was made.

Examine the Package
A bag that looks like it's (barely) survived a natural disaster can yield bad food. "Look for indicators such as tears, surface mold, dampness marks or debris on the bag," advises Tobiassen Crosby.  Those are signs of potential problems (it's a good idea to inform the merchant of any damaged goods on their shelves even if you choose not to purchase them).

Buy the Small Bag
Cat food may be less costly in bulk, but what you save in cash you'll lose in freshness. The longer you have a big sack of cat food sitting in the cupboard, the less fresh it will become. Unless you have more than one cat to gobble the food up, look for small-to-regular size containers. You may be tempted to bring home that large bag (fewer trips to the market!), but most likely it will overstay its welcome. To buy smaller bags of dry cat food means going through it faster and replenishing more often, which guarantees freshness.

Take Care to Store Well
Dry food should be stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Specialty pet stores sell air and watertight "vittles vaults" to make dry food storage especially simple. Dry products can also be frozen without a loss of nutrients. As for wet food, once opened, it's imperative to keep it in the refrigerator for no longer than three days. Again, specialty pet stores often sell can covers with ledges and lips that keep flavor in, and air out.

Global Cat Food Market Trends

Cats worldwide are enjoying better food and longer lives, multiple studies show. If you are the owner of a feline, you are helping to drive that trend. By the year 2017, demand for pet food is expected to boost sales to $95.7 billion across the globe, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. (GIA).

This report and others help reveal pet food trends in other countries. Here’s a look at what is happening now in some key locations:


Down Under, the number of dogs and cats per household is actually declining a bit, suggests industry analysis firm IBISWorld. Some of that is due to increasing urbanization, since farmers tend to care for more animals in general. Pet food and other product sales are booming, though, just as they are in many other countries. The reason: increasingly spoiled pooches and kitties. “Though declining in number, the average pet now enjoys better food, more treats and even inclusion in sophisticated human products like health insurance,” says IBISWorld analyst Craig Shulman.

Online sales of pet food are going up in Australia, with the Internet market “in a growth phase, brought on by expansion of products and services.” Over the past five years in Oz, online sales of cat food and other pet products have doubled. Shulman and his team credit this to improved technology and infrastructure supporting such purchases.

GIA concludes that the European pet food market is now primarily influenced by four factors: health-oriented products, foods for cats at different life stages, breed-specific diets, and treats. Health concerns are paramount, though.

Cat ownership is on the rise in the United Kingdom, says Lee Linthicum, head of food research at Euromonitor International, a market analysis firm. While Brits clearly love their cats, the tough economy is taking a toll on families, requiring them to work more hours while still limiting their budgets. “It burdens those owners that want to offer the best for their pet but cannot afford to do so.” Nevertheless, people are working hard in an effort to feed their cats the best and healthiest foods possible.


This large, widespread region is enjoying the fastest-growing market for pet foods. GIA found that in Vietnam, India and China, product pricing and value for money are extremely important to cat owners.

Japan is somewhat similar to Australia. As for that nation, many families in Japan own older pets, so people are interested in buying new products appropriate for aging and elderly kitties. That’s a good sign, further supporting that cats are living to advanced ages.

In Singapore, South Korea and Japan, four factors are fueling pet food sales:

1.    Innovation

2.    Shorter product lifecycles (customers want to feed the freshest possible foods to their pets)

3.    Healthier products

4.    Convenience

Shared Trends

In most places around the world, the following seem to hold true, based on the GIA findings:

· Dog food sales are growing at a faster pace than cat food sales, but food sales for felines remain strong.

· People are mostly buying their pet food at retail grocery chains, at pet superstores and on the Internet.

· There are good signs that the economy is now post-recession, so leading companies are gearing up with new food product launches.

“The pet food industry continues to grow and expand,” says Stephen Zawistowski, science advisor for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Even during the toughest economic times, owners want the best for their pets.”

Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute in Washington, D.C., agrees. “Pets have become like every other member of the family, and this is increasingly reflected in how people feed their animals.”

“Pet foods are looking more like people food,” adds Ekedahl. “Consumers are into organic, natural foods now, and that’s what you’re seeing on pet food shelves. The industry has really come a long way in the past 10 years in meeting this growing interest.”

Can New Cat Feeders Help Solve Mealtime Problems?

Take a look at the food bowls offered online and in pet stores, and you’ll find more than a handful of newfangled bowls designed to solve various food-related problems -- especially overeating.

The DuraPet Slow-feed Bowl, for example, claims to be “ideal for overweight cats or cats that throw up after eating too quickly.” The Drs. Foster and Smith Bridgeport Slow Down Bowl for Cats has a “fish-shaped ‘slow-down’ feature that curbs air gulping and flatulence.” And the makers of the Break-fast Cat Bowl mention, “Slower eating makes an animal feel fuller and reduces instances of re-eating.”

The bowls themselves are pretty standard, except they have anywhere from one to three raised bumps in the middle that cats have to work around to get their kibble. They don’t tend to cost much more for this minor design change (prices range from $5.99 to $16.99), but whether or not they actually work is debatable. Many online customer reviews indicate that they can indeed slow down cats’ eating. But whether the slower pace can aid weight loss, digestion or flatulence is a question better left to veterinary professionals.

Aiding Digestion, but Not Curbing Weight Gain
“Slowing food intake could potentially aid in digestion by reducing the incidence of vomiting,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Food gulping can be associated with the swallowing of excessive air that may lead to flatulence, however, this is seen more frequently in dogs.” Dicke says it’s unlikely that these bowls can help overweight cats lose weight. “Techniques and apparatuses used to slow down food intake in cats are more about controlling vomiting than weight,” she says.

Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, agrees. “Weight loss is achieved by portion control of the appropriate food and increased activity level,” she says. “If you’re serving too much of the wrong food, a bowl won’t make any difference.”

Dicke, who has worked with teams of nutritionists and researchers, says switching to a food that’s been scientifically designed for weight loss can additionally help. “Look for special ingredients, such as L-carnitine -- also known as the ‘fat burner’ -- to promote loss of fat and maintenance of lean muscle,” she says.

Cat Food Bowls for Play
If slow food bowls have iffy benefits, other interactive slow food bowls could make eating fun for any cat. The Stimulo bowl by Aikiou ($28.95) is genuinely novel in that it looks nothing like a bowl. Rather, it is a collection of vertical tubes of different heights in which you can stash food. Your cats must then work at getting their meal.

The manufacturers tout this as something that taps into cats’ instincts for hunting and play. “It will depend upon the personality of the individual cat,” says Nelson. “Some will decide it’s not worth the wait, others may find it quite stimulating.”

Dicke says she would take the idea of the Stimulo and expand it across a wider area. “Small amounts of food hidden throughout the house may provide multiple benefits, including mentally engaging the cat, slowing food intake and providing exercise (which could provide a weight loss benefit),” she says. Dicke also suggests a homemade version of standard slow food bowls -- just place a golf ball or very large marbles in the feeding bowl. Small amounts of food placed in an egg cartoon container can also serve to slow food intake by increasing the difficulty of getting it.

For the granddaddy of fancy cat food bowl designs, look no further than the Dog-proof Cat Feeding Station, sold by Frontgate. Resembling a side table with a smooth walnut finish, the feeding station is essentially a handsome cage that can hold and protect a cat food bowl. A cat can slip into the station and eat in peace.

It’s a great idea if you have a dog that goes after your cat’s food. But considering its $199.95 price tag, you may prefer to come up with a homemade solution for this one too.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/MJN123

Cat Food Ingredients for Good Health

What’s the easiest way to help your cat get a shiny coat, allergy relief and good overall health? Omega fatty acids, found in commercial cat food.

“Fats are essential to everyone’s health,” says Dr. William M. Fraser, who runs Mentor Veterinary Clinic and Brightwood Animal Hospital in Mentor, Ohio. “The issue is what type of fat and how much. Saturated fats are likely to add weight and can cause coronary artery disease in people, but cats don’t get coronary artery disease. No one knows why.”

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both polyunsaturated fats, may help to lower levels of so-called “bad fats” in people. They also have many benefits for your cat, say veterinarians.

How Fatty Acids Work
Omega fatty acids are bioavailable, notes Fraser. “That means they are capable of being ingested and are not just immediately used for energy or turned into fat.” A high-quality commercial food should provide linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that converts to a number of fatty acids your cat needs. Unlike dogs, your cat also needs a food containing arachidonic acid because your cat doesn’t contain an enzyme to convert linoleic acid to this fatty acid. However, your cat can convert alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, into other omega-3s.

Since omega-6 fatty acids alone can be inflammatory or can cause blood-clot issues, your cat’s food should contain a balance of omega-6s and omega-3s, says Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian and member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council. Your kitty’s food should contain a ratio of five or 10 omega-6 acids to one omega-3 acid. The ingredient-analysis label should explain if the food contains a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 acids are quite strong, thus the need for far less, explains Nelson.

Health Benefits of Omega Fatty Acids
“Omega-3s have a very potent anti-inflammatory effect on the body. They’re good for the skin, good for joints,” says Nelson.

Look for these indications of good health from a diet containing balanced omega fatty acids:

  • Ease of movement. Since omega-3s reduce inflammation, your older cat may enjoy improved joint health and more flexibility and agility.
  • Relief from allergies. Both respiratory and skin conditions may respond to a diet with omega-3s.
  • A healthy, shiny coat. Your cat’s coat should reflect its good health, with softness and a glossy shine. Flaky skin should improve with a diet that includes fatty acids. Arachidonic acid helps maintain skin cell structure, explains Dr. Denise Elliott, a board-certified nutritionist for Banfield, The Pet Hospital. “In addition, it is one of the ingredients that the sebaceous glands use to make sebum,” she says. “Sebum keeps the skin and coat supple.”
  • GI disease relief. Omega-3s offer relief for cats with gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, explains Nelson.
  • Neurological and eye development. Omega acids play a critical role in your kitten’s brain and visual growth. They may also help keep your older kitty mentally sharp.
  • Cell health. “These fatty acids are also believed to be natural antioxidants that promote cell health,” says Fraser. This also means your kitty can heal more quickly.

What to Look For
Make sure your cat food incorporates fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acid, advises Nelson. “Fish oils have the best-quality fatty acids within them,” she says. “If your cat food isn’t using a fish oil, then that’s probably not the diet you want it to be. It’s sort of a shortcut.”

Nelson also cautions against using fatty-acid supplements. It’s difficult to control your cat’s caloric intake, which can lead to weight gain. Supplements aren’t regulated, and some may have side effects. “Fatty acids should be part of a balanced diet in your cat’s food,” she says. “When they’re incorporated into the diet, then the calories are right there in front of you.”

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How to Feed a Fat Feline

Last January, Ingrid Duthie's favorite pants became very uncomfortable. Holiday parties led to extra calories, along with less time at the gym, for the 40-year-old Detroit native. She wasn't surprised she'd put on a few additional pounds, but she was taken aback when she noticed some extra girth on her 6-year-old cat, Felix, too. "I was probably more aware of Felix's belly since I was thinking a lot about my own, but I'd always thought of him as skinny, since he was very thin as a kitten," she remembers.

At Felix's annual checkup the following month, his veterinarian confirmed that Duthie's small-boned feline had added two pounds in the last year -- increasing his weight by more than 20 percent. He prescribed the following treatment: fewer calories, more calorie-burning. Below, veterinarian Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists, weighs in on how cats acquire tubby tummies and how you can help to reverse the damage.

Why Cats Get Fat
According to Dr. Joyce, obesity in domestic felines has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. This is accompanied by health problems all too familiar to Americans: diabetes, arthritis and even premature death. But unlike dogs and humans, underlying health issues usually do not cause obesity in cats, according to Dr. Joyce. "In dogs we'll see hypothyroidism, but it almost never happens in cats," she says, explaining that this condition slows down an individual's metabolism. Hyperthyroidism, which causes just the opposite to occur, is far more common among felines.

So what does make Fluffy fat? Lifestyle. "Overweight cats are that way because of overfeeding and lack of exercise," she says. "Some cats are good at regulating their food intake, but others are not. If too much food is made available to them, they will eat it." Indoor cats generally don't have much stimulation in their environment -- they aren't stalking, chasing, jumping. Indoor cats are safe from trauma, which is obviously critical to their well-being, but they also sit a lot.

How Cats Get Thin
"Weight loss diets have the most successful outcomes," says Dr. Joyce. This includes both a commercial weight loss formula and portion control. "I recommend wet food, but only because it seems easier for owners to regulate how much they are feeding. Also, it's eaten in one shot, so if there are two cats in the household, there is less chance for the fatter cat to eat the skinnier cat's portion." Dr. Joyce also recommends strictly limiting treats and eliminating table scraps altogether. A grain-free food containing the amino acid L-carnitine may also be beneficial, as it helps to burn fat while maintaining lean muscle mass.

Though a gym membership may not be in your kitty's future, exercise should be on the menu. But be prepared. Getting Fluffy moving may take a dedicated and creative owner. "See what your cat responds to," Dr. Joyce says. "Some enjoy chasing a laser light, which you can operate from the couch. You can put a cat on a harness and an extendable leash and let it run around an enclosed yard with you. Make your cat work for its food -- take the bowl and ask it to follow you around the house to get it." If adopting a kitten is an option, a younger companion's eagerness to play and chase may also get your adult cat off the couch.

Enlisting Professional Help
Unlike dogs and humans, cats cannot tolerate severe calorie restriction. Consult your veterinarian about acceptable portion sizes for weight loss in order to avoid fatty liver syndrome, a serious condition affecting the liver that results when cats do not consume enough calories. Adds Dr. Joyce, "Fatty liver syndrome is also something to be aware of if you introduce a new cat into the home. The first cat may go on a hunger strike, to act out, which can seriously endanger its liver functioning." She suggests monitoring the first cat's food intake closely while the felines become acquainted.