Is Your Cat’s Food Killing Her?
A study1 published in the January 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association evaluated the thiamine (Vitamin B1) content of 45 brands of canned cat food. In all 90 canned cat foods were evaluated – one fish and one non-fish flavor from each of the 45 brands. Disturbingly the study found that, “Thiamine concentrations in a substantial percentage of commercially available canned foods was below the amount recommended for adult cats.”
The fact that thiamine is a vitamin means it is essential for life AND must be obtained from the diet. Thiamine is involved in many cellular processes including the breakdown of sugars and amino acids. It is also used by the body to produce certain neurotransmitters (molecules that facilitate nervous system communication).
Signs of thiamine deficiency range from loss of appetite and vomiting to seizures, blindness, and if left untreated, the ultimate symptom – death. As a veterinarian I can tell you that loss of appetite and vomiting are very common reasons for my feline patients to visit me. Unfortunately, discovering that a cat is sick from thiamine deficiency is very difficult. Dozens of other diseases can cause gastrointestinal upset and there is no way to detect thiamine deficiency with standard blood tests.
Thiamine is found in many foods including most meats, liver, fish, certain vegetables, whole grains, and brewer’s yeast. According to this study, 50% – 90% of a raw ingredient’s thiamine content can be lost due to the high-heat processing that pets foods are subject to. Furthermore, “alkalinizing gelling agents” can further decrease the bioavailability of this nutrient. Because of these issues, pet food manufacturers add back synthetic thiamine after processing – but apparently not enough in some cases.
Low thiamine levels were more common for pate foods than for non-pate diets. The researchers speculate this discrepancy is due to the different consistencies of these food types and how that affects the heat distribution. Also, low thiamine levels were more common in foods made by small pet food manufacturers than for larger companies. Presumably the larger pet food companies have more money to enact stricter quality control.
This study was prompted by the fact that in the past five years there have been five voluntary pet food recalls in the US involving nine brands of cat food due to low thiamine content. The foods tested are still on the market and are certified as being 100% complete and balanced according to Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.
Here are a couple of takeaways from this study. First of all, heat processing of food destroys many essential nutrients – one of which is thiamine. While pet food companies attempt to correct deficiencies, they sometimes fall short. Not only are known nutrients sometimes deficient but the thousands of phytochemicals found in whole foods are lost and never replaced. The second lesson is that a significant number of foods that are deemed complete and balanced are not.
In my opinion, this research highlights just one example of why the best foods for cats and dogs are diets that mimic what they evolved eating. The ancestors of our pets did not consume processed foods. In my experience, most dogs and cats truly thrive on balanced raw diet.
- Markovich JE, Freeman LM, Heinze CR. Analysis of the thiamine concentrations in commercial canned foods formulated for cats. J A Vet Med Assn. 2014;244(2):175-179.
Have you considered feeding raw food to your pet?