Is Your Cat’s Food Killing Her?

Is Your Cat’s Food Killing Her?

Vinnie eating

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.

  1. 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?

15 thoughts on “Is Your Cat’s Food Killing Her?

  1. sherry

    Great information! Sadly most people can’t afford to buy the proper (more expensive) food for their pets. I am one of them. Does that mean poor people can’t own pets?

  2. Dr. Doug Post author

    It is unfortunate that quality food tends to be more expensive. In this particular case, many of the small cans of cat food can be more expensive than raw. I suggest people just do the best that they can.


    Could you please list which food that is made by what company that DOES have the right level of Vitamins for cats, so that “we the people” can purchase it and correct the wrong that the industry is doing for our fellow paws and pawsettes.

    GREATLY appreciate it!
    Mother Nature! 🙂

  4. Dr. Doug Post author

    That is a good question Mother Nature! Unfortunately the researchers did not name names. The only hints they give is that foods made by large pet food companies (I assume Hills, Purina, Iams, and the like) and non-pate diets were less likely to be deficient. I would avoid pate diets from small pet food companies. Of course, I would avoid processed foods in general. That’s the best I can tell all of you.

    1. Linda Honeycutt

      Wow , this may not be the place for me if the foods listed above are recommended. I do agree that a properly balanced raw diet is the best thing you can feed your cat or dog.

      I would recommend you do an internet search for cat food reviews and read several. I use for dog food suggestions, but one really needs to educate oneself about ingredients and how companies pull tricks to make one think a food is much better than it I actually is.

      Even the addition of some raw meat to a commercially prepared diet can boost the nutrition levels.

      I do not recommend the big pet food companies, but find much better foods with the smaller independent companies.

  5. Linda Honeycutt

    I’m sorry, but made an error in naming review sites. The one named hasn’t been updated in several years with many formulas being changed. Meant to say I’m sure there are similar cat foods review sites.

    Also, to be blunt, I’ve found most people can pay for the better foods which are more expensive because they use more quality ingredients and actual meat and meat meals instead of grains, waste products from human food manufacturing, and fillers, but people just don’t want to pay for quality foods. One should remember your pet is a dependent, just like a child, and looks to you for their care. You are All they have to depend on!

    A pet gives one so much pleasure and company, you should appreciate it by providing quality food and care.

  6. Dr. Doug Post author

    Hi Linda and everyone. Thanks for pointing out a possible misconception. My response above which mentions the major pet food companies is based on the research being discussed. I am not recommending those companies’ foods.

    However, the research does point out concerns about quality control for foods made by smaller companies. Are these companies testing their diets to be sure all the needed nutrients are in their foods?

    I noticed that is edited by a dental surgeon. While he has a great background in medical science, he has not been trained in veterinary medicine or animal nutrition. It looks like his evaluations of diets is based on the quality of ingredients used.

    I agree that quality ingredients are essential for quality food (an idea that is ignored by conventional nutrition). However, making sure there is adequate nutrient content is also important. I see this as the Yin-Yang of nutrition. Focusing on one to the exclusion of the other is not a good idea in my opinion.

    Thank you for helping me clarify the issues involved with this study.

  7. Jill Tulaba

    I feed my dogs Answers raw diet. is this the alternative raw option for cats also? Thanks for your thoughts on this!

  8. Randall

    My sheep dog suddenly went blind and walked as if he was drunk. We took him to the university hospital and they have diagnosed Thiamine deficiency caused probably by the food we were using. He seems to be responding to shots. He is a sweet dog, Is there a chance he can regain his sight? Is there a recommended diet we should use at this point?

    1. Dr. Doug Post author

      Hi Randall,

      From everything I can find it seems that the problems associated with thiamine deficiency are reversible with treatment but I’m sure the specialists at the university would have more experience than I do and would be able to give more accurate information. What food were you feeding and for how long?

  9. Sherry Imhoff

    Hi Dr. Doug! Waiting for two bobtail kittens from a breeder, due date is this Monday. I want them to have a healthy start from the moment we bring them home! Do you recommend all raw then…no dry, no canned? Rad cat? Feline’s pride? Help!! So many conflicting sites and info…


    1. Dr. Doug Post author

      I would suggest starting them right out on a commercial raw diet. Cats can actually become almost addicted to the diet they are first exposed to. That’s why it is sometimes difficult to change a cat from one kind of food to another.

      1. Sherry Imhoff

        Thanks Dr Doug. I will most certainly do so once I get them from the breeder and hope they aren’t too addicted to the food she gives them. Do you have a preference of brand or should I switch it up and give multiple brands? And…are they a “complete” food? Thank you 🙂

        1. Dr. Doug Post author

          Answers pet food is my favorite and they have a cat formula. They also have a raw goat’s milk with probiotics which would be great for the kittens. You might also want to check out other raw foods – be sure there is adequate taurine which is essential for cats. Best to talk to someone at each company to get that info.