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In order to celebrate #PetHealthAwareness Month, I want to talk about a very important topic: what you’re feeding your cat. There are lots of very strong opinions about food — if you ever post on a cat-related forum, you’ll discover that in approximately five seconds.

I’m not here to be self-righteous and tell you that you have to feed that $10 a can ultra-premium cat food in order to be a “good cat parent.” The reason you read this blog is because you love your cats and you want to do the best you can for them, so I’m going to give you a simple and cost-effective way you can keep your cat healthy just by making a few different choices when you go shopping for your kitties’ meals.

Nutrition-wise, there are a couple of things you should know about cats: First of all, as creatures evolved from desert animals, cats have a very low thirst drive. That is to say, they are designed to get the water they need through the food they eat.

Secondly, cats are obligate carnivores. Their digestive systems are not designed to handle carbohydrates well, and a cat that gets fed a lot of carbohydrates runs the risk of becoming obese because they can’t properly metabolize those carbs. Even “grain-free” dry foods have a lot of substitute carbs, including things like peas, sweet potatoes and tapioca.

With those two things in mind, here’s what I do for my cats: I feed them exclusively wet food. No kibble at all. That wet food in my house consists primarily of freeze-dried or frozen raw with occasional treats of low-carb, grain-free canned food.

I have solid health-related reasons for sticking to this low-carb, grain-free diet. Bella has a history of diabetes, and in order to properly manage this disease, carbohydrates must be eliminated because they cause huge blood-sugar spikes (carbs are converted to sugars once they enter the digestive system). Thomas had digestive problems that resolved overnight once I eliminated dry food and carbohydrates from his diet. And 18-year-old Siouxsie is missing six teeth, so eating dry food is difficult for her.

But even if you don’t have special-needs cats, feeding a species-appropriate, wet-food diet will go a long way to maintaining their health well into their old age.

“But JaneA,” you might say, “my vet says dry food helps keep my cat’s teeth clean!”

Well, there’s been a huge change in thinking among vets regarding this issue of the dental benefits of dry food. Veterinarian Dr. Eric Barchas sums it up in a post he wrote for Catster. Even simple observation could make a lie out of this. Most cats swallow kibble whole. Also, cats’ molars don’t have flat surfaces to crush and grind food like ours are. Their back teeth are designed to shear meat off bones because they are carnivores.

I also strongly recommend against free-feeding — leaving food out all day for your cat. I’ve seen that lead to obesity because, like humans, cats will eat out of boredom.

So what do you do? You can’t afford the super-premium-deluxe canned food, and the idea of feeding a raw diet grosses you out, but you really want to give your cat good food.

Well, don’t despair: There are lots of brands of canned cat food that meet the low-carb, grain-free criteria, including some that you can even buy at your grocery store on sale. At the animal shelter where I volunteered, we fed our diabetic cats Fancy Feast Classic: all of these flavors have between 1 and 5 percent carbohydrates. You can check out Dr. Lisa Pierson’s cat food composition chart to find out what brands and formulas meet that guideline.

What have you readers done to make sure your cats are eating a healthy, species-appropriate diet? Please share your ideas in the comments.

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This post is sponsored by BlogPaws. I am being compensated to support Pet Health Awareness Month with an educational post, but Paws and Effect only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. BlogPaws is not responsible for the content of this article.

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