The Cat That Ate the Kibble

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Yes; wet food should be a cat’s primary source of nutrition.

How many of you are irked by this statement? You’ve tried and TRIED! Yet, your cat is a creature of habit and can be particularly stubborn. Some cats would rather not eat altogether than sacrifice their beloved kibble. Of course, these eating habits are not exclusive to cats but can be applied to some finicky dogs as well. What is a frustrated pet caregiver to do?

Why a Cat Needs Wet Food

Let’s step back for a second and discuss the WHY. Domesticated cats are descended from the African Wildcat. Observations have demonstrated that the African Wildcat only derives 10% of his moisture needs from freshwater sources and 90% from prey. Even though cats started the domestication process over 10,000 years ago, their primary purpose was to curb rodent populations so they continued to receive moisture through prey. During the early 20th Century, humans started imposing 6-10% moisture kibble diets on domesticated cats. Unfortunately, cats have not naturally replaced the moisture with drinking water but are still driven by their instincts to avoid vulnerable, head down positions.  

Due to this, domesticated indoor cats whose primary diets are kibble based have experienced life-threatening urinary and kidney conditions, which can cost pet caregivers thousands of dollars in emergency care. Dr. Becker has several articles on the subject – see below for these links.

Compromising with Kibble

As I stated earlier, cats and finicky dogs raised on kibble can be difficult to switch to canned, dehydrated or, the preferred, raw diets. So, how do you work with kibble? 

1. Switch to a “Better-for-You” kibble. (Visit your locally owned and operated pet supply retailer for help.)

  • Avoid artificial colors. Several pet foods and treats are injected with artificial colors to enhance their visual appeal to humans. For instance, yellow dye No. 5 (tartrazine 102 and yellow 2G107) and yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow FCF 110) contain carcinogenic benzidine and other chemicals that bodies convert to benzidine. Yellow dye No. 5 is believed to cause hypersensitivity reactions, especially in aspirin-sensitive individuals, and hyperactivity in some children. Yellow dye No. 6 has been reported to cause adrenal and kidney tumors, as well as severe hypersensitivity reactions in some people. Additional adverse reactions in both humans and pets have been reported such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and pain, headache, provocation of asthma, inhalant dermatitis and behavioral disorders.
  • Avoid the bad, synthetic antioxidants: butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). BHA and BHT are often used to prevent fat spoilage and rancidity in pet foods and human foods. According to the National Institutes of Health, BHA in diets has been found to consistently produce certain types of tumors in laboratory animals and they have carcinogenic (cancer causing) properties. 
  • Avoid ethoxyquin. More cancer causing agents! Ethoxyquin is used as a pesticide AND a food preservative (the irony!). It has been linked clinically with liver and kidney cancer in dogs, as well as anemia, reproductive failure, and elevations in serum liver-related enzymes in some animals.
  • Avoid rosemary and oregano. Rosemary and oregano are often used as natural dog and cat food preservatives. While I applaud the use of natural preservatives over synthetic, rosemary and oregano are contraindicated in pets who are epileptic or prone to seizures. (Absolute contraindication means that a substance could cause a life-threatening situation and should be avoided.)
  • It’s OK! Tocopherols and ascorbic acid. Kibble and some other pet foods do need preservative additives. Tocopherols are derived from Vitamin E and ascorbic acid refers to Vitamin C. You may want to ensure that the tocopherols are not derived from soy, though, or any food ingredient your dog or cat may react to.

2. Try freeze-dried.
Freeze-dried foods contain less moisture than kibble and have a close texture to kibble. However, freeze-drying removes the moisture without heat so it preserves the ingredients in a more natural state compared to kibble. At the time of this writing, most pet food companies that specialize in freeze-dried also source ingredients more responsibly. Once you transition to freeze-dried, you can attempt to add sprinkles of water, slowly increase the water to make a moisture-based diet, and eventually transition to frozen raw, dehydrated or canned.   

3. Drinking fountains.
Filtered drinking fountains should be a staple in any cat household. They provide burbling streams of water with which cats love to interact and help keep the head in a more upright, less vulnerable position. If you need to save up for a drinking fountain, I would strongly suggest a tall glass or Bisphenol-A (BPA)-free plastic cup of water. As well, you can turn on the tub slightly while you are in the bathroom to encourage drinking.  

Dr. Becker’s Articles on Cat Urinary Health

Idiopathic Chronic Cystitis in Pet Cats

Urinary Tract Infection: Eliminate the #1 Reason Cats Go to the Vet 

Accurately Diagnosing Bacterial Urinary Infection in Cats 

Bladder Infection: The Number 1 Reason Cats Visited the Vet in 2011 


W. Jean Dodds, DVM
Hemopet / NutriScan
11561 Salinaz Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92843


“BHA — A Time Bomb in Your Dog’s Food?” Dog Food Advisor, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Dodds, Jean, DVM, and Diana Laverdure, MS. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. Wenatchee: Dogwise, 2015. Print.

“Water, African Wildcat.” Cats Protection, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Yacono, Ann. “Food Additives That Could Cause an Allergic Reaction.” LIVESTRONG.COM, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Yoquinto, Luke. “The Truth About Food Additive BHA.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 01 June 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.


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