While it is often hard to imagine, our modern housecats are the descendants of desert felines, who lived in places where water was scarce. As a result, they evolved to get most of their hydration from their prey and did not rely on a separate water source. These felines ate small prey like mice, which are high in protein and moisture, and low in carbohydrates. The only carbohydrates that a cat ate in the wild is whatever was in their prey’s stomach.
Cats evolved like this for tens of thousands of years until the last 50-100 years or so, when we started keeping cats indoors and feeding them commercial pet foods. While the lifestyles of cats changed drastically in a short period of time, however, their biology has not.
When you take a look at modern cat food, it is often dry kibbles that are high in carbohydrates, low to moderate in protein, and void of any moisture, the exact opposite of cats’ natural diets. Not only do these foods fail to add any hydration to your pets’ bodies, but they require water from the body to process. This causes many housecats to live for years in a chronically dehydrated state.
The urinary tract of a cat is very delicate system, and to operate properly it needs to be flushed regularly. However, many cats do not drink as much water as they should because they have evolved from animals that do not drink but rather eat their water. This combined with an inappropriate and dehydrating diet has led to many cats, particularly male cats (who have smaller urethras and are more likely to pick up bacteria) to develop urinary tract diseases involving their kidneys, bladders or the entire tract.
The good news is that the vast majority of UT issues in cats can be prevented with proper nutrition! The key is feeding as close to a cats’ natural diet as possible- high protein, high moisture, and low carbohydrate, with a proper mineral ratio. Raw meat diets are the absolute healthiest way to feed your cat, and most holistic pet stores or progressive vets should be able to help you transition to raw.
If you prefer a more convenient diet, we recommend dehydrated or freeze dried foods, which you can add a lot of water to in preparation. Canned diets are the next best thing for cats, and you should add additional water to make the food extra hydrating. If you absolutely must feed a dry kibble, look for a grain-free food with high meat content and very little carbohydrates. Finding a food low in phosphorus is also vital, particularly for cats who have pre-existing UT issues.
There is a misnomer that cats with kidney issues need a low-protein food. This is only true when the proteins you are feeding are of inferior quality, such as by-products or plant-based proteins, which are hard for the kidneys to process. In reality, cats with kidney disease can often process moderate amounts of high quality proteins (muscle and organ meats) with ease.
You should also help encourage your cats to drink more water by always adding some to their food as well as giving them lots of opportunities to drink by placing many water dishes around the house in their favorite spots. Many cats prefer running water, so giving your kitties a fountain can entice them to drink enough water to flush their system properly.
Remember, while healthier pet food can be more expensive, you can help prevent pain and discomfort for your cat and large vet bills for your wallet with proper nutrition!