The nutrients that occur naturally in the food matrix of a carnivorous prey diet help a cat cope with all stressors and behavioral responses, including those influenced by past experience and their environment. But today’s cat is fueled by the pet food industry which claims to address everything from balanced nutrition, shiny fur, and a healthy gut to high energy, healthy weight, immune support, and more. So why are health and behavior issues rising? Human and animal studies link diet, especially ultra-processed diets, to both chronic disease and disorders of the brain: mental illness, violence, and intellectual abilities. What does this have to do with feline mental health and behaviors?
Most commercial foods are processed or ultra-processed. Heating, pasteurizing, canning, and air drying or freeze drying, are all forms of processing. Extrusion, by the NOVA food classification system, is regarded as ultra-processing, making extruded kibble or dry foods ultra-processed. Food processing alters the composition and functions of the gut microbiota, thereby affecting the bidirectional communications between the gut and the brain, the gut-brain axis. Alterations in the diversity and composition of the microbiota leads to the imbalance in the production of SCFAs contributing to a proinflammatory systemic state. Cooking denatures proteins and is associated with the development of degenerative diseases including neurologic, cardiovascular, hepatic, and renal fibrosis; and degrades heat-sensitive nutrients requiring manufacturers to replace with vitamin and mineral premixes to fulfill nutrient deficiencies. However, non-essential nutrients, including phytonutrients, polyphenols, amino acids, and metabolites that can support neurocognitive production and neuroprotective antioxidants, may not be replaced.
But diet encompasses more than consumption of food with cats. Far removed from hunting for their meals and other instinctive natural behaviors, our cats’ innate needs, intimately linked to their taste system and carnivore physiology, remain. The act of foraging for prey may be just as vital as the nutrients.
This presentation will look at a range of nutrients and the availability in foods that affect the structure and function of the brain, interrupters of the Gut-Brain axis, feline intrinsic needs, and ways to improve the Standard Processed Pet Diet through the integration of fresh and minimally processed foods, superfoods, supplements, and targeted nutraceuticals for improving feline mental health.