I have been spending a lot of time lately looking at the state of feline nutrition research. Research is still conducted in the same manner as it has been since commercial cat food was first introduced. Cats are put in small cages and offered purified diets which are missing one nutrient or another until signs of deficiency are noted. I am very opposed to laboratory testing using animals of any kind - especially cats.
There was one research experiment proving the nutritional needs of cats conducted many years ago that I believe offers more insight to the nutritional needs of cats than any feed trial conducted by a cat food manufacturer.
Between the years of 1932 and 1942, Dr. Francis Pottenger conducted a study involving over 900 different cats, including at least four generations. This study was not planned. Pottenger was using the cats to test adrenaline extract. He could not understand why the cats were such poor operative risks and their offspring were showing signs of nutritional deficiency. He was feeding what was then considered to be a high quality nutritionally complete diet consisting of two-thirds cooked meat scraps (muscle meat and organ meat) from a local sanatorium, one-third raw market grade milk and one third cod liver oil.
As neighbors kept donating an increasing number of cats to his laboratory, Pottenger exceeded his supply of cooked meat scraps so he placed an order at a meat packing plant for raw meat scraps. Again, including muscle meat, organ meat and bone. Perhaps the phobia of feeding raw meat was prevalent even then because he only fed a segregated group of cats the diet containing the raw meat scraps. Within a short period of time, however, the differences between the cats fed the raw meat scraps and those fed cooked meat scraps became evident.
Pottenger then conducted a controlled study to determine why the cats fed raw meat were apparently healthier than those fed cooked meat. This study was not conducted to benefit feline nutrition. The cats in Pottenger's study were laboratory cats being used to study the effects of heat processed food for the benefit of human nutrition.
The raw meat fed cats were uniform in size and skeletal development from generation to generation. Over their life spans, they were resistant to infections, to fleas and various other parasites and had no signs of allergies. In general, they were gregarious, friendly and predictable in their behavior patterns. They reproduced one homogeneous generation after another with the average weight of the kittens at birth being 119 grams (4.20 ounces). Miscarriages were rare and litters averaged five kittens with the mother cat nursing her young without difficulty.
The cats fed the cooked meat diet reproduced a heterogeneous strain of kittens, each kitten in a litter being different in size and skeletal pattern. Health problems ranged from allergies to infections of the kidney, liver, bones and reproductive organs. By the time the third deficient generation was born, the cats were so "physiologically bankrupt" that none survived beyond the sixth month of life, thereby terminating the strain.
Cooked meat fed cats showed much more irritability. Some females were even dangerous to handle. The males, on the other hand, were more docile, often to the point of being unaggressive and their sex interest was slack or perverted.
Abortion in pregnant females was common, running to about 25% in the first deficient generation to about 70% in the second generation. Deliveries were generally difficult with many females dying in labor. The mortality rate of kittens was also high as the kittens were either born dead or are born too frail to nurse. Many cats showed increasing difficulties with their pregnancies and in many instances failed to become pregnant. The average weight of the kittens born of cooked meat fed mothers is 100 grams (3.4 ounces), 19 grams less than the raw meat nurtured kittens.
Raw meat fed males of proven virility were used for breeding, therefore, the experimental results primarily reflected the condition of the mother cat.
Most of the deficient cats died from infections of the kidneys, lungs and bones. If these infections were eliminated as a cause of death by modern day antibiotics, it would have allowed the cats to reveal their ultimate degenerative fates.
When I see the difficulties experienced by breeders today, I cannot help thinking that Pottenger's studies are simply being repeated. Granted we have an excellent arsenal of drugs available to nurse our cats through infections and other ailments, but the more chronic ailments are still showing through.
More detailed information on Pottenger's studies are available through the Price Pottenger Foundation, La Mesa, California - 800-366-3748
© 2000 Michelle T. Bernard
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