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The Benefits of Psyllium Husk Powder in a Homemade Feline Diet

Every few weeks someone will e-mail me and tell me about someone who "heard somewhere" that psyllium is bad for cats and what do I think about it?

Many years ago I boiled up all sorts of vegetables for my cats. I ran these cooked vegetables through a food processor including the reserved liquid. During the summer I had a wonderful time shopping at various Farmer's Markets searching for wonderful fresh vegetables for my cats. I also boiled up a bunch of brown rice, oatmeal or some other whole grain, ran that through the food processor and mixed the processed grains into the vegetables. Then I added this vegetable/grain glop to the meat I fed my cats. In addition to the glop I used all sorts of supplements, from brewers yeast to lecithin to vitamin C to zinc. Finally I added enough oil to run my car on for a year — and except for the cod liver oil, they were primarily vegetable oils. Guess what? My cats didn't really like this concoction. Many cats new to raw refused to eat it. Now that I've thoroughly researched feline nutrition I can't say that I blame them. The mixture I used to feed was almost as far removed from their natural diet as commercial cat food is.

Too many people in the homemade pet food world feel that it is necessary to feed cats (and dogs) like humans. Cats are not humans. They do not need to have foods from the four basic food groups. And feeding like they are humans hurts them. Contrary to what many people believe, dogs are not omnivores. They are carnivores, with a bit more flexibility in digestion than cats. My dogs eat very much like my cats, as expensive as that is.

Over time I streamlined what I fed my cats. First went the grains (even though the grains were supposed to substitute for what is in the prey animal's stomach). I cut out almost all of the supplements as well. As long as I feed high quality meat with bone and organ meat, why should I add enough vitamins to feed an elephant? Do cats really need brewers yeast, lecithin, vitamin C or vegetable oils? In the years since eliminating all the extra ingredients, my cats have only improved in health and they like their food a whole lot better. Adding additional taurine in the form of raw heart and supplementation (I do not believe, for the most part, raw heart alone provides sufficient taurine) was probably one of the best things I've done for my cats' immune systems.

Amazingly enough, cats really like the taste of meat. While some will steal vegetables, pasta or bread, those are the carbo-junkies of the cat world. These cats are usually individuals who had previously been fed meal after meal of artificially-flavored grain-packed commercial food. Just like people, cats get addicted to carbohydrates. It's usually best not to give in to these desires. Given time, they'll recover from carbohydrate addiction. So long as meat is served with an appropriate amount of bone and organ meat, the more meat you serve your cat, the happier and healthier he will be. You're not cheating your cat feeding her this way. You're feeding her properly.

Cats are very specialized in their digestive and nutritional needs. For a more complete description of a cat's unique digestion. While pet food manufacturers and many proponents of homemade food will tell you that cats can digest this and that from plants, it is not how Mother Nature designed them to eat. Cats evolved as predators. They have been so successful throughout evolution that they never had to evolve towards more omnivorous behavior. Cats are obligate carnivores. They have specific needs that can only be met by consuming animal products.

While we as humans think of fiber as being from plant material, in a cat's natural diet, their fiber needs are met by consuming indigestible or difficult-to-digest portions of their prey such as feathers, teeth, claws, fur and some of the bone, all of which are considered fibrous protein. While my cats frequently receive natural forms of fibrous protein because I clean and feed whole rabbits to them, most caregivers are not willing to gut, clean and process whole rabbit. What you purchase in a store is going to be cleaned of most forms of fibrous protein.

Some cats do just fine on a diet of ground meat with bone with no added fiber. Many do not, especially those who have been on a commercial food diet for any length of time. Continually feeding grain-laden commercial food tends to lengthen the intestinal tract and cause it to lose elasticity. These cats need extra help moving meat and bone through the digestive tract. You do not want to necessarily slow digestion (like commercial food companies do so that the cat won't have cow-plop-size stools), but you want to ease the passage so your cat won't have difficult-to-pass stools.

Because cats evolved as desert creatures, their colons are very adept at removing excess water from the food they have digested to avoid wasting the moisture. The stool of a carnivore is small, well-formed and usually quite dry.

I think too much attention is paid to replicating "what's in the prey's stomach and intestinal tract." What's in the stomach of a rodent is mashed-up, partially digested grass, seeds, nuts and so on. Why is it necessary or even desirable to replicate partially or completely digested plant material?

While there are some very clever felines who can disembowel a mouse to avoid consuming the internal organs, most eat the rodent as is. If they kill or are presented with a larger animal like say a rabbit, unless they are very hungry, they do not consume the stomach or intestinal contents. Watch a nature program showing large cats consuming their prey. Usually the stomach and intestinal tract is pushed aside for the scavengers to consume. I see little value in replicating digested plant matter or stool in my cats' diet.

I believe Feline Future's decision to use psyllium husk powder (PHP) in place of cooked vegetables in a homemade feline diet is quite ingenious. PHP provides both soluble and insoluble fiber without adding carbohydrates. Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid while insoluble fiber does not. Insoluble fiber passes through the digestive tract largely intact. In humans, soluble fiber has some additional benefits to heart health. Whether or not that pertains to cats is uncertain.

Just as it is imperative that you do not feed a meat-only diet to your cat, if you use PHP as a fiber source, you must add sufficient water to the food. If PHP is fed dry, it may cause choking or blockage. I highly doubt anyone would be foolish enough to offer their cat a bowl full of dry PHP or that the cat would even eat it.

While PHP has been proven helpful in treatment of diabetes in both humans and cats, if you are having difficulty adjusting your cat's insulin requirements, PHP may cause some problems because it reduces the need for insulin. If your cat has in the past had intestinal blockage, you should only be feeding a raw diet under the care of a competent holistic veterinarian. PHP may interfere with the absorption of some drugs; therefore, again, you should be working with a competent holistic veterinarian.

In a 1,000 gram (two and a quarter pound) recipe based on the Feline Future formulation only two teaspoons of PHP is added for fiber. It is recommended that you use eight to as many as 16 ounces of water to the entire recipe. In addition, given the amount of water in the meat and egg yolks-plus what your cat will naturally drink--I highly doubt that your cat will ever experience blockage from consuming PHP.

The often-cited, and ill-informed, admonitions about psyllium potentially causing a "blockage" only make sense if someone is advocating feeding a cat a meal of nothing but psyllium. No one in their right mind would do that. Virtually any individual ingredient that goes into a properly balanced raw diet for cats can cause trouble if it is served alone. This is true for psyllium, just as it would be true for an all-bone meal, or a steady diet of all-meat meals. The individual ingredients operate together-the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. And PHP is a wonderful complement to what is in a carefully-designed raw diet for cats.

I have seen many cats with horrible constipation or diarrhea or vomiting experience a complete reversal of symptoms when put on a raw meat diet using PHP as fiber.

PHP is a good thing.

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