The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Cat Food

November 7th, 2008 · 3 Comments

I’m not a pet owner; I shrink instinctively from such responsibility.  But, these days, I am tending a friend’s cats while he’s abroad (and perfect angels they are, too).  And that has led me to contemplate cat food more than I have before.

Cats and humans are different species, and have different diets.  Homo sapiens is a great ape, and, like the other apes, an omnivore.  We aren’t picky.  Nevertheless, the natural diet of cats tends to entrées not popular with the American consumer: rats, mice, small birds, insects, their own dead offspring, and other cats’ vomit.

Of course, some of these items are standard fare to other cultures.  (The subject of cultural food taboos is a rich one; I recommend Harriet Ritvo’s fascinating study of animal classification, The Platypus and the Mermaid.)  Americans’ taste in meats is mostly restricted to domestic ungulates, some poultry, and a changing roster of fish, crustaceans, and molluscs.  Rodents and insects, to be acceptable, must be blended into sausage filling, or masked by the brown and oily paste of chocolate or peanut butter.

Still, I’m struck by the fact that commercial cat food features little of the natural, locavore feline diet, and specializes in foods cats would not usually eat, like cattle and tuna.  I understand that it’s the homo sapiens that do the shopping, and that they wouldn’t buy “Roach ‘n’ Robin Feast,” “Rat Grill,” “Household Pest,” “Puke of the Litter,” or “Stillborn Kitten.”  Even tie-ins to popular cartoon characters like Tweety Pie or Mickey Mouse would probably do poorly.

And so a compromise is struck.  The American shopper feeds his cat only those foods palatable to both of them.  Perhaps this is because he eats much of it himself — which would explain why manufacturers add poultry seasoning to the turkey.

I’m a vegetarian, myself; but see no reason to impose my own preferences on anyone else — even when lectured at by intolerant burger buffs.  I certainly wouldn’t dream of forcing my own diet on another species.  But then, that’s why I’m up here in the ullage, finding fresh air where I can.


Has anyone seriously pursued the “cats and rats” idea?  In this model business, cats are butchered and fed to rats; rats are butchered and fed to cats; and the pelts are sold to discriminating furriers: clear profit with little overhead.  If this appeals to any of you entrepreneurs in this troubled economy, let me suggest that some rat parts could be set aside to test the market for locavore cat food.  I offer the brand name “Scaly Tales.”  Poultry seasoning and an attractive label might make it viable.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)  

Tags: Animals · Dietary Mores · Suggestions

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Nov 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Some cats in their feral state or at least “outdoor” mode actually do fish. The Norwegian Forest cat and its descendant the Maine Coon do not shy away from water like their feline brethren and are known to frequent local streams and creeks. But deep water tuna fishercats they are not.

  • 2 Gail // Dec 30, 2008 at 6:42 am

    Besides torturing myself for never having the good idea to design, patent and invent velcro, another “idea” that I had that “got away” was promoting mouse (and rat) food for cats. Trying to come up with a palette-able “Mickey-esque” character on a small can to attract the human consumer, while cleaning up on the available and inexpensive rodent population of NYC. (The challenge lies in designing something that cats like which is purchased by a human. If it was designed by a pussicat, the mascot mouse would be half dead from exhaustion and it’s body parts would be separated while it was still alive.) I have spent many years with cat companions, trying to please them as their human servant. I dream of a rodent food factory based in my hometown of Ridgewood, Queens, which still has a lot of factory space left over from 19 and early 20th century knitting mills owned by German immigrants. P.S. their own “cat vomit” and the occasional dried turds or cat vomit of other cats is already a big component in their circular diet, so I’m not sure if we need to market it further.

  • 3 Doug // Dec 30, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Reptile owners feed their snakes and lizards mice, or at least “pinkies.” But cat owners are often more squeamish. Besides, the cats are usually expected to track down their own free-range rodents; that’s part of the contract.

    Still, it’s remarkable that so much commercial cat food is so far afield from their natural diet. Venison and peas??

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