My wife had the TV on recently, and while I don’t generally watch news magazine shows, an interesting segment came on. It was called “Woman Who Only Eats French Fries Panics Over Rice”. Apparently there’s a rare condition called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder—or extreme picky eating—that this woman suffers from. Surprisingly, her doctor says she is healthy despite the fact she can only eat one food. A teenager from England also in the news recently was not so lucky: “Hooked on chicken nuggets: Girl, 17, who has eaten nothing else since age two rushed to hospital after collapsing”. She turned out to be anemic and deficient in vitamins and minerals.
You’re probably thinking, “That’s totally bizarre! Everyone knows you can’t eat just one food. You need variety in your diet to be healthy!” And you would be right. It is difficult (but not impossible) for humans to thrive on such a limited diet.
Have you ever thought about this as you pour the same wet or dry food into your cat’s bowl? “Should I really be feeding the same thing, day in and day out, to her? Will she be bored with it after a while? Maybe there are flavors or types of foods she would like better? Or maybe she’s even missing out on some nutrients or ingredients? Should I be worried?”
Fortunately, the answer is no. Cats can indeed be extremely healthy and enjoy long, active lifespans even if they eat only one diet. But why is that? If humans eat only one food, they’re considered malnourished. The answer lies in the statement you’ll find on most pet food labels: “complete and balanced”. Unlike human foods, commercial pet foods contain all of the nutrients required for good health in every kibble of dry or every spoonful of wet food. As long as your cat eats the right amount (not too much, not too little) and the diet is a high-quality, appropriate formula for your cat’s needs, then the same brand, type and flavor can be fed long-term with no consequences.
To illustrate this point, consider how human babies are fed. As soon as they’re born, babies need nutrition. How do they get it? From their mother’s milk or an infant formula. Either of these is a source of complete and balanced nutrition, supporting normal health and growth for six months or longer. Babies do not receive solid food for a long time after birth and yet they do fine on a single food. Other mammals are similar—orangutans are said to nurse their offspring for four years or longer. And now, because of advances in nutritional requirement research, food science and pharmaceuticals, it is possible to feed humans an all-liquid diet that supplies all of their nutrients for many years. People who cannot eat food and/or have feeding tubes in place rely on this type of liquid diet daily.
Some cat breeders ask if it’s better to switch between brands of commercial food instead of staying with only one product. While it’s not necessarily better for the nutritional needs or health of your pet, you are free to try different cat foods. To do this safely, first check with your veterinarian to make sure there are no health concerns or special requirements for your cat’s diet. Then when switching to a different food, do so gradually, usually increasing the new food and decreasing the old food over seven days.
While I couldn’t find out how the French fry and chicken nugget women are currently doing, I expect that with therapy and added nutritional supplements, they’ll both be fine. But we don’t have to worry about that for our cats—when it comes to high-quality commercial diets, there’s no need to look for variety or make frequent adjustments. If you have more questions, your veterinarian is a good resource for information about healthy diets and how to transition from one to another.