Messaging on Feline Nutrition

Messaging - How to Talk About Feline Nutrition

After you start feeding a raw diet to your cats and see the beneficial results, you will want to encourage others to do the same. This is a natural urge that comes from wanting to share your discovery of a good thing. Like many of us, you may also have some emotions tied up in the issue. If you had been feeding an improper diet previously, especially dry food, it's only natural that you feel upset that you bought into the pet food industry's propaganda.
Helping others to understand what is really going on can be tricky. No one likes to be told they are doing something wrong with the best of intentions, and that is basically what this message is. This is especially true when the mistake they have made may be harming the cats they care about. The realization that you have been hurting your beloved pet, perhaps for years, is a hard thing. Don't underestimate the power of guilt to keep people from accepting an idea. People are reluctant to change, and will only do so if they understand that there are overwhelming reasons why it must be done.
How you convey this message is important. Be too enthusiastic or emotional and you risk being viewed as a fanatic. No one likes to be preached to. Here are some messaging tips.
Don't assume people know the meaning of the terms you use. Most people are new to the whole idea of feeding a raw diet. Jargon just confuses your listener.
Example:  "I raw feed ground and frankenprey."
Better:      "I feed my cat a diet of ground raw meat and bone with supplements, and small whole pieces of meat, organs or cuts with small bones."
Example:  "I feed my cat a B.A.R.F. diet."
Better:      "Cats evolved to eat their food raw, so I feed my cat Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. That's sometimes called B-A-R-F."
Don't assume people understand the issues:
Example:  "Dry food is bad for cats."
Better:      "Dry food is very low in moisture and cats need lots of moisture in their food to avoid urinary and kidney problems."
Example:  "Most grocery store canned food isn't good for your cat."
Better:      "Much of the canned cat food sold is made with fillers that don't work for a carnivore. Ingredients such as corn, rice, soy and wheat gluten. And they use low quality meat by-products or rendered ingredients."
Don't use angry or accusatory language. Listeners may dismiss your arguments if you seem hysterical.
Example:  "Those money-grubbing, heartless multinational pet food companies don't care what garbage they foist off on unsuspecting consumers. And most people don't even bother to read what's in these horrible foods."
Better:      "Large pet food companies primarily use ingredients that are left over from the human food manufacturing process. A great deal of marketing effort is used to convince consumers that these ingredients are good for their pets. "
Use positive language rather than negative commands.
Example:  "You should stop feeding your cat dry food and only feed a raw diet."
Better:      "Feeding a raw diet is easy and safe and there are many health benefits for your cat."
Don't turn your message into an accusation that the person is doing something horrible.
Example:  "Dry food is the worst possible thing you could feed your cat."
Better:       "Dry food has a lot of carbohydrates. Cats are much healthier when they are fed a diet with little or no carbohydrates – it's their natural diet."
Personalize your message with anecdotes and visual images.
Example:  "A raw diet improves a cat's skin and coat."
Better:      "I was amazed at how soft and silky Muffin's coat became after only a few weeks on a raw diet."
Provide explanations to ease your listener's concerns.
Example:  "Don't worry about pathogens."
Better:      "Cats evolved to eat a raw meat diet. They have short and acidic digestive tracts, so they are naturally resistant to bacterial pathogens."
Use inclusive language to help your listener identify with you.
Example:  "Dry food is bad for your cat."
Better:      "We know that the high carbohydrates and low moisture in dry food is bad for our cats."
Address the listener's likely concerns with a personal story.
Example:  "It's worth the extra cost to feed raw."
Better:      "I thought it would be more expensive, but my cat eats less on a raw diet and now I'm not paying money just to feed her fillers and low-quality by-products."
Example:  "It's not as easy as feeding dry food, but I do it anyway."
Better:      "I thought it would be a lot of hassle, but it's really easy. I just thaw and serve. As easy as opening a can."
Talk about the positive effects of feeding a raw diet, both for the cat and the person.
"Since I changed to feeding a raw diet, the litterbox odor is gone."
"My cat has lost weight and has so much more energy now that she is getting a raw diet."
"My cat's teeth are so healthy now that I give her whole meats and small bones to chew, she may not need a dental for a long time, or ever."
Be prepared for the things people may say.
Statement:  "The pet food I get must be okay for my cat. The government wouldn't let bad food be sold."
Answer:       "The government has very little oversight or input in the pet food industry. They have basic nutritional guidelines, but never specify in what form those nutritional values should be met. This allows low quality processed protein from plants to be used in food intended for a meat eating carnivore."
Statement:  "I can only afford to feed my cat the cheap food."
Answer:       "Feeding a biologically inappropriate diet can lead to many health problems. Most of these problems are long term, and very expensive to control. You'll likely end up paying the money you saved, and more, to the veterinarian, and have a sick cat to boot."
Statement:  "Raw meat is dangerous. It's filled with bacteria."
Answer:       "It's very safe if you follow safe-handling practices, just as you would with any raw meat. Cats are naturally resistant to pathogens. Remember, almost all recalls for contaminated pet food have been for dry or canned grain-based foods."
Statement:  "The idea of raw meat is gross."
Answer:       "Raw meat has a clean, fresh odor, unlike many cooked canned cat foods. Buying commercially prepared frozen foods eliminates having to handle any meat products yourself. Just thaw and serve."
Statement:  "Kibble is fine for cats because cats are domesticated."
Answer:       "The companion cats of today are little changed from their wild ancestors. The cat on your lap is biologically the same as a tiger; the only difference is its size and the size of its prey. All cats are cats."
Statement:  "But the dry food cleans her teeth."
Answer:       "Dry food doesn't clean teeth. Cats don't really 'chew' their food, they have no grinding teeth. They use their teeth to slice food into bits small enough to swallow. All of the starch in dry foods actually promotes plaque build-up. Gnawing on meat and bone is nature's toothbrush for cats."
E-mail communication.
Resist the urge to use words or phrases in all capitals with exclamation marks. No one likes to be shouted at. If you feel the urge to use all caps, try re-wording the message so your words convey the message, not the type.
Example:  "You should NOT be feeding your cat DRY food!!!"
Better:      "You should consider feeding your cat a better quality food with a high moisture content, such as a grain-free canned or raw diet."
The best thing you can do be an effective advocate for proper nutrition is practice. Write out your own questions and answer them. Better yet, get someone else to play "devil's advocate," and answer their questions. People love to talk about their cats, so this gives you the opportunity to dialog with them about diet and health.
Margaret Gates is the founder the Feline Nutrition Foundation.
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