Proper Feeding from Pottenger's Cats
Last Updated on Friday, September 19, 2014 06:46 PM
Published on Monday, May 11, 2009 06:22 PM
Written by Michelle T. Bernard
The findings from a ten-year feeding study of cats conducted a little over 70 years ago by a doctor in California reveal that feeding cats raw food had a dramatic and positive impact on their health and well-being when compared to cats fed cooked meat.
Between 1932 and 1942, Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., M.D. researched the use of adrenal hormones in respiratory complaints such as asthma. Because cats cannot live without their adrenal glands they were used as laboratory animals to standardize the extracts. Pottenger maintained his cats on what was considered to be a high quality, nutritionally complete feline diet. The cats were fed cooked meat scraps, consisting of liver, tripe, sweetbreads, brains, heart and muscle, from a local sanatorium, raw milk and cod liver oil. Commercial cat food did not appear on the markets until the 1960's. In Pottenger's time, domestic cats either hunted for their food or were fed table scraps.¹
Compared to the stainless steel cages laboratory cats live in today, Pottenger's cats dwelt in agreeable quarters. They lived in large outdoor pens overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. The outdoor area was covered with chicken wire for adequate sun exposure. They had a trench filled with clean sand for a litter box. The back of the pens was sheltered and contained a wooden floor and bedding. Caretakers removed the cats' uneaten meat and bones and cleaned and refilled the water containers daily.²
Even though they received such good care, Pottenger could not understand why the cats were such poor operative risks. Many died in surgery or recovered slowly.³
When the cats donated to Pottenger's study outnumbered the food available from the sanatorium, Pottenger placed an order at a local meat packing plant for raw meat scraps, again including the viscera, muscle and bone.⁴
Pottenger fed the raw meat scraps (including raw milk and cod liver oil) to a segregated group of cats, keeping the remainder of his cats on the cooked meat diet. Within a few months the differences between the cats fed raw meat and those fed cooked meat became evident. The raw meat fed cats and kittens were more vigorous and survived surgery better than the cooked meat fed cats.⁵
The difference between the health of the two groups of cats prompted Pottenger to conduct a ten year study involving over 900 cats including at least four generations to discover why cats fed raw food were healthier than those fed cooked food. The cats in Pottenger's study were used to study the effects of heat-processed food to benefit human nutrition. The latest and most rigorous scientific standards were applied for these experiments with their protocol consistently observed. Each cat's clinical chart included notes for its entire life. At the end of ten years, 600 of 900 the cats studied had complete, recorded health histories.⁶
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, 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.⁷
The cats fed the cooked meat diet reproduced a heterogeneous strain of offspring, each kitten in a litter 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 sixth months, thus terminating the strain.⁸
Cooked meat fed cats showed much more irritability. Some females were dangerous to handle. The males, on the other hand, were docile, often unassertive and lacked sex drive or were perverted.⁹
Pregnant females aborted, about 25 percent in the first deficient generation to about 70 percent in the second generation. Deliveries were generally difficult with many females dying in labor. Kittens' mortality rate was also high because they were either stillborn or too frail to nurse.¹⁰
Many females had pregnancy and infertility problems. The average weight of the kittens born of cooked meat fed mothers was 100 grams
(3.4 ounces), 19 grams less than the raw meat nurtured kittens.¹¹
Raw-meat fed males of proven virility were used for breeding, therefore, the experimental results primarily reflected the condition of the mother cat.¹²
Most deficient cats died from infections of the kidneys, lungs and bones.¹³ If modern-day antibiotics had been applied, these infections would possibly have been eliminated as a cause of death. The use of antibiotics to treat infections would have allowed the cats to reveal their ultimate degenerative fates.
Many of the deficiencies experienced by the cats fed the cooked meat diet were due to inadequate taurine
. Cooking meat makes taurine less available to cats. Pottenger's study demonstrates that cats thrived and reproduced for years on a very simple raw food diet.
With the advent of commercial cat food, scientists employed by pet food manufacturers conducted feed trials to determine the minimum daily requirements for the domestic cat. Laboratory cats, kept in small stainless steel cages, are fed a purified diet with different nutrients withheld until a deficiency emerges. With the Pottenger Cat Study records available, pet food manufacturers did not need to conduct their own feed trials. Pottenger's raw meat fed cats survived for years without the need for veterinary care. Why would there be a need to feed a cat any differently? Where did the public lose its way in feeding cats?
Michelle Bernard, has spent nearly a decade digging into what makes cats bloom naturally with excellent health. A freelance writer who breeds and shows American Shorthairs, she has been keeping her own cats vibrantly healthy using a raw meat diet and plain common sense since 1993.
"Early Lessons in Proper Feeding from Pottenger's Cats" is a full chapter excerpt from her book, Raising Cats Naturally: How to Care for Your Cat the Way Nature Intended and is posted here with Ms Bernard's kind permission.
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