Grain Free Dog Food Vs. Regular Dog Food

Good nutrition is critical to good health. There are many types of dog foods on the market. There are foods formulated to meet various life stages, prescription foods, grain free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, organic, preservative free, dairy free, limited ingredient, and even foods for different breeds or sizes of dog. On top of that you have several formulations to choose from including dry kibble, canned, semi-moist, raw, and home cooked.

Why so many options? Because the pet food business is big business. It is estimated that pet food sales is over a $40 billion dollar business yearly worldwide and more a $30 billion dollar business in the United States. Wow!

Approximately 80% of the world’s pet food is produced from four companies that include Colgate-Palmolive, Mars, Nestle, and Procter & Gamble with Mars being the leader in this group. Traditional sales of pet food have been through pet stores, specialty food stores, and supermarkets and many sales are now online.

With big money comes completion and big advertising. It is impossible to open any magazine without seeing dog and cat food ads. The companies promote qualities in food that they believe will resonate with our needs and beliefs. Most recently many foods promoted are grain free foods. This leads pet owners to question the pros and cons of Grain Free Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food.

Categories of Dog Foods

As we look at grain free dog food vs. regular dog food, it is worth considering all the different categories of dog foods. For example, foods can be classified by:

  • Life Stage Foods – There are dog food specifically formulated to meet various life stages including puppies, adults, seniors, breeding, high energy or working dogs. Different life stages require different amounts of nutrients and calories.
  • Formulations – There are many formulations of dog food. They include dry kibble, canned, semi-moist, raw, freeze dried, and home cooked.
  • Attributes – Common attributes promoted in dogs foods include foods that are grain free, gluten free, vegan or vegetarian, raw, organic, limited ingredient foods, preservative free, all natural, and many more.
  • Dog Size – Some dog food companies create foods for small, medium, and large/giant sized dog breeds. The caloric density, nutrient and protein content, and/or kibble size may vary depending on the company
  • Breed Specific – Some dog food companies produce foods precisely formulated for specific breeds such as Labrador retrievers, Pomeranians, or Chihuahua’s. The kibble size and nutritional components are specific to the breed.
  • Prescription Foods – There are dog foods created to benefit the medical needs or requirements of dogs with various diseases or conditions.

These foods are formulated to be nutritionally balanced yet provide therapeutic benefit to dogs with:

  • Kidney disease (such as Hill’s Science Diet K/D [kidney diet] or Purina Proplan NF)
  • Liver disease (such as Hill’s Science Diet L/D [liver diet])
  • Arthritis or joint problems (such as Hill’s Science Diet J/D [joint diet] or Purina Proplan JM)
  • Stomach or intestinal conditions (such as Hill’s Science Diet I/D [intestinal diet] or Purina Proplan EN)
  • Cognitive dysfunction (such as Hill’s Science Diet B/D [brain diet] or Purina Proplan NC)
  • Bladder stones (such as Hill’s Science Diet C/D, K/D, S/D, U/D etc. or Purina Proplan UR, OX, ST)
  • Heart disease (such as Hill’s Science Diet H/D [heart diet])
  • Obesity (such as Hill’s Science Diet R/D [reducing diet] or M/D [metabolic diet] Purina Proplan OM)
  • Skin allergies (such as Hill’s Science Derm Defense, Z/D or D/D [dermatology diet] or Purina Proplan HA or DRM)
  • Diabetes (such as Purina Proplan DM)
  • Dental problems (such as Hill’s Science Diet T/D [tooth diet] or Purina Proplan DH)
  • Geriatric patient (such as Hill’s Science Diet G/D [geriatric diet])
  • Special needs (such as Hill’s Science Diet A/D [anorexia diet] or Purina Proplan CN)

All of these attributes and type of foods make it complicated when choosing a dog food. On top of categories, companies add to the confusion with marketing terms such as “preservative free”, “organic”, “natural”, “food contains essential prebiotics or probiotics”, and “no artificial colors or flavors”.

Grain Free Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food

Should you feed regular dog food or grain free dog food? The answer is that it depends on your dog. If you suspect that your dog has an allergy to grains, then a grain free food is recommended. Signs of food allergies in dogs include skin infections, ear infections, itching, dry skin, and/or digestive issues such as diarrhea. Learn more about the diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment of Food Allergy in Dogs.

What Are Cat Colonies?

Feral cats prefer to live their lives without any direct interaction with humans. Feral cats will avoid direct human contact. They may live anywhere there is a supply of food, water and shelter. These free-roaming cats have reverted to their wild ways for survival. They take care of themselves in a world that is often hostile and dangerous for them, and their life expectancy is low. If a feral makes it past kittenhood but lives on his own, his life expectancy is about two years. If the feral cat lives in a cat colony with a regular caretaker, he may live to be as much as ten years old.

Some feral cats live in cat colonies that loosely resemble lion prides. A cat colony consists of a group of usually related female cats and their offspring. The size of the cat colonies depend upon the availability of food and other resources. Adult male cats do not live in cat colonies, but friendly behavior between females and males can occur, especially when familiarity exists.

Within cat colonies, female cats, known as queens, will share many activities together such as raising kittens and guarding the cat colony from intruders. The queen cats will nurse, groom and guard each other’s kittens, and they will teach the kittens appropriate behaviors. The queens in cat colonies will often band together to repel other animals, including lone cats and cats from other cat colonies that encroach on their territory. Sometimes a stray cat may eventually be allowed into the cat colony after a number of interactions.

The one activity cats do not share is hunting. Each cat will hunt on its own in its own territory. Territories may overlap, but there is no cooperation between cats in catching prey.

Members of cat colonies will groom each other and rub their bodies up against one another to reinforce their group identity by transferring scents. Inter-cat aggression is not common in cat colonies since the strong familiarity among females helps keep aggression to a minimum. In-group fighting can occur, but this is more likely to happen when resources are scarce.

What Is a Cat Colony?

The living arrangements of free-living domestic cats can be divided into those in which females form small groups or cat colonies, loosely resembling a pride of lions, and those that remain solitary with individual territories.

Since cats are a species of essentially solitary hunters, it is important for cats to establish a hunting territory and that it is defined in such a way as to generally avoid conflict with other cats. This is necessary for the survival of the species. So cats mark their territories using scent from facial glands, urine, feces and anal glands. This territorial marking, together with an extremely sensitive sense of smell, helps cats to communicate effectively and to minimize direct conflicts. In the wild, territories may overlap with neutral areas where cats may greet and interact with each other. If a strange cat encroaches into another cat’s territory, it will normally provoke an aggressive interaction to chase off the cat through staring, hissing and growling. If that is not effective, there will be a short, noisy, violent attack.

Feral cats can and will form small cat colonies based around available food resources. This does not inevitably happen and some will choose to live singly, but it is not uncommon for small groups of cooperating females and kittens to develop. While there may be a very loose dominance hierarchy in these groups, the relationships are complex. They do not form an interdependent hierarchy as would occur with dogs. Relationships in cat colonies are complex, with stronger affiliations between some cats and less affiliation with others. This may be influenced in part by how they are related, age, etc. But they do not develop a social survival strategy nor a pack mentality and they continue to be solitary hunters. So cats are not pack animals, but they have the ability to adapt to form social groups.

Cat colonies appear to only work well when the members of the colony are familiar and when there is no competition over food or other resources. Cats can form strong social relationships with familiar individuals. In feral cat colonies, kittens may often be nursed by more than one lactating queen. There may be a larger central cat colony of females associated with the major food source and smaller peripheral groups that develop around the central colony that have poorer access to the food source, poorer health and poorer reproductive performance.

How to Build a Winter Cat Shelter

Community cats or feral cats are well-suited to outdoor living, and they can survive winter on their own. But there are some things that you can do to make winter life more comfortable for them. One way that you can help is by building a winter cat shelter.

Building a winter cat shelter can be simple and inexpensive. The two preferred styles used for a winter cat shelter are styrofoam bins and Rubbermaid plastic storage bins with removable lids. (Make sure that the brand is Rubbermaid. Other brands may crack in the cold temperatures.)

When building your winter cat shelter, smaller is better. A smaller interior means that less heat is needed to keep the cat warm. A small shelter can be heated by one or two cats. A large shelter with only one or two cats inside will remain cold, so two smaller shelters are better than one large winter cat shelter.

The placement of your winter cat shelter is important to help keep cats safe from predators. If there are dogs in the area, place the winter cat shelter behind a fence where dogs can’t get in. Another good idea is to have the entrance face a wall so only the cat will be able to get in and out.

Be sure that the winter cat shelter is weighted down and hard to move. Cut only a small cat-size doorway to help keep larger predators from getting in and to keep more heat inside. Cats only need an opening of about five and a half or six inches in diameter. Cut the doorway several inches above the bottom of the bin to help keep the weather out.

Build Options for a Winter Cat Shelter You Can Put Near Your Home

A foam cooler has about two inches of thickness and makes the perfect winter cat shelter. It is waterproof and insulated and you can easily create a doorway with a knife or box cutter. Cut the doorway a few inches above the bottom of the bin to help keep winter elements outside. Use duct tape around the opening to keep the cats from scratching.

Don’t place the winter cat shelter directly on the cold ground. Use two 2x4s or other materials to lift it off the ground. Also, raising the rear of the winter cat shelter slightly higher than the front will help to keep rain from pooling inside and snow from piling up on the roof. You may want to drill a little hole into the side of the winter cat shelter to allow water to drain out should rain blow into the front door.

The winter cat shelter should be weighted down to help keep it secure from the wind. Try putting a couple of 5 or 10-pound barbell weights on the floor of the shelter underneath the bedding, or you may use bricks or flat, heavy rocks.

Insulate the winter cat shelter to increase the comfort and warmth of the cats. Use insulating materials in which the cats can burrow. Blankets, towels and newspaper should not be used as they will retain wetness. Straw is a very good insulating material to use because it can absorb more moisture and is less susceptible to rot or mold.

A Rubbermaid bin is another good option. (Make sure that the brand is Rubbermaid so that they will not crack in the cold.) These winter cat shelters should be double-insulated. You’ll also need an 8×2-foot sheet of one-inch thick hard styrofoam, a yardstick, a box cutter and straw for insulation.

Here are some instructions from Alley Cat Advocates on how to assemble your winter cat shelter from Rubbermaid containers:

  • Cut the doorway six inches by six inches in one of the long sides of the bin towards the corner. Cut the opening so that the bottom of the doorway is several inches above the ground to prevent flooding.
  • Line the floor of the bin with a piece of styrofoam, using the yardstick and box cutter to cut the piece. It doesn’t have to be an exact fit, but the closer the better.
  • In a similar fashion, line each of the four interior walls of the bin with a piece of the styrofoam. Leave a cap of three inches between the top of these styrofoam wall pieces and the upper lip of the bin.
  • Cut out a doorway in the styrofoam interior wall where the doorway has already been cut out in the storage bin.
  • Measure the length and width of the interior space and place a second smaller-size bin into the open interior. This bin should fit as snugly as possible against the styrofoam wall pieces. Cut a doorway into this bin where the doorways have been cut into the styrofoam and outer bin.
  • Stuff the bottom of the interior bin with straw to provide both insulation and a comfortable spot to lie down.
  • Cut out a styrofoam roof to rest on top of the styrofoam wall pieces.
  • Cover the bin with its lid.

What to Put In Your Winter Cat Shelter

You should line your winter cat shelter with straw to help keep the area warm and dry. Towels, blankets and newspaper should not be used as they will soak up wetness. Cats like materials like straw because they can burrow into them to stay warm.

What Is Trap Neuter Release?

Trap neuter release, or TNR as it is known, is a program that has been used in the United States for decades after its success in Europe. It is the humane approach to controlling feral cat overpopulation. In trap neuter release, the feral cats are trapped, neutered or spayed, and then returned to the very same spot where they were first caught.

Trap neuter release is a community based program in which concerned citizens like you trap free roaming cats in your neighborhood and bring them into a clinic to get them spayed or neutered. The cats’ ears are “tipped” to designate that this particular cat has already been treated. The cats are then returned to the exact same location so they can live out the rest of their natural lives. In an ideal situation, a caregiver will also provide food, water and shelter for these cats.

Before the trap neuter release program, feral cats were captured and turned into animal shelters where they were killed. This practice still exists in many areas. Catch and kill may temporarily reduce the numbers of feral cats, but it doesn’t solve the problem in the long term. Cats are living in a certain area because there is an available food source and some sort of shelter. These feral cats breed prolifically, and more cats will move in to take advantage of the natural resources and shelter available in this location. So trap and remove doesn’t work to curb the number of feral cats in a community.

About the Trap Neuter Release Program

Trap neuter release programs are successful at decreasing the feral cat populations. These programs succeed at the least cost to the public and they provide the best possible outcomes for the cats.

How Trap Neuter Release Helps Local Cat Populations

Trap neuter release is practiced successfully in hundreds of communities and in every setting. These cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated for rabies. The cats’ ear is also “tipped” to show that this particular cat has already undergone treatment. After their recovery, the cats are then returned to their home, the outdoor colony. (Kittens or cats who are friendly and socialized to humans may be adopted into homes, but the vast majority of these cats are returned to their outdoor communities.)

By stabilizing the cat population, the cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food, as well as fewer risks of disease. After they are spayed or neutered, cats living in outdoor colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives. Spayed cats are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer. Neutered males will not get testicular cancer. Neutering male cats can also reduce the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats. Spaying also means that female cats do not go into heat. That means they attract fewer tom cats to the area, which reduces fighting.

Trap neuter release helps local cat populations by stopping the breeding cycle of cats. It improves the lives of the cats while preventing reproduction. TNR provides a life-saving and effective solution for feral cat colonies. Here’s how TNR can help:

  • Stabilizes feral cat colonies – Colonies involved in trap neuter release diminish in size over time. TNR stabilizes feral cat populations by ending reproduction and by removing socialized cats from the colony.
  • Improves the lives of the cats – Cats live healthier, more peaceful lives after TNR. It relieves cats of the constant stresses of mating and pregnancy. Mating behaviors like roaming, yowling, spraying and fighting cease. The cats’ physical health improves. The cats are vaccinated against rabies, so they are less susceptible to infectious diseases. Through trap neuter release, cats live long, healthy lives.
  • Meets the needs of the community – When residents understand that something is being done to control the cat population, they usually embrace having a TNR program. The cat population stabilizes so there are no new kittens. The cats become quieter and become better neighbors.
  • Protects the lives of the cats – The number one cause of death for cats in America is being killed in shelters. When cats are neutered, vaccinated and returned to their colonies, they can live out their natural lives.
  • Works where other methods fail – Catch and kill doesn’t work because the community cats just keep having more kittens, and new cats move in when others are removed. Adoption is not an option for most feral cats since they cannot socially interact with humans. Relocation is also ineffective for the same reason as catch and kill doesn’t work.

What You Can Do to Make an Impact

A feral cat community needs a caretaker. This is an individual or group of individuals who manages the feral cat community. The caretaker keeps watch over the cats, providing food, water and shelter for the cats. The caretaker also provides spaying or neutering and emergency medical care through the trap neuter release program. Some shelters and rescue groups even give out free or low-cost spay or neuter coupons to colony caretakers.

Why You Should Use Cat Traps for Your Local Strays

Cat traps are a painless and humane method for safely capturing cats. Don’t try to pick the cat up to put it in a carrier. Use humane cat traps to ensure the safety of the cats and you.

Cat traps come in different styles, like a box trap or a drop trap. In some areas, you may be able to borrow a cat trap from a local animal shelter, or they may be able to teach you how to work with a cat trap. If you cannot borrow a cat trap, you can purchase a humane cat trap.

Before trapping begins, you should have a warm, dry, secure holding place ready to house the cat or cats that you trap. You must have your spay or neuter appointments scheduled before you trap. You must purchase or borrow your traps before you are ready to begin trapping, and you should have transportation ready to transport the trapped cats.

What Cat Traps Are Used For

Cat traps are a safe and humane method for catching a cat. You may decide to use a cat trap to catch a neighborhood stray, or you may use cat traps to safely Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) community cats. Cat traps may be purchased, or sometimes they may be borrowed from local rescue organizations.

The normal trap used for TNR is a box trap. To use the box trap, bait (food) is placed in the rear of the trap. The cat enters the trap through the front. On its way to eat the food the cat steps on a trip plate which triggers the front door to shut behind the cat.

After the cat is captured the box trap will double as a cage to house and transport the animal.

How to Attract Cats to Your Trap

If you plan to trap a cat, the first step is to get the cat on a regular feeding schedule. Cats are much easier to trap once they have been trained to eat on a predictable schedule. Once you know when and where the cats will turn up, you will know the best time and place to set your cat traps. Most feral and stray cats come out in the evening. Set the food out after dinner but before dusk, and never leave the food out overnight. This method will get the cat to return at the same time every day.

The day before you plan to capture the cat, feed it only half as much food or withhold food altogether. This is to help to ensure that the cat is hungry on trapping day.

To attract the cats to the cat traps, you must first bait and set the trap. Place a small amount of food on a paper plate and place it behind the trap’s step plate. Use tuna, mackerel, sardines or a food with a strong odor. Set your trap and wait until the cat returns for its regular feeding. Hopefully, it will walk into the cat trap, setting it off.

Once you trap the cat, cover it immediately to help calm the cat. The cat will begin to panic after being trapped. To calm the cat, place a sheet or towel over the trap.

Where to Take a Cat After You Catch It

Before you try to trap the cat, contact a no-kill shelter and ask about the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs in your area. These programs will not find a home for the cat. Instead, they will neuter or spay the cat and clip one of their ears (for easy identification of a cat that has been treated through the TNR program), and they will return them to where they were found. Never try to relocate the animal as it will be disoriented and will likely die. Return the cat to the same area where you found it.

You may also contact your local Humane Society for help in handling the situation.

For more information about rescuing stray and feral cats, read our article Stray Cat Rescue: How to Help Your Community.

To learn more about feral cats, go to What Is a Feral Cat?

Stray Cat Rescue: How to Help Your Community

According to the ASPCA, the number of community cats in the United States is estimated to be in the tens of millions. A community cat is a cat that is born and raised in the wild, or a cat who has been abandoned and who has turned to wild ways in order to survive. A community cat is primarily raised in the wild or it has adopted community life.

A stray cat, on the other hand, is usually someone’s pet that has become lost or who has been abandoned. Unlike community cats, a stray cat is usually tame and comfortable around humans. These cats will try to make a home near humans. They are not able to cope with life in the wild and are completely reliant on humans for food.

When it comes to stray cat rescue, you may want to feed a stray cat, but you may not want to capture it. These stray cats have a much better chance of reuniting with their owner when they’re left in the area where they are found, so stray cat rescue is not always the best option. According to the Animal Humane Society, less than five percent of stray cats that are brought to shelters are ever reclaimed by their owners. That’s why stray cat rescue is not a good idea. It is best to leave healthy, friendly cats where you discovered them.

A stray cat may be friendly and approach you, or it may be too scared to let you get close, however it will usually eat as soon as you put food down. If you want to try to help a stray cat, see if the cat has identification and contact the owner. If you are able to safely get the cat into a carrier, take it to the veterinarian or to an animal shelter and have the cat scanned for a microchip. Contact animal shelters, rescue groups and veterinarians to let them know you have found the cat – someone may have filed a missing cat report that matches your description. Ask your neighbors if they know the cat. Post signs in the neighborhood. While you search for the cat’s owner it is helpful if you can provide shelter for the cat. If the owner cannot be found, you may decide to adopt the cat yourself or try to find it a good home. (If you take the cat home with you, have it examined by a veterinarian before introducing it to your other cats.)

For community cats, stray cat rescue is not recommended. A humane method called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is used to manage cat communities. With this method, the cat is trapped, spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then returned to its colony to live out its life.

Why You Should Use Cat Traps for Your Local Strays

Cat traps are a painless and humane method for safely capturing cats. Don’t try to pick the cat up to put it in a carrier. Use humane cat traps to ensure the safety of the cats and you.

Cat traps come in different styles, like a box trap or a drop trap. In some areas, you may be able to borrow a cat trap from a local animal shelter, or they may be able to teach you how to work with a cat trap. If you cannot borrow a cat trap, you can purchase a humane cat trap.

Before trapping begins, you should have a warm, dry, secure holding place ready to house the cat or cats that you trap. You must have your spay or neuter appointments scheduled before you trap. You must purchase or borrow your traps before you are ready to begin trapping, and you should have transportation ready to transport the trapped cats.

You may decide to use a cat trap to catch a neighborhood stray, or you may use cat traps to safely Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) community cats. Cat traps may be purchased, or sometimes they may be borrowed from local rescue organizations.

To learn more, read our article Why You Should Use Cat Traps for Your Local Strays.

What Is Trap Neuter Release?

Trap neuter release, or TNR as it is known, is a program that has been used in the United States for decades after its success in Europe. It is the humane approach to controlling feral cat overpopulation. In trap neuter release, the feral cats are trapped, neutered or spayed, and then returned to the very same spot where they were first caught.