A medium-cooked burger plopped on a paper plate certainly won’t win any cuisine awards for taste or presentation. But, dress up that burger with melted gouda cheese, lettuce, slices of fresh avocado and tomato with a toasted, buttered bun, and your taste buds will thank you.
Well, your cat may feel the same way about his food. Eating the same dry kibble every day can give some felines the food blahs. Some may walk away from their bowls. Others may try to steal your gourmet burger.
Fortunately, pet parents have a tasty tactic to boost appetites, cover the taste of yucky medicine and add needed nutrients to their cats’ daily chow: meal toppers.
Meal toppers can be as simple as the drained water from canned tuna added to bowls of kibble. Or, like in my household, it can mean those coveted pieces of white roasted chicken meat that have been rinsed of all seasonings before adding to the top of my cats’ food bowls. It can also be the wet version of your cat food brand mixed into the dry food version.
“A little goes a long way in terms of being nutritious to your cat,” says Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian in Boulder, Colorado. “For example, you can chop up one sardine and top three meals. Or, add a dollop of ground turkey.”
Too tired to make something? Commercially prepared meal toppers are popping up on store shelves and online. The versions vary, offering broths, gravies, shredded or flaked fish or freeze-dried chicken crumbles.
Blue Wilderness, for example, offers foil single-serving pouches of Wild Cuts, morsels in gravy. Vital Essentials created a line of freeze-dried meal toppers in sprinkle form that include chicken, rabbit, salmon, duck and more proteins. Caru Daily Dish delivers human-grade broth in squeezable bottles as food toppers.
Whether homemade or commercially prepared, all meal toppers serve to supplement the main cat food. The overall goal of meal toppers is to entice cats to stay healthy by eating healthy.
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If you’re looking for a way to jazz up your cat’s food, first team up with your veterinarian to identify your cat’s nutritional needs and overall health condition.
“Before focusing on changing a cat’s diet, ‘picky’ cats should be evaluated by their veterinarians to ensure that there is not an underlying health issue that might be impacting their food intake,” says Dr. Tabitha Hookey, a veterinarian and scientific support specialist for Royal Canin.
Also pay attention to the location of your cat’s water and food bowls as well as their litter boxes.
“It’s ideal for a cat to have separation between his food and water and litter boxes, and it is also important that your cat feels a sense of safety in the area that he is eating and drinking,” Dr. Hookey adds.
Be mindful of the amount of meal toppers you give. Any calories coming from treats or meal toppers should not exceed 10% of your cat’s total daily calorie intake. Excess calories can pack on the pounds in your cat, putting him at risk for obesity and other health issues.
Meal toppers may be just the right tasty prescription for a cat who needs to take medicine for a condition.
“Some prescription medicines don’t taste good but are very much needed for the health of the cat,” says Rachel Geller, EdD, a certified cat behaviorist based in Newton, Massachusetts. “Always consult your veterinarian before adding something new to your cat’s diet, but I definitely think meal toppers can be helpful with a variety of issues your cat may be having, including the need to take medicine.”
Dr. Hofve says a meal topper may be a go-to choice for cats who need to change the type of food they eat.
“A little topper on the kibble for the cat to eat can be an effective bridge to switching the cat from a dry food diet to a wet food diet,” says Dr. Hofve, adding that meal toppers may motivate senior cats at risk for dehydration to accept wet food.
When introducing a meal topper, do so gradually so as not to cause any gastric distress. And, be ready to take action if your cat decides he loves the meal topper only and doesn’t eat the main meal in his bowl, advises Dr. Hofve.
“In some cases, you may need to mix the meal topper in with the kibble to entice the cat to eat the whole meal,” she adds. “It is important for your cat to get a complete and balanced diet every day.”
Meal toppers can also put the capital M in motivation when it comes to training your cat a new trick. My young orange tabby, Rusty, earned the nickname Rusty the Purrformer because he loves learning new tricks. And, he is highly food motivated.
During our mini-training sessions, I reach for small, freeze-dried chicken pieces from a meal topper pouch. He comes running when he hears the pouch and probably smells the contents. So far, he has mastered coming to a whistle, sitting up pretty, walking in a harness on a leash, riding in a pet stroller and jumping up on a table on cue. He may think he is scoring an added meal, but I am keeping him at a healthy weight by doling out these low-calorie treats.
“Cats typically aren’t social feeders like dogs, so having them ‘hunt’ for their food or treats by using a food puzzle or hiding parts of their meal can be useful for enrichment and support their mental and overall wellbeing,” Dr. Hookey says.
Tiki Cat Complements $11.92/8 pack; tikipets.com
Wellness CORE Simply Shreds $15.84 (case of 12); wellnesspetfood.com
Vital Essentials Freeze-Dried Toppers $12.99; vitalessentialsraw.com
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