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Analysis of commercially available enteral diets for cats

Prantil LR, Markovich JE, Heinze CR, Linder DE, Tams TR, et al. Nutritional analysis and microbiological evaluation of commercially available enteral diets for cats. J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2016 Mar;26(2):254-61. 

Nutrition in cats is always a subject of significant debate. Protein, fat, and carbohydrate content in commercial cats foods can be important factors in many disease states, and adjustments to these macronutrients profiles are the focus of many commercial diets. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals also play a significant role in health and disease. While nutrition is extremely important in healthy cats, it is also a major factor in the treatment and recovery of critically ill animals. In hospital setting, cats are often unable to take in required volumes of food to promote healing and recovery. Similar to use iun human medicine, several “enteral diets’ are available in veterinary medicine. These diets are generally liquids intended for administration via nasogastric or esophageal feeding tubes.

The authors of this study attempted to determine the nutritional adequacy of several of the enteral diets currently available on the market. Further to this, they examined the risk of microbial contamination in diets stored in normal hospital settings. These questions are important, as the cats receiving enteral diet support are generally at high risk for infection or dysbiosis from contaminated food.  In human medicine, contamination of enteral diets has been commonly reported. These cats may also have diseases that limited their ability to utilize nutrition and energy stores, requiring diets to specifically meet their needs.

In this study, samples of 7 enteral diets were obtained. All products were stored at room temperature in the sealed, original packages and analyzed within 30 days of purchase.  Analysis of crude fat, fibre, moisture, protein (including several specific amino acids), thiamine, and a panel of minerals was undertaken. Due to cost concerns, fat soluble vitamins and several other nutrients were not analyzed.

One diet was chosen for microbial analysis. It was stored in four aliquots in conditions typical for a hospital setting (covered and uncovered, with or without sampling from the can). All samples were kept refrigerated.

Three of the seven diets had AAFCO claims for nutritional adequacy. Two had statements of adequacy for short term feeding, and two had no statements but could be inferred to be complete and balanced. On analysis, all of the diets were found to be deficient in at least three nutrients; some were deficient in up to nine. No diets exceeded maximum requirements. The most common nutrient deficiency was iron, followed by manganese and potassium.  The diet deficient in the most nutrients (9) was indicated on the label to be complete and balanced.

None of the samples cultured positive on aerobic culture on days 0, 1, 3, 5, or 7, under any storage condition.

The findings of this study were surprising.  While every enteral diet on the market was not evaluated, a significant cross section of them were. The fact that none of these diets met the recommended requirements raises concerns for the quality of nutrition provided to critically ill animals. While it is likely that these diets are more than sufficient for short term feeding, effort should be made to transition cats to more appropriate long term diets as soon as possible. Industry should also be encouraged to manufacture diets that meet nutritional requirements and ensure proper quality control on these diets. (MRK)

See also:
Freeman L, Becvarova I, Cave N, et al. WSAVA nutritional assessment guidelines. J Small Anim Pract 2011; 52:385–396.