Review of Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag at Cornell University on Feline Nutrition

A friend directed me to a talk at Cornell University that was live streaming on December 6, 2017. It was given by Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, DACVN, DACVSMR. And it was Co-sponsored by the Baker Institute for Animal Health and the Cornell Feline Health Center. Cornell University is located in New York state and is one of the top ranked Veterinary Colleges. I was unable to watch that night but the YouTube video is still available to watch now. As I have done with other video reviews, I have chosen to provide my impressions of the speech as I watched. You can watch the speech as well at

First Impressions My first impressions from reading the caption under the video honestly was of disappointment. The caption read “Struggling to keep your pet at a healthy weight? In the next session of Baker Pet talks, learn the tricks of the trade in combating pet obesity, discuss the pros and cons of dry vs wet food, and get a better understanding of your cat’s needs as a carnivore…” My first thoughts were, I am going to be disappointed. While I see “get a better understanding of your cat’s needs as a carnivore” I do NOT see raw feeding anywhere. I simply see dry vs wet food which ultimately means commercial pet food.

Ingredients vs. Nutrients

At 3:57 Dr. Wakshlag says we don’t know too much in the way of nutrition but we do know “They don’t need ingredients, they need certain nutrients” I have always found this statement to be over simplified and quite frankly it’s more complex. Yes, animals need nutrients but for example Corn and soy provide high levels of protein but are INAPPROPRIATE sources of protein for carnivores that require animal protein not plant (which he address at in the video at 25:50). These proteins are NOT the same and do not equal each other just as sugar from candy bar is not the same as sugar from a piece of fruit.

Avoiding Raw At 4 minutes 29 seconds in the Speaker says he will not get into the raw controversy “maybe later”. Again, another disappointment that not ALL aspects of feline feeding will be address.

Nutrition Experts Around the speaker shows a slight of who people believe are nutrition experts. I do agree that the list of nutrition experts that people go to are not correct. I DO believe anyone can learn and be highly knowledgeable on the topic of feline nutrition but just because someone works with animals does not mean they know all about animal nutrition. Breeders for example. Many feed a kibble diet such as Royal Canin because these companies know if they supply free or very low-cost food to those with many cats (including shelters and rescues) they will recommend or at least give samples of their food to new pet owners, increasing the chances of the new pet own becoming a lifelong customer. Some breeders or simply pet owners in general (as we are all people) will continue feeding something this mentor or friend showed them, but it doesn’t me it’s the correct thing. Other have just simply jumped on the bandwagon of feeding what’s popular without properly understand the real needs and importance or detriments behind it.

Pet Store employees. While some are self-educated or taking some classes related to animals most pet store employees are high school or college students and most just have a love for animals. Some stores may provide a brief lesson in animal care but animal and carnivore nutrition is very in depth and cannot be learned in a day. Some of these lessons are lectures employees are required to attend that are presented by companies of the pet foods the store carries. This could be seen as a very biased opinion in regard to feline health. Some of these stores are even owned by pet food companies. PetSmart is owned by Banfield Hospital (a chain veterinary hospital) which is owned by Mars Company who makes: Cesar



Iams- Spectrum Brans and Mars

Natura Pet Products (manufacturer)


California Naturals



Nutro Products (manufacturer)




Ol' Roy


Royal Canin

Sensible Choice


The Goodlife Recipe


Some pet owners look to review sites such as Dog Food Advisor. The main point here is sites like these are trying to evaluate something that no matter how you look at it is not species appropriate, yet popular choices to feeding. Dry kibble loaded with carbohydrates, preservatives, dyes and other inappropriate ingredients are not what cats should be eating. 70-80 years is not long enough to evolve to eat these things. Nature has designed them to eat raw meat, organs and bones as there is no true alternative. We can try to mimic it all we want but commercial food is NOT a true species appropriate diet I always say humans can eat McDonald’s their whole life and look healthy and live a long life, but are they really healthy? Should they really be eating these foods? I think we can agree the answer is no

Manufacturer Influences

I wanted to bring attention to some Dr. Wakshlag says around 7 minutes in. Dr. Wakshlag asks the audience why do you feed the food you do? He asked audience members to shout their answer out. Then he said if you are a student I understand, you get it for a reduced price” Of course we all like free stuff (I get a lot of raw meat and other ingredients for free) but free doesn’t mean strings aren’t attached. Just like with breeder and shelters, pet food companies sponsor and donate to veterinary programs. Why wouldn’t you. You have a whole class of students that will feed their pets your food and then recommend it to their patients in the future or to friends and family with only the basis of pet food company influence under the guise of understand animal nutrition to drive their decision

National Research Council (NRC)

It should also be noted that the pet food and NRC recommendations are only adjusted every 20-25 years. However, the Pet food industry has only been around for about 80 years. In 2006 requirements were updated from those made in the 1980’s.

Anthropomorphizing Our Pets

10 minutes in the main take away message was DON’T anthropomorphize your companions. However, this only addressed feeding pizza, French fries and other foods that made up 20% of their pet’s caloric intake. This did not address again the inappropriate foods we are feeding out obligate carnivores like fruits, veggies and grains. These ingredients are deliberately added to pet food labels and bags to entice the pet owner to buy the food. We connect healthy and nutritious often with whole foods like fruits and veggies. We assume it’s good for us so it’s good for our companions. Humans are omnivores and we can utilize and convert the nutrients in plant material but cats as obligate carnivores cannot even if your cat with steal some of your banana or eat some peas.

AAFCO Feeding Trials and Guidelines 16 minutes in Dr. Wakshlag sheds light on the fact that feeding trials don’t tell you anything about long term feeding of the food that’s why even in commercial food it’s recommended to rotate foods. In many cases deficiencies can result but may not appear for several years. Technically In the long run, these companies don’t need to meet any criteria. All they need to meet is in the short term is: Only 8 animals (either dogs or cats) need to participate in the feeding trial.

No restriction regarding breed or sex.

Only 6 of these 8 need to complete the trial

Lasts for just 26 weeks (6 months)

Before the trial starts, and after it ends, the participating animals must pass a physical examination by a veterinarian.

At the end (but not at the beginning) of the trial, 4 blood values are measured and recorded:

The diet being tested fails if any animal shows clinical or pathological signs of nutritional deficiency or excess.

No dog or cat is allowed to lose more than 15% of its starting body weight.

Specific minimum values for the blood tests are given, and applied to the average result of all participating animals that finished the trial.

Pet foods do not have to have a feeding trial period (this is expensive and time consuming to pet food companies) so if it contains the same nutrients as another food, it can be sold. If the product was testing in feeding trials the nutrition adequacy statement will say “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ______________ provides complete and balanced nutrition for _____________.”

If it was formulated like another food it will say “___________ is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for ___________.”

Unfortunately, the speaker admits that the AAFCO doesn’t do a good job of telling you what’s in the pet food and they are vague on definitions. For example, they are only allowed to label “by product” no “beef liver, kidney and pancreas”. It certainly is not consumer friendly. However, the company can only label according to AAFCO guidelines. In this sense, the playing field is even for all pet food companies. This all-important information because there are many that choose a food solely based AAFCO guidelines and while it provides a foundation it should not be something 100% relied upon as many terms and guidelines that are set are fairly loose

By Products At 23:33 in the speech Dr. Wakshlag implies by products are not bad, that they provide what muscle meat can’t and that is true. In raw feeding 5% liver is essential. It’s the multivitamin of raw feeding and it would be considered a byproduct in accordance with pet food guidelines however as he points out the “by-products at the market in France for human consumption one must realize this isn’t what is in pet food. In most cases it’s the bottom of the barrel stuff that IS NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. It can be diseased, it can be from preprocessing dead and dying animals. It’s not the high quality good stuff you would get from the French market. Furthermore, consumption of raw organ meats is much different than those cooked at high temperatures during the manufacturing process where mainly nutrients, fats, enzymes, vitamins and minerals are lost. Fats and Oils

26:00 minutes into the speech Dr. Wakshlag talks about what he looks for in his food. Like most people looking at pet foods, he wants animal based protein sources as the first ingredient (chicken, beef, turkey etc.) While this makes sense as cats are carnivores, he seemed to be ok with using plant based oils such as corn oil, soy bean oil and canola oil for polyunsaturated fats, but the reasoning for using the animal based proteins would go for the oils as well which he did mention is found in chicken fat and fish oils. There is little need for plant based oils and fats that aren’t as easily converted or utilized like animal based fats and oil.

Corn Controversy At 30:07 Dr. Wakshlag says corn is not an allergen and doesn’t make it in the top five allergens for dogs. However, more than just being an allergen, Corn isn’t digested, not even in humans. Corn has as much sugar as a chocolate and corn is one of the most common genetically modified products currently. Besides all that it is plant based it’s not meant to be consumed or digested by carnivores and can tax the body which can result in impaired immune systems and thus lead to allergies among other health concerns. It irks me that he says they are more allergic to the animal protein source. This implies you should be feeding corn soy and wheat instead. During the cooking process the proteins are altered in meat denaturing and changing their structure. This makes them less recognized by the body which can cause allergies and illness. Many animals cannot eat some proteins in commercial food but have no reaction on the same protein fed raw. Furthermore, it’s more complex than just protein source, what did the that animal eat and drink, where they downed, diseased, dead or dying when they were processed, are artificial vitamins and minerals added to the food or chemical preservatives and cancerous dyes added. There is not usually a one size fits all answer to illness and disease. Due to epigenetic factors and stressors most often multiple factors are at play resulting in illness and disease. Chemical Preservatives

At 32:41 Dr. Wakshlag talked about chemical preservatives. saying most chemical preservatives are great they just aren’t used as much like ethoxyquin because of negative press but again there is more to that. This preservative also is banned in other countries as well as identified by the FDA for causing liver and blood problems. Furthermore, it is used as a pesticide. So, if it kills pests why wouldn’t it poisonous for our pets who consume it for years on end?

Ethoxyquin isn’t the only chemical preserve common in pet foods but so is BHT. BHT or butylated hydroxytoluene and BHA or butylated hydoxyanisole are both known in human food as a carcinogen as proven by studies done on laboratory animals. Due to this knowledge, these chemical preservatives have been banned in other countries as well as California! With safer alternatives for preservation like vitamin E and C why even add a chemical?

Vitamins and Minerals During all his analysis of the pet food ingredients he never once talks about the dangers of supplements. These aren’t whole food supplements, they are often laboratory made artificial supplements and just like most medications come with a nice list of side effects that when you add it together can create a very unhealthy and ill animal.

The following database is a great resource for seeing what’s really in your pet food


I LOVE how at 37:26 he talks about probiotics and beneficial bacteria. That the listed probiotics in these foods are MARKETING. They are dead they aren’t going to do anything for your companion. This is so true. Probiotics and beneficial bacteria in the gut are meant to live in a certain environment which means they live in a specific temperature, pH, air exposure and much more. If any of this changes destruction of these bacteria is quick rendering them pretty useless. They may be in pet food, but they probably aren’t doing much.

High Protein Around 40 minutes in. YES! High protein diets for acidifying urine. Back in the day protein was at its minimum and had much more fruits and veggies in it (still does ;)) and because of this makes the urine more alkaline. This not only results in UTI’s, but bladder and kidney stones as well. Urinary problems are a big issue when it comes to cats and having a diet (and one low in moisture) heavily affects the body and its ability to neutralize and kill bacteria, flush out said bacteria as well as prevent stones and crystal that are formulating because the urinary tract environment is not conducive. Take away message:

Fruits, veggies and grains are alkalizing Meat is acidifying

Moisture and Water In take

Dr. Wakshlag talks about a cat’s low thirst drive and that at least canned food is better than wet food at 41 minutes into his speech. They will consume more moisture from wet canned food than eat dry food and drinking water. This is an important point. Cats are of desert descent and mainly derived their moisture from whole prey. They are no different today. There are of course exceptions but in general cats only drink about half their daily requirement of water despite constant access to water or if you see them drinking. Water is not only essential for life but it is essential for critical functions in the body as well as flushing out bacteria and other waste. If the body isn’t receiving enough moisture it cannot do that. For cats, you should rely on their diet to get the moisture they need to perform these functions. Take away Message Dry Food is 7-10% moisture Wet Food is 60%- 80% Raw is 70% +

Sharp Edges This is really of no importance but I had to really laugh at the part where Dr. Wakshlag says “Cats like sharp edges” Maybe they like the sharp feelings in their mouth because they should be chowing down on raw meat bones no triangular shaped kibble lol

Kidney Disease At 49.56 minutes I am so happy he mentioned phosphorus restriction is the ingredient to restrict NOT protein which is so true. Many vets still recommend protein restriction but this is misinformation and are many studies dating back to the 1970’s and as recent as 2011 prove protein restriction is NOT appropriate for cats and dogs with kidney disease. The myth comes from a study done on rodents and it was shown that they do need protein restriction to maintain a slow progression of kidney failure. This study was translated to dogs and cats, but was debunked and found that protein restrict progression the failure of kidneys faster. Resources: Invest Urol. 1979 Mar;16(5):378-84.

Long-term measurement of renal function in partially nephrectomized dogs fed 56, 27, or 19% protein.

Bovée KC, Kronfeld DS, Ramberg C, Goldschmidt M. Am J Vet Res. 1985 Mar;46(3):646-53.

Effects of three diets on dogs with induced chronic renal failure.

Finco DR, Crowell WA, Barsanti JA.

Kidney Int. 1986 Feb;29(2):511-9.

Long-term renal responses to high dietary protein in dogs with 75% nephrectomy.

Robertson JL, Goldschmidt M, Kronfeld DS, Tomaszewski JE, Hill GS, Bovee KC.

Avoiding Raw…Again 51:06 avoiding raw feeding again (note never does address raw feeding)

Carnivore Anatomy 55 minutes I start having a feeling. Although I agree with a lot of what Dr. Wakshlag has to say I still feel there is a disconnect. While most of this talk he speaks of wet and canned food he talks about protein needs of cats and at this point in the speech talks about carnivore dentation which is indicative of their natural diet of meat organs and edible bone. There is more to a carnivore than just simply saying they have a high protein requirement. But in addition, regardless of these facts he gives about indications of being carnivores he positively agrees with the use of some fruits and veggies, plant based oils and little concern for corn, soy and wheat.

Dental Health Around 55:53 minutes Dr. Wakshlag argues that dry feeding for cats with bad teeth are better. This is a myth. Other than a diet with raw meaty bones or brushing teeth, you cannot rely on your companion’s diet to clean the teeth. This is like saying if humans ate pretzels and chips they don’t have to brush their teeth, the food will keep them clean. Studies show while dry over wet keeps the teeth cleaner, the percent different was minuscule. The real fact of the matter is commercial foods both wet and dry are loaded with carbohydrates that do not break down and are left to sit along the gum line and in between teeth to rot and decay. Kibble does not encase and scrape the teeth. Compare it to a nail driving through a piece of kibble. It’s just going to explode a part. The soft edible bone in a raw diet does encase the tooth (as does chunked meats) The abrasiveness of the bone scrapes the teeth and keeps them free from plaque and tartar and the sinewy meat on the bones act as a floss. Just a side note we are talking about raw meaty edible bones like chicken necks, duck frames, whole prey not recreational bones you find at the pet store that are smoked or cooked and very dense.


Around 59:00 minutes he talked about taurine. Dr. Wakshlag said organ meats contain most of the taurine. Yes, most normal cuts of meat do not have as much taurine in it, it’s the HARD-WORKING muscle meats, heart, thigh, shoulder tongue that provide high levels of taurine. Whole prey such as mice contain 2400 mg of taurine because they are tiny animals that are constantly working. However, you can’t JUST feed mice. It’s essential a variety is fed. But be mindful when it’s put into pet food taurine is depleted quickly because it’s heat sensitive which is why cooking for cats is actually not recommended. Instead what you do see in pet food is artificial taurine. All supplemented taurine is artificial and made in a laboratory (there is one method that is more natural however, it entails extracting taurine from ox bile. (The reason it is not used is because this method is unsavory to many and would cost more money). Most taurine is also sourced from China who is not only the number one exporter but also owns 40 manufacturers of taurine. Considering only 1% if not less of imported items are inspected by the US and China has a history of contaminated products, I would avoid supplemented taurine all together.

Soy At 1 hour 30 minutes, an audience member talks about soy as a single protein source. Dr. Wakshlag said there is no problem with this. That is untrue. Soy is one of the highest genetically modified products just like corn. Furthermore, soy is a goitrogen. Goitrogens are carbohydrates that can interfere with proper thyroid function and currently in the United States in the pet population there seems to be a thyroid epidemic. It is the most common endocrine disorder in dogs and it is estimated 10% of senior cats suffer from the disorder as well. Although he suggests there is no Information, Dr. Jean Dodd’s has many papers, articles and a book written extensively on the topic.

Overall the talk wasn’t too terrible IF you know what to look for when listening to it. For the average cat owner, this information could be confusing, but I understand that since Dr. Wakshlag technically only had an hour to talk about feeding cats he couldn’t go into much detail. The topic is extensive after all. I do wish he would have touched on raw feeding. I’d be curious to know what he said about it, it is a cat’s natural diet at the end of the day.

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