Last year when I complained to Mars Africa about a “bad batch” of Whiskas dry food because my cat refused to eat it, I got short shrift.
They said their products were tested before leaving the factory. And that was that. They refused to send someone from their offices in Montague Gardens to collect it.
I bought another 4kg bag and Domino the cat, 8, which has only ever eaten Whiskas, tucked in, which proved my theory.
While Whiskas was in short supply recently because of the drought it was difficult to wean the cat onto another brand and “experts” said it was addicted to the salt in the formula.
Paul Jacobson of Vondi’s who has developed a range of natural pet food, alleged: “Whiskas, and some other brands, use left-over fats from restaurants, a mix of tomato sauce, sugar and digestives, which include salt, and are very addictive,” said Mr Jacobson.
But they are not listed on the packaging.
Tumi Masekela of Mars Africa said they had to import some raw materials because of the drought but the product is now available.
“I am not sure where the salt beliefs come from, but I usually ask people to look at the health of their pets,” she said.
Barry Hundley, executive director of the Pet Food Industry Association, said Whiskas is produced by one of their members, Mars Africa, “who maintain a very high standard”.
“It is illegal to include an ingredient that is not listed on the packaging or if not mentioned is covered by a generic name. Salt is necessary to meet the sodium requirements and to balance the chlorine so we do not understand it as being addictive. Your experts are suggesting that tomato sauce, sugar or left-over restaurant fats plus digestives are either individually or collectively addictive. If these are not included in the ingredient list and you have proof that they are, we still have to prove they are addictive and we can find no evidence of this.
“Mars Africa will have benefited from our information about fats following in-depth research at the Free State University and I am sure they would have screened their suppliers carefully. The old discarded restaurant fat is the only item mentioned that would be harmful, if included, and this would not be addictive,” said Mr Hundley.
The ingredients listed are harmless and have been approved by the Technical Advisor Animal Feeds Act 36.
Dr Vanessa McLure, small medicine expert, from Onderstepoort, University of Pretoria, said she was unaware that cats can get addicted to salt and she has not been able to find any references to this.
“Cats can be very fussy eaters and have been known to refuse to eat a diet and starve until they develop clinical consequences. The composition but also the palatability of the diet is very important for cats, which are strict carnivores, unlike dogs and humans and have notable metabolic differences. They can develop severe nutritional deficiencies if they are fed a diet containing high amounts of plant products and little or no ingredients of animal origin because of inefficiency in some of their metabolic pathways.
“What I found very interesting and which I think may be the reason why your cat does not want to eat other types and flavours of food is that the food preferences for cats are influenced by the diet of the mother during pregnancy and lactation, and particularly the flavours that the kitten experiences from the fourth week until the sixth month of age, so your cat and his mother were possibly never exposed to other flavours or types of foods so he is not used to these other flavours and textures,” Dr McClure said.
A study done in 2010 demonstrated that pre-and post-natal olfactogustatory exposure via maternal ingestion influences later olfactory and food preferences of cats.
“If you get a new kitten it is a good idea to give them several different kinds of food: dry, canned, and different varieties and brands so they get used to eating different foods at a young age to prevent problems later in life if you have to change diets due to medical reasons, for example.
“Changes to a cat’s diet should be made gradually. Try to choose a food that has the same kibble shape/flavour/texture as the one that your cat likes. Start to mix the new food in with the old food, small amounts at first and slowly increase the amounts of the new brand of food with decreasing amounts of the old brand. This should take about a week. You can also try warming the food (if you use canned food) or adding tuna juice or other meat fats to the food to make it palatable. Another method that can be used is to start by putting your cat’s new food down for a half hour. If he does not eat it during that time, pick it up, and give him a small meal of his usual food. When he stops eating that food pick it up (ensure there is no other food that he can eat). Do this a few times a day for a few days and they usually start eating the new food. The most important thing is to be persistent and patient.”
Domino’s now eating his fill of his favourite brand of Whiskas and feeling like the cat’s whiskers.