Q&A with Ele Hacheme, lead nutritionist at Republic of Cats

Republic of Cats is a revolutionary new ‘concierge’ cat food service created by a team of entrepreneurial renegades who have ‘feline obsessive’ running through their DNA.

The brand is the upstart younger sibling of tails.com, which successfully pioneered tailored nutrition for dogs.

Ele Hacheme is lead nutritionist at Republic of Cats and here she answers our questions about all things cat nutrition:

What effect does bad nutrition have on our cats?

It’s so important to get the right nutrition for your cat.

Every one of them is different, so they therefore require individually tailored levels of nutrients. Choosing a ‘complete’ cat food covers the basics needed for a healthy cat, but it’s tailoring that really helps them to excel, taking into account their age, lifestyle and how much they exercise (and of course their tastes too).

A simple example is older cats; they need extra help to maintain good mobility – so at Republic of Cats we balance a different level of vitamins and minerals for them to do so.

Kittens on the other hand need specific levels of calcium and phosphorous in order to grow to the right size and strength – and give them a great start in life. Adult cats don’t need the same level as they’re already fully grown.

It’s not just about the nutrients themselves, but dishing them up in the right portion. It’s this that makes sure your cat gets enough of those vital vitamins and minerals, but also keeps them in shape. With 44% of the UK’s cat population deemed overweight or obese, it’s something we take incredibly seriously.

As cat humans, we understand how wonderful it feels to treat your cat.  And how unhealthy can a sliver of cheese really be for our little ones? Imagine this: 10g of cheddar is 2% of our human daily calorie requirement… but it’s 16% of our cats’! That’s EIGHT TIMES more!

So watch out when feeding them titbits. Human scraps and some treats are higher in calories than you’d imagine, often without the nutritional benefit we’re looking for – so use high quality, lean meaty treats such as Cat Charcuterie by Republic of Cats and even then, feed sparingly.

Finally, cats are prone to kidney issues so it’s essential to keep checking that your pet drinks water every day. Adding some wet food to your cat’s feeding plan ensures that they get the extra moisture too. As well as hydration, it’s essential to feed him or her the right nutrition as the salt coming from too many titbits could contribute to kidney issues in the future.

What are the common mistakes that owners make when choosing the right food for their cat?

There are so many cat food choices on the market nowadays it’s hard to choose and know which is the right one. Look past the pretty packaging, check that it’s complete, right for your cat’s life stage and has the right ingredients to keep your cat happy and healthy. And remember to measure out the right portions to get those nutrients in the right quantities.

Now onto common mistakes.

Mistake 1 : Mixing up ‘complete’ with ‘complementary’

Something that can trip people up is the difference between ‘complete’ and ‘complementary’ food. ‘Complementary’ means it should be fed alongside a ‘complete’ food. ‘Complementary’ foods simply don’t contain all the nutrients your cat needs to be fit and healthy (but could be tasty as a treat).

Mistake 2 : Prioritising ‘nice to haves’ over the fundamentals

For the majority of cats, choosing a food based on the guidelines set out above is far more important than finding something that’s ‘grain-free’ for instance. Focus on complete, balanced and how tailored it is to your cat.

Mistake 3 : Zoning in on meat content alone

It can be tempting to select a food based on meat content alone – years of marketing has trained cat owners to do so! Cats need a high protein diet that provides a variety of ingredients – but these should come from different meats, some vegetables, vitamins and minerals, definitely not meat content alone.

And there’s another side to this too. As animal-lovers, we take our commitment to the environment seriously at Republic of Cats. We designed everything to do our best by it – from sending your cat’s box of meaty meals in 100% recyclable packaging, to the ingredients we use. To us, using only the fancy cuts of meats you’ll be used to seeing on restaurant menus doesn’t make sense. Our recipes feature a full range of nutritious, meaty cuts you’d find at a real butchers as well as the parts less popular with humans but still full of nutrients for our cats; that’s summarised as ‘meat and animal derivatives’.

The most important thing is to find what works for your cat; we all know our furry friends can be very particular!

Overweight cats are a big problem in the UK, why do you think this is?

The PFMA’s (Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association) latest obesity report (2019) states that 44% of cats are overweight compared to 40% in 2015. Some reports have shown that since COVID, this number of overweight cats might even have increased.

As we bring our cats further into our families, it’s possible we’re changing their lifestyles fundamentally too.

We might well be killing them with our kindness… The PDSA PAW report 2020 states that since March 2020 (the start of the COVID pandemic), 6% of cat owners have reported that their cats have gained weight. Since spending more time at home they’ve noticed some new behaviours in their cats such as being more vocal and asking for food more. It’s easy to feed a few too many treats, especially when our cats are miaowing at the food cupboard.

How we help our customers with this:

Tip 1 : Less is more with treats

Being mindful about what treats we feed and the amount is key. With our Cat Charcuterie, it’s great to tear one meaty slice into a few smaller pieces to extend the chomps and purrs, while keeping your kitty trim.

Tip 2 : Get them off the couch

Cats are now spending more time inside, meaning they’re doing less exercise.  When outside, they tend to roam around their territories and hunt, but inside they’ll burn fewer calories.  If you have a cat who likes to snuggle up inside most or all of the time, try introducing 5-10 minutes of play to work up an appetite before teatime. Toys such as the dangly sticks, balls or fluffy mice are a great way to interact with them, keeping their mental and physical agility high, all whilst working up an appetite for dinner too.

Tip 3 : Give them only what they need (despite the protests)

It’s really easy to misjudge the amount of food cats need as some pet food labels can be hard to decode into each cat’s own bowl. Cat food, especially dry food, can be very dense in nutrients and they therefore don’t need as much as the heaped bowl on the box might suggest. We designed our feeding plans at Republic of Cats to take the guesswork out of it and support each cat and their human by calculating exactly the right portion for them.

Tip 4 : Learn what a healthy cat looks like

It’s likely you’ve never heard of a ‘body condition score’ – and less likely still that you’re familiar with the precise markers of an ‘ideal’ vs an overweight cat. So we don’t realise they’re piling on the pounds. Ask your vet about it next time you’re there and get them to show you how to keep an eye on your cat’s weight.

Which option would you consider best for cats? Wet or dry food?

For the majority of cats I recommend a mix of wet and dry food. Both have extraordinary benefits that the other simply can’t provide.

Wet food adds variety to a cat’s diet and plays a vital role in keeping him or her hydrated (it’s really no wonder they prefer delicious gravies to drinking plain old tap water). Cats can be fussy eaters, so it’s great to be able to mix up the recipes at dinner time.

Our dry food is a real nutritional hero; it’s where we can balance very specific mixes of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to deliver on health goals that our cat humans choose. You can pick from all sorts – from working towards a healthier coat and less itchy skin, to helping reduce hairballs and a smelly litter tray, or even supporting sensitive tummies – this is the ultimate in personalised food. All dry foods also have that crunchy texture to help keep their teeth clean and strong too.

As always, we know that cat humans know their kitties best, so we support their choices. We’ll create each cat a complete and balanced plan, in the right portions, from wet and dry food, or just one or the other if that’s more appropriate for them.

How does Republic of Cats’ tailored service ensure cats get all the nutrition they need?

At Republic of Cats we celebrate each cat as an individual.  In order to do that, we have created a special quiz that owners complete.  It allows us to get to know each one so we can collect all the information needed to design his or her perfect feeding plan.  It takes their life stage, weight, body condition, how much they exercise and so on into consideration.

Each cat’s plan is then fully tailored for them and focused on the health goals selected such as helping to improve skin and coat, aiding sensitive digestion etc. Managing their weight is front and centre too – If a cat needs to lose weight, their plan will have specific portions to take them on that journey whilst the food supports them too.

We receive amazing feedback from people saying that they’ve noticed a difference in just days. Not only do we hear reports of formerly fussy cats licking their bowl clean, but also the standoffish become cuddlier, their eyes a little brighter and an all-round improvement in their energy. A little longer than that, and we hear that coats are thicker and shinier, their litter trays aren’t clearing the room any more (you know what I mean), and hairballs are reduced to next to nothing. That’s truly the power of tailored feeding.

We’ve assembled a team of cat lovers to help our customers out with anything from helping a fussy cat dig into their Republic recipe for the first time, to nutritional questions (and between you and me, they love receiving your cat pictures too!) With support from me, the Republic of Cats nutritionist, we answer thousands of questions each week over email and WhatsApp (which we know makes it that little bit easier to chat).

Cats can be tricky customers when it comes to food – how can owners tackle fussy pets?

Cats are wonderful, independent beings, but if they don’t like what is offered, they will go elsewhere.

Over the course of each day, dishing up both wet and dry food can definitely help, keeping dinnertime as varied as possible as well as making the most sense nutritionally. With such a huge availability of textures – pâtés, gravies, jellies, soups, chunks, shreds and so many more – you’re bound to find something your cat loves.

At Republic of Cats, we’ve designed eight different wet food recipes alone, across three different textures. Some cats delight in them all, whereas other cats and their humans undergo more trial and error to find out what works for their more discerning palate. For example, Maine Coons have a rougher than average tongue, so they naturally experience teatime somewhat differently.

If you’ve got a pernickety eater, we’ve gone far beyond our delicious recipes to help; here are some other ways our incredible team of cat lovers help our customers with some very simple tips:

  • Create a routine so your cat knows when to expect food (2-3 mealtimes is a practical solution).
  • A clean bowl for a clean bowl! Use a fresh dish each time for the best results.
  • Build up an appetite – a little exercise is great, and keep the treats on hold until your kitty’s back to loving their main meals.
  • Keep things zen – we’d have less of an appetite if the dog was running back and forth, if a toddler threatened to pull our hair or if our biggest competition was giving us the side eye! Serve dinner up away from these guys.
  • Take storage seriously. Cats are very sensitive to food quality – make sure their dry food bag is properly sealed every time you put it away – and, if their wet food has been in the fridge, let it adjust to room temperature before serving it.

I could (and do) go on – there’s lots we can try – and largely have success with former fusspots up and down the country. Getting off to a great start with a new food is the most important thing – we include a guide in every Republic of Cats box to make sure cat people take their time, switching the new food in for the old over a period of a minimum of 10 days.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just cats who like things just so. For fussy pups, tails.com – our sibling company – can help with how to get your dog to love their personalised feeding plans as much as your cat does.

If you would like to try Republic of Cats for your kitty, Companion Life readers have an exclusive offer of 80% off the taster box. That gives you a two week taster box for £3!! To take advantage of this visit https://www.republicofcats.com/box80/?pc=COMPANION – where the promo code COMPANION is automatically added to your order!