Optimum Feline Nutrition. What Should You Feed Your Cat?
With so many varieties of cat food options available these days, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when you want to make sure you’re providing your cat with the best nutrition in order for them to live healthy, happy lives. As veterinarians, we understand how confusing making these decisions can be but also know that what you feed your cat (whether kitten food, cat food, or senior cat food) has a greater impact on their overall health and wellness than just about any other decision you make for your feline friend. Learn more below.
There are very specific things to remember when it comes to nutrition for cats to prevent them from developing nutritional deficiencies, which we will discuss here. If you’re concerned about your cat’s food intake, digestion, or weight, it’s best to contact a local veterinarian to determine what is best for your individual cat.
Nutritional Requirements For Cats
Cats are “obligate carnivores”. This means that they must eat meat in order to get all of their nutritional needs and acquire all of their necessary amino acids. Because of this requirement that they get their protein from meat sources, cats cannot survive on a vegan diet. If they are not adequately fed enough meat protein, they can develop abnormalities in their heart muscles, which can be fatal.
It is also important to feed your cat a diet that most closely resembles their natural diet. Feeding a high-quality protein diet with lower carbohydrates is most ideal, which usually entails feeding canned cat food. That being said, it is perfectly fine to feed dry cat food, as long as there is some canned food offered throughout the week as well.
It is best to work with your veterinarian to calculate exactly how much dry and how much canned food your cat should be eating per day. This will vary based on the type and brand of foods, as well as your cat’s size, lifestyle, and specific nutritional needs.
Cooking for Your Cat
If you prefer to cook for your cat, there are Veterinary Nutritionists who can work with you to create a few options for well-balanced diets. It is extremely important to work in consultation with a Veterinary Nutritionist when doing this to make sure your cat’s daily food intake is well-balanced and formulated for your cat’s size and their particular nutritional and life-stage needs.
A good resource to help with this is the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
The Problem with Obesity in Cats
Unfortunately, it’s very easy for indoor cats to become overweight or obese. This can predispose them to health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. It is understandably sometimes very hard to keep your cat active enough inside and to not give it too much food. We definitely empathize with having to tell your cat no when they keep begging for more food throughout the day, or when they try to steal your sandwich meat or milk from your cereal.
For the most part, indoor cats tend to eat more calories than they spend energy-wise, so it’s best to try to moderate what they are eating. Ideally, an indoor cat that is spayed or neutered should not be fed more than a half cup of dry food per day. If it is possible with your work and life schedule to ration it out into two to four portions throughout the day, that would be ideal. For instance, try feeding a quarter cup in the morning and a quarter cup at night, or even an eighth of a cup four times a day, as the normal feeding regimen of cats is multiple small meals throughout the day.
Something important to remember, though, is that if your cat has been fairly overweight most of their life and then all of a sudden starts losing weight, that usually means there could be a disease process going on, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or an overactive thyroid. Sometimes these conditions can be managed with a special diet change alone, so it’s best to consult with your veterinarian if your cat starts losing weight unexpectedly.
Additionally, overweight cats are more at risk for a condition called Fatty Liver Syndrome. If a cat that is overweight becomes sick for an unrelated reason and doesn’t eat for a few days, they can go into liver failure, which oftentimes cannot be reversed. Therefore, it is good to be very attentive to any decrease or change of appetite in your cat and to have them be evaluated by your veterinarian promptly.
Dietary Changes with Aging Cats
Many cats’ energy needs and nutritional requirements change as they age. It is very common for cats to develop certain diseases and tooth abnormalities as they get older, which may require them to be fed a special diet. It’s always best to have your cat examined by your veterinarian if your cat seems to be having unexpected weight loss, is having problems chewing food and eating, or just doesn’t seem interested in their food anymore. Even just one to two pounds of weight loss can be significant in a cat and a sign of a disease process going on.
Additionally, many cats do suffer from inflammatory bowel disease and urinary issues that can be managed with diet changes alone. Working with your veterinarian, you can check your cat’s blood work and have diagnostics performed that can help determine if treatment is needed and if a specific cat food is warranted to help with his or her condition.
Your Veterinarian Can Help
Generally speaking, veterinarians want to see your cat every single year to do a good physical exam and to address any nutritional concerns you may have about your cat.
Reach out to a veterinarian near you to ensure your cat nutrition is allowing for a long and healthy life for your precious pet.