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.
So, it is hard. There's actually a way longer list than most clients think. I would recommend going on ASPCA, they have a great toxin section and just definitely looking at different plants that you can have in your household that can be toxic to cats. One of the big ones I can think of would be lilies, and also just looking at some of the household common spices, such as garlic, what those can be toxic for as well. And just trying to familiarize yourself with them, maybe printing out a list, putting it on your fridge, just to make sure that we're not giving your kitty anything that's going to harm them.
I think the safest bet is to look into various sites. I know for sure the ASPCA has a site that is fairly comprehensive, as far as foods and perhaps even more specifically human foods that can be toxic or make your animals ill. So I would probably reference a list like that to find out for sure.
I wouldn't recommend it. Reasons behind it are sometimes human food can be really fatty and actually cause harm to your cat. They can give them something called pancreatitis, which is inflammation of one of those digestive organs. Also, it can predispose them to developing obesity, which obesity in cats is associated with a lot of health conditions. So at this point I would just stick with the kitty food, which I think, my cat at least is very happy with his kitty food.
Yeah, it's kind of a tough question, because what do we really mean when we say human food? There are certain things that we eat that cats most definitely eat; chicken and fish, things like that, absolutely. Do you want to depend just on those? Of course not.
It's always safest and, in my opinion, best, to feed them a well-balanced cat-formulated diet. Does that mean commercial foods are best? We can debate that when we have more time. But I think it's the simplest thing that provides, as I said, a well-balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals that they need. So that's what I tend to stick with for my own animals.
I would definitely monitor things like your cats stool. Sometimes if it is not the right nutrients for him, sometimes the stool can just be a little, not as solid. Also, it can be really foul smelling. Also if your cat's energy level decreases at all, or if the coat does not look as beautiful as before you started that diet. I think at that point, it's a good idea to chat with your veterinarian about switching diets.
The most common thing we see is food allergies. If the allergy is consistent 365 days a year, then it's probably not fleas and it's probably not seasonal. I would approach illnesses that are related to food the same way.
If it's something that you're feeding—maybe it's a new additive that you added to the cat's diet or a new ingredient or perhaps even a new bag of food—and right at that point you see that your cat has been constantly ill with a variety of signs, it's a strong possibility that it's the food. If it began with the initiation of a new ingredient and it's consistent after the cat has been eating the new food, that is kind of a big red flag for me.
Yes, they can, just because they get so used to eating one certain diet. I would recommend that we slowly transition the diet over one to two weeks, just to prevent any gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Yes, typically very transient and mild harm, but yes. The most common thing we see is when a diet has changed abruptly is gastrointestinal signs. What does that look like? Some cats can vomit, but more often they'll have diarrhea. So if you do have to make a change, or if you're planning on making a change, just do it gradually over the course of maybe a week. Use this period to gradually mix the new food in slowly, giving more and more of the new food to make sure that they tolerate it.
So that's hard because so many of the toxins can lead to different things, but I would say definitely monitor for his or her appetite level, his energy level, and any vomiting or diarrhea I would definitely take him into a veterinarian and see what's going on.
If the illness can be traced back to the addition of a new ingredient or food or something along those lines, that is when I would become suspicious. To answer one specific set of signs that can say, oh, that means your cat ate something bad, I can't do that because it just depends on what they ate. Certain foods can be toxic to an animal's gastrointestinal system. Some can be toxic to their heart and some can cause skin any issues. It just depends on what they ingest in order to be able to answer that.