Trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet is hard for many of us. We overindulge in sugar and salt, often giving in to the temptation of what tastes good rather than what is good for us. It really should not be a surprise to anyone that we often make similar mistakes with our pets’ diets. Cats have a reputation for being finicky eaters, which doesn’t help with trying to keep a healthy cat. So, what are some of the mistakes we make, and how can we correct them?
The number one health problem with cats stems from over-feeding. Most people free feed, keeping a bowl filled with kibble available all the time. Cats, like people, can develop ‘grazing’ behavior, which often leads to obesity. Obesity is the most common nutritional disease in cats and can lead to other problems such as urinary issues, bone and joint issues, and diabetes. Measuring and monitoring the amount of food your cat has access to is vital to maintaining a healthy weight. You can also meal feed, rather than free feed your healthy cat. Feeding your cat at specific times, generally, morning and evening is a great way of controlling the food intake. Most cats make the switch from free feed to meal feed quite easily.
That takes care of when and how much to feed a healthy cat, but what about the content of the actual food? To provide proper and adequate nutrition for your cat you have to understand their ancestors. Healthy cats evolved from desert dwellers, meaning they got most of the water in their diet from what they ate, rather than from finding an open water source and drinking. Cats today are still obligate carnivores, meaning they must have meat protein in their diet, and they still prefer to obtain water needs through diet. This is problematic given that most everyone feeds dry kibble, with perhaps only an occasional wet food supplement. Dry food is just easier and less expensive. While a reputable dry food is nutritionally balanced, it still doesn’t contain the water necessary to keep cats properly hydrated. Cats love running water, which makes recirculating fountains a great resource for encouraging your cat to drink. Always make sure your cat has access to clean, fresh water.
There is a recent fad involving owners wanting to feed their cats a vegan or vegetarian diet. As mentioned earlier, cats are obligate carnivores. They must have meat proteins in their diet. The amino acid taurine is a good example. It can only be found in animal tissue. Lack of taurine can lead to blindness, heart disease, and even death. A healthy cat must have meat! Some people have tried to make their cat food, but this can be a difficult process. The average healthy cat weighs between 8 and 12 pounds. Making a balanced meal for an animal that size means that proportions of ingredients must be exact. Changing even one item can result in a risk for illness and disease. Reputable pet food companies have spent a lot of time and resources creating balanced formulas for their food, making them the most realistic option. If you choose to go out on your own, consult with your veterinarian for guidelines and resources, as it is often forgotten that in the wild a cat would consume the entire prey, mostly mice, which includes bones and organs. Balancing nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus is difficult enough without trying to whip up a meal in your kitchen!
There are many, many options on the market for cat food, which can make it seem overwhelming to select the best option for your cat. Your veterinarian can help you determine the nutritional needs and guide you in your choice, but it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on a basic understanding of food labels.
- Check the first three ingredients. Look for a source of protein such as chicken, turkey, beef, or lamb, including “meal” products. Note that meal products are often higher in protein.
- Look for a guaranteed analysis to ensure the product meets minimum and maximum requirements for protein, fat, fiber and moisture.
- Feeding Guide. Look for an easy to understand guide as to how much to feed daily.
- Life Stage. Kittens and seniors have very different nutritional needs. Make sure you are feeding the appropriate formula for your cat’s age.
Providing your cat with a healthy diet can be easily achieved with a little self-education and assistance from your veterinarian. Just like a human diet, your cat’s diet should contain the nutrients necessary to maintain a healthy body and mind without overdoing the calories. If you stick with the formulated feeding guidelines, your cat should have all its nutritional needs met and hopefully have a long, happy life.
Healthy Cat Feeding Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t give milk to your adult cat. The odds are that they, just like most mammals, become lactose intolerant to some degree after they are weaned. If kitty likes to lap, you can always offer a bit of lactose-free milk!
- Do feed your cat in a location that is away from the litter box and high traffic areas of the house. Feeding your cat in a corner or up against the cabinet kick plate may make them feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, causing them to eat too quickly.
- Don’t feed your cat in a porous bowl, such as plastics. Bacteria can survive even the hottest trip through the dishwasher and combined with the micro-abrasions from the plastic against the cat’s chin they often end up with a rash or an infection.
- Do offer your cat multiple sources of water. Consider a recirculating fountain to encourage them to drink more frequently.
- Don’t think your cat is a jerk if it meows at you for more food after only eating the center portion from their bowl! Some cats can develop “whisker fatigue” from the constant contact with the edges of their food bowl while eating. That, combined with the blind spot they have right under their nose can sometimes lead to odd feeding habits, like eating just from the center or knocking food out of the bowl. Consider switching to a plate or more shallow food dish.