Cat Nutrition 101: The Basics of Feline Feeding and Cat Diets
Caring for a cat may be just as demanding as caring for a human baby, from the adoption process to regular veterinary visits and, most importantly, pet nutrition. New and inexperienced cat parents may give their pet cat treats and milk and say they’re good to go, but they’re gravely mistaken.
To ensure your precious kitty lives their years to the fullest, you must be familiar with the basics of cat nutrition. Let’s begin by determining what nutrients should be in your pet’s diet.
What Should a Cat’s Diet Contain?
When it comes to feeding, the first question that should pop up in your mind is: what nutrients should be in my cat’s meals? Like humans, cats must absorb certain nutrients to maintain optimal health and continuous growth.
Proteins and Amino Acids
Cats are inherently carnivorous. Cats have meat-based diets because meat's protein is their primary energy source. Proteins also ensure that your cat’s cells, tissues, and organs develop and repair smoothly.
Animal-based foods, like meat and fish, provide full proteins. Plant-based foods such as vegetables, seeds, and nuts also contain proteins, although they aren’t as complete as the ones found in animal-based products.
On the other hand, amino acids are crucial for building proteins in your pet’s system. Cats must regularly consume products with essential amino acids. Taurine, for example, is vital for your cat’s heart and vision, while arginine is important for circulation. Both can be found in animal-based products.
Carbohydrates and Fats
While cats spend most of their time lazing around and lying down, they still need the energy to do their daily endeavors. Along with protein, carbohydrates and fats are good sources of energy.
Apart from being a great energy source, fats are also needed for cell construction, particularly important for a cell’s structure and hormone production. Your feline must also consume essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 to maintain healthy skin and coat.
Meanwhile, though they are important energy sources, carbohydrates must only constitute at most 2% of a feline’s diet. Similar to their situation with milk, cats do not have enough enzymes to digest large amounts of carbohydrates. Fortunately, they can still consume low-carb foods such as fruits and vegetables to gain energy.
Another important part of a cat’s diet is water. That’s why a bowl of fresh water must always accompany every cat meal. Water helps with digestion and circulation. Additionally, water flushes toxins out of your pet’s system, preventing the accumulation of urinary stones.
Inexperienced owners would tend to their cats with milk instead of water. This is actually a misconception—cats should not drink milk. Cats do not have the enzymes to digest lactose. In addition, drinking milk may cause vomiting or diarrhea.
Vitamins and Minerals
As mentioned, cats are carnivores. Unlike herbivores and omnivores, their bodies cannot naturally produce and provide vitamins and minerals. They would have to obtain these nutrients from the food that they consume.
Vitamins are necessary to activate enzymes used during metabolism. Cats need Vitamin A and D in their diets to develop their vision and for bone growth and maintenance. These vitamins are commonly found in meats, fish, yolks, and oils.
While it may seem like a great idea to give cats additional vitamin supplements, experts advise only giving those if your pet has a deficiency. Overconsumption of vitamins can be dangerous and may lead to poisoning.
Minerals are also needed to keep your pet’s teeth and bones strong and well-developed. These are commonly found in cat foods containing meat, liver, and cereal.
What are the Different Types of Cat Food?
It’s time to familiarize yourself with the different cat foods now that you’re aware of what your pet’s diet should contain. Here are the common types of commercial cat foods based on their textures.
If you’ve been a long-time cat owner, you’re probably familiar with Kibble. Kibble is one of the many commercial products under dry cat food. Dry foods contain a mixture of ingredients packed in bite-sized pieces and coated in fat to enhance their flavor.
Dry food products are generally more affordable than moist and canned foods. These are more convenient for free feeding or having food available for your pets any time of day. Additionally, dry foods can be stored for longer periods if properly kept in a cool, dry place.
However, most veterinary nutritionists advise against overeating dry food. Most dry foods have high carbohydrate content and very little water due to how it is manufactured. As a result, dry food products are less digestible for your feline pets and may cause several health issues, such as heart problems, diabetes, and obesity.
Meat and meat by-products are the main ingredients of moist cat food, along with cereal, grains, and preservatives. Moist cat food contains more meat than dry food, making its texture softer. Moist food products are also convenient for free feeding.
Feline owners are advised to feed their pets wet or canned cat food. Compared to previously mentioned types, canned foods are the most digestible meals for your pet because of their high water content, which keeps the chunks fresh and moist.
Canned cat foods also have a long shelf life when unopened. To prevent it from spoiling, you must refrigerate opened canned food. However, most canned foods are expensive. They also tend to stick more to your pet’s teeth, which can cause some dental problems.
Feeding Your Feline Friend
Cat nutrition doesn’t stop at knowing what food your pet eats. Apart from a meal’s ingredients and nutritional contents, you must also consider your cat’s age while feeding. Cats will have varying nutritional needs during different life stages.
Newborns and Kittens
Newborn cats get most of their nutrition from their mothers. Much like breast milk, a feline’s milk contains all the nutrients its offspring needs for the first few weeks of life. At five weeks, cat owners can start free feeding their kittens with dry food.
Kittens generally need more energy compared to older cats. They also require more vitamins and minerals for future bone and muscle development. Because of this, kittens are fed food and meals with higher protein and calcium content.
Kittens also have more daily food intake to aid their rapid development. Younger cats may typically eat up to half a cup of food every six to eight hours. However, it’s still best to consult a veterinarian to calculate the appropriate calories for your pet.
A kitten turns into an adult cat when they turn a year old. As an adult cat owner, you should now focus on feeding your pet highly nutritious meals to keep their muscles and bones healthy.
As your kitten grows, you must gradually transition them into eating fewer meals on a more stable schedule. While you can still free-feed your pet, adult cats only eat once or twice every day, mostly at dawn and dusk.
An adult cat’s daily food intake depends on size and energy level; more active cats need more food for their activities. On the other hand, if your cat has an illness or is recovering from a surgical procedure, it would typically need more nutrients in its diet.
As mentioned, you may free-feed your feline pet with dry food. However, do so with caution, as free feeding is the common cause of obesity in cats.
Once a cat hits seven years, they are now considered a senior cat. There isn’t much difference in the dietary requirements of an adult cat and an older feline. Senior cars still eat once or twice daily. However, apart from maintaining optimal health, you must also ensure that your pet’s diet contains sufficient nutrients that reduce the risk of contracting a disease.
Evidently, as your cat ages, they become more prone to the following health issues:
- Gradual deterioration of organs, muscles, and bones
- Weaker immune systems
- Slower digestive processes
Hence, it’s best to provide meals with higher protein and nutrient content for senior cats. Additionally, feline owners are advised to make their pet’s diet mainly canned or wet food so that senior cats can easily digest it.
5 Nutrition Tips Every Cat Owner Should Know
While we have discussed the meatier portions of cat nutrition, there’s much more to consider regarding feline nutrition and dietary habits. We’ve listed a few reminders to guide you through your nutritional journey.
- Check and understand cat food labels. Pay attention to what goes in your cat’s system. Practice checking the labels on your pet’s food products.
- Learn about food allergies. Cats also have tons of food allergies, so it’s best to be aware of them. Research their causes, symptoms, and treatment.
- Don’t forget to give them water. Water helps your cat digest the food they’ve consumed.
- Keep your cat’s food bowl clean. Though cats don’t normally eat multiple times a day, it’s still important to clean your pet’s bowls to ensure their health. Place their bowls away from trash bins and litter boxes.
- Visit and consult with your veterinarian. These experts know how much and which products are safe for your pet, so it's wise to see a veterinarian regularly. Having frequent checkups may also anticipate future health problems.
Cat care and nourishment may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Just remember these basics, and you’ll be on the right track. Or, if you realize you’re not ready to adopt and care for a furry feline friend just yet, try Perfect Petzzz!
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