Your cat’s diet is obviously important to ensure their good health, but knowing how to properly feed them can be confusing. What should they eat? How much should they eat? How often should they eat? Our team at Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital wants to help by offering nutritional guidelines for cats to ensure your cat is fed appropriately.

Nutritional requirements for your cat

Humans and dogs are omnivores and obtain nutrients from plant and animal sources, while cats are carnivores who obtain most of their nutrients from animal products. In the wild, a cat’s diet is about 55% protein, 44% fat, and 1% carbohydrates. Considerations when feeding your kitty include:

  • Protein — Cats have a high protein requirement, but not all proteins are created equal. Proteins can be obtained from many sources, but animal-based proteins are best for cats because they have a complete amino acid profile. Plant-based proteins found in vegetables, cereals, and soy are considered incomplete proteins.
  • Amino acids — All mammals require nine essential amino acids, but cats also require arginine and taurine in their diet. Cats deficient in arginine can develop hyperammonemia, a metabolic condition that causes increased blood ammonia levels. Taurine deficiencies can result in several health complications, including fetal abnormalities, delayed growth and development, central retinal degeneration, and dilated cardiomyopathy.
  • Vitamins — Most animals require vitamin D supplementation only when they are not exposed to sunlight, but cats cannot synthesize vitamin D when exposed to sunlight or UV light, and must obtain the vitamin from their diet. In addition, cats cannot convert beta carotene into retinol (i.e., vitamin A’s active form).
  • Water — Domestic house cats are believed to have descended from wild desert cats, which means they can survive on less water than a similar sized dog, but they lack the drive to seek water when they are becoming dehydrated. Ensuring your cat’s water intake is adequate is critical for their health and wellbeing. Provide numerous water bowls throughout your home, clean and freshen the bowls daily, and consider providing a water fountain to help entice your cat to drink. 

Appropriate food for your cat

Most commercial foods contain an appropriate nutrient amount and balance to ensure your cat’s nutritional needs are met. However, choosing the best food for your cat can be confusing. Considerations include:

  • Dry food — Many cat owners prefer feeding dry food, which requires less clean up. While this is convenient, feeding only dry food, which contains only about 5% to 10% water, can significantly reduce your cat’s water intake. 
  • Canned food — Overwhelmingly, research indicates that canned commercial diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates are best for cats. These diets typically contain about 78% water content, making them a much better option for keeping your cat hydrated. In addition, canned foods are usually more satiating, so your cat is less likely to feel hungry between meals. 
  • Homemade diets — Formulating a homemade diet for your cat is difficult, because ensuring you include all the necessary nutrients, vitamins, amino acids, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in an appropriate balance is a challenge. If you want your cat to eat a homemade diet, consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to ensure you meet your cat’s nutritional needs.
  • Prescription diets — If your cat has a medical condition, such as urinary tract disease, diabetes, or kidney disease, they may require a prescription diet to help manage their issue.

Appropriate feeding schedule for your cat

Cats left to their own devices will eat multiple small meals throughout the day. Feeding options for cats include:

  • Free feeding — Leaving food out at all times allows your cat to eat whenever they want, but this option tends to promote overeating, and can lead to obesity. This condition is a significant problem for cats, and can result in serious health issues, such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and arthritis. 
  • Meal feeding — Feeding your cat a measured food portion at set meal times better prevents overeating and helps keep your cat at a healthy weight. If possible, feed your cat several small meals throughout the day to better simulate their natural feeding tendencies. 

Appropriate food amount for your cat

Determining how much to feed your cat is as important as deciding what to feed them. Steps include:

  • Weighing your cat — Use a pet or baby scale to monitor your pet’s weight.
  • Determining your cat’s body conditioning score (BCS) — Your cat’s weight status involves more than their body weight. You must also determine their BCS to know if they are at a healthy weight.
  • Calculating your cat’s energy requirements — Calculate your cat’s daily energy requirements, depending on their age, weight, BCS, activity level, and spay or neuter status. An online calorie calculator can help with this step.
  • Determining your cat’s food portion — Read your cat’s food label to determine the number of calories in the can or a cup of dry food, and calculate their food portion based on their daily energy requirements. If you feed multiple meals a day, divide the amount by the number of meals. 
  • Accounting for your cat’s treats — If you feed your cat treats, ensure you include these calories in their overall daily calorie intake.

Feeding your cat appropriately is important to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients to keep them healthy and happy. If you have questions or concerns about your cat’s nutritional needs, contact our Fear Free team at Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital, so we can ensure they are receiving a healthy, well-balanced diet.