Cats have specific nutrient requirements that differ from other pets, such as dogs, as well as humans, which means cats need a species-appropriate diet. It’s important for cat owners to understand what essential nutrients their cats need so they can provide a balanced diet in their cat’s food bowls every day for optimal health. Read on if you have ever wondered:
Cats can be finicky eaters, but as a pet owner, it’s important for you to provide adequate nutrients, hydration, and calories every day to help your cat live a healthier life. Individual nutritional requirements may vary, but overall, cats generally have the same nutritional needs which are all provided through most commercial cat foods.
Cats are strict carnivores, meaning they evolved to thrive on a diet composed primarily of animal-based protein, moderate amounts of fat, and minimal carbohydrate ingredients. Vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and essential amino acids are also important nutrients for cats. It is difficult to get the proper nutrients from non-meat proteins for a cat, and cat owners should stick to ingredient lists that include animal proteins for a healthier diet. While cats of different life stages, sizes, and health conditions may benefit from subtle differences in their diets, these general requirements are the same and provided by most commercial foods.
Adequate hydration helps maintain kidney and urinary tract health. Cats get their daily water intake through their food and from drinking water. Healthy cats instinctively drink enough so long as fresh water is available. Cats need about four ounces (29.5ml) of water per five pounds (2.2kg) of body weight. Offering multiple water bowls throughout your home or a water fountain helps ensure an appealing water source is always available. Change the water frequently to ensure it is clean and fresh to avoid stomach upset or avoidance of the water bowl. Food with a higher moisture content contributes towards overall water intake as well.
If cats eat a commercially available diet, chances are good the cat food has the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and meat proteins they need every day. Look for a statement of nutritional adequacy on the label to know for sure. As long as you’re feeding your cat a nutritionally complete diet, it is not necessary to provide additional supplements unless advised otherwise by a veterinarian. When it comes to vitamins and minerals, more is not necessarily better. A cat’s body will simply excrete excess vitamins and minerals through the urine or feces. In addition, if large amounts of supplements are given, toxicity is possible, which will make your cat sick. Always consult a veterinarian before adding fish oil, multivitamins, or other supplements to your cat’s diet.
A species-appropriate diet with the right balance of nutrients fed in the correct amount is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity in pet cats is a major problem caused by the intake of more calories than are burned through daily physical activity. Feeding guides on labels are often inaccurate or too general to apply to every individual pet. You can check a calorie intake calculator to calculate the number of calories your cat needs per day in order to find their ideal weight and use that as a starting point. Common sense goes a long way, too. If your cat is getting chubby, cut back on the food.
An obese cat needs a program that includes monitoring their weight and limiting food intake. Recording your cat’s weight each week can help you monitor progress. A cat that has unlimited access to food through free-feeding is more likely to become overweight or obese as their daily calories are not accurately monitored or controlled in their food bowl. Diets specially designed to aid in weight loss will have more calories from protein and less from carbohydrate ingredients to aid in weight loss without risking nutrient deficiencies.
Occasional treats are not harmful to your cat and can provide extra enrichment through play and training, but they are not necessary. Keep in mind that treats are not usually nutritionally complete and do not contribute to a balanced diet. It’s fair to consider most treats as empty calories, just like cookies and cake are for us. Treats should not exceed 10 to 15% of a cat’s daily caloric intake. The calories in treats need to be counted toward your cat’s daily allowance to prevent weight gain. Try giving your cat treats in puzzle feeders or treat toys to provide extra enrichment instead of feeding them treats directly.
The primary food a cat should be eating is a nutritionally complete, commercially prepared, species-appropriate diet, so human items should not be their primary food. However, occasional human food can be offered as small treats. In addition, cat owners need to be careful about which human foods they offer. Many human foods can be toxic to cats or cause stomach upset or gastroenteritis. Cats cannot fully digest plant material as true carnivores, so fruits and vegetables offer limited nutritional value.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best cat food for cats, but fortunately, most cats do well on a number of commercially available foods. A cat’s age, activity level, pregnancy status, food preferences, and individual health issues can change their dietary needs. For example, a kitten needs a higher fat and calorie content than an adult cat because they are still growing and developing. Cats with medical conditions may need a prescription diet from a veterinary hospital or a diet with either a higher water content or lower carbohydrate content that would not benefit other cats. Though it is uncommon, a cat can also have food allergies.
In general, any nutritionally complete commercial cat food that your cat enjoys will provide a healthy diet. Always give your cat a species-appropriate diet. Cats should not eat dog food or food made for other types of pets.
“Deciding between canned and dry food is largely a consumer choice based on purchasing preference instead of one or the other being better for your cat,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a veterinarian with Vetster. “Wet cat foods have a higher moisture content and often contain lower calorie density and fewer carbohydrates. This higher water content may be beneficial for some cats, such as those with kidney disease.”
Overweight or obese cats need fewer calories per day to help them lose excess weight, and they may benefit from a low-carbohydrate, species-appropriate diet. In addition, cats can be picky eaters and will often avoid types of food that they were not exposed to as kittens. However, dry cat food is usually more affordable and practical for cat owners and offers the same nutrients. If the cat food provides a healthy diet and your cat enjoys it, it’s most likely a good choice no matter if it’s canned or dry.
While it might seem to make sense that a raw diet might be beneficial to your feline friend due to their hunting instincts, feeding your cat a raw diet may not be a good idea. Currently, there is no scientific evidence that suggests a raw diet is healthier than commercially available cat food. In addition, raw diets can carry dangerous bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, and mishandling of raw foods can lead to toxoplasmosis. If you have questions about your cat’s nutritional needs or what kind of food is best for your cat, you can discuss it with an online vet through Vetster.
The exact amount of calories required daily varies depending on a cat’s size, age, pregnancy status, lifestyle, and any medical conditions they may have. A good place to start is recognizing that an obese cat usually needs less food, and skinny cats usually need more, provided they’re otherwise healthy. Using a caloric calculator, regularly assessing body condition, and working with a veterinary nutritionist can help narrow down the energy requirements your cat has since feeding guidelines on food labels are broad and may not be right for your pet.
Cats who have free access to food are more likely to become overweight or obese. If your cat prefers to graze, try measuring the daily allowance and then breaking it into multiple meals per day. Using an automatic feeder is another great strategy because it removes you from being perceived as the food provider by your cat. If your cat wants more food, they can complain to the robot! In addition, be sure to provide multiple water bowls and consider adding a water fountain.
Food is about providing nutrition, and since most commercially prepared pet foods are nutritionally complete, there really is no “best food.” Barring any underlying medical conditions, choosing between canned and dry cat food is a matter of preference, not a healthcare decision. Raw diets and homemade diets come with risks and are best reserved for special cases under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist. In addition, cats are obligate carnivores and require the majority of their calories from meat proteins for proper feline nutrition, so it’s best to avoid vegan or vegetarian foods that utilize plant protein or a high carbohydrate diet with fillers and empty calories.
While fish is a good animal protein for cats, eating only canned tuna or salmon doesn’t provide a balanced diet.Canned fish is not harmful when given occasionally as a small treat. Canned tuna can carry mercury which can cause toxicity at high levels, so canned tuna should be offered sparingly to cats as a small treat instead of a main source of food. It is best to feed a commercially prepared, species-appropriate diet to provide the best cat food for your cat.
During the holidays we spend time with family, friends, and our pets. As an attentive pet parent, enjoying the holidays with your family pets might include managing your pet’s health and medications, caring for your senior pets, and being prepared for all the potential pet emergencies that can happen during the holiday festivities...
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