Animal Nutrition for Cats
What type of food to give?
Most pre-prepared complete cat foods include everything required for good cat nutrition.
Choose a cat food brand that is age specific.
There are 3 forms of cat food available:
- Wet: Wet foods are available in cans, pouches and foil tins. Pouches and foils are often the preferred choice over larger tins as they contain smaller portions therefore reducing the quantity and time it needs to be refrigerated. Wet foods usually have a moisture content of around 78 per cent. They contain no or few preservatives and so need to be refrigerated after opening and used within 24-48 hours. Wet foods tend to be preferred by the fussier cats and are meat-like in texture therefore more in keeping with their natural diet.
- Semi moist: these have a moisture content of around 30 per cent. These are normally only fed as treats.
- Dry: these have a moisture content of around 10 per cent. They contain preservatives and so don't need to be refrigerated and can be left out for longer. Dry biscuits are more beneficial for the teeth and gums.
Always ensure that you are feeding your cat a reputable complete food and not a complimentary food! Cats require special nutrients in their diet to keep them healthy. Unlike dogs, cats are unable to produce an amino acid called Taurine which is needed to prevent heart and eye diseases. This acid is mainly found in animal protein, which is why cats are predominately carnivores.
Fresh water should be available at all times. Check and change your cats’ water bowl daily and throughout the day in summer. Cats that are fed dry food will drink more than those on wet food. If your cat loses just 10 per cent of its’ total body water content they will become seriously ill.
Whether or not to give your cat milk is a topic that has caused much controversy in recent times. Although for centuries many feral, farm and domestic cats have been given milk on a regular basis and loved the taste, it can cause problems. Cows’ milk has fats and proteins which are good for your cat, but it also contains lactose which your cats’ digestive system can find difficult to digest causing diarrhoea. Lactose free cat milk products are however available from most supermarkets, and great as an occasional treat.
Queens (mothering cats) can produce milk for 12 weeks and so her kittens may nurse from her until that time.
Weaning can start from 6 weeks of age, when a kitten may already naturally start to explore their mothers’ food and start eating solids. As an owner/breeder you should be introducing solids/semi-solids from this time, this is also true if you have hand reared your kittens.
Weaning should be done gradually, do not expect them to take to eating solid food all the time at first. They will still need cat milk (or substitute if hand rearing) until 8 weeks old. If you are about to purchase a kitten, ensure you find out what type of food he/she is eating before bringing him/her home. Continue to feed this diet whilst your kitten settles into it’s new surroundings, then you can gradually change to a food of your choice. Always introduce new foods over 7 days, to reduce the chance of upsetting the digestive system.
Kittens grow rapidly and reach 75% of their adult body weight by 6 months of age. During this growth stage it is important that you give a complete food specifically designed for kittens. This will be high in the proteins,calories and key nutrients essential for growth during this period. Kitten foods are also easier to chew and digest.
Kittens need to eat small meals and often, by this I mean several times daily. If feeding dry complete food, food can be left available for the kitten to graze on throughout the day. “Little and often”, that’s the key! This method does however need to be monitored to ensure a greedy kitten doesn't graze its way to obesity! If your kitten eats the whole days worth of food in one sitting you will need to introduce routine feeding times.
Kittens become adult cats around 9-12 months old and can be fed an adult or maintenance diet.
Generally an adult cat should have access to food at regular intervals throughout the day
(at least 2 to 3 times). To know how much to feed your cat, the first place to start is to read the feeding guidelines on the packaging. Remember that these are guidelines only and that your pet's age, activity level, size and whether or not it is neutered, all have an effect on how much your pet needs.
If feeding your cat a dry diet the quantity of food given is usually less than if feeding a wet diet. Dry diets are concentrated therefore a little goes a long way so don’t be tempted with feeding more because it doesn't look enough. And remember the smaller the amount that goes in then the less will come out the other end!
Feed your cat exactly the same amount daily, don’t just guess the amount! An easy way to do this is to find a small plastic container with lid, carefully weigh into the tub the correct amount of food to be given daily and with a marker pen mark a ‘fill to’ line. The tub can now be filled to the line every morning and its contents fed in portions at set times throughout the day.
We recommend weighing your cat periodically and adjusting his/her daily food intake accordingly. If your cat appears to be losing weight then increase the amount of food given and decrease the amount if your pet appears to be gaining weight. If you do not have scales at home, please feel free to pop in to the surgery and use ours.
When a cat is pregnant or feeding kittens it needs to have plenty of high quality, high protein food available.
Pregnant and lactating cats eat 2-3 times more than normal adult cats and should be fed a ‘weaned kitten’ food in several small servings during this time. Once the kittens are weaned the portion size can be gradually reduced back to its original amount and it can go back onto its usual food, prior to pregnancy.
What if my cat stops eating?
There are many reasons why a cat might not eat his/her food. If your cat does not eat for one day, there is usually no cause for concern.
Long term fasting however could predispose your cat to a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. So if your cat does not eat for two days in a row it would be sensible to make an appointment for a vet to check him/her over.
Cats like consistency, so sometimes feeding him/her in a new place, at a different time, in a new bowl or a new type of food may cause him/her to not eat. A cat may leave food which has not been stored properly and be too old and spoiled. Lastly consider if your cat has been fed elsewhere (neighbour), is hunting, has been in the rubbish or maybe it has had too many treats!