Healthy diet for cats

A good diet is essential to your feline friend’s overall health.

Providing your cat with all the nutrients they need to stay happy and healthy will help reduce the risk of them developing diet-related diseases and health problems in the future.

What should I feed my cat?

Cats need a nutritionally balanced diet to stay happy and healthy. As cats are carnivores, their diet should contain lots of protein, as well as taurine (an essential amino acid), vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.

Veterinarians will normally recommend feeding your cat a high quality manufactured cat food, as this should provide your cat with a complete and balanced meal. When choosing food for your cat, always check the label to ensure that it meets or exceeds Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.

It’s also important to choose a food which is suitable for your cat’s life stage. Most adult cat foods will contain everything your cat needs to stay healthy. However, if your cat is pregnant, or if you have a kitten or a senior cat, your veterinarian may recommend a diet which is specially formulated for their life stage.

While some owners choose to feed their cat a home-cooked diet using fresh, all-natural ingredients, it’s important to seek advice from your veterinarian beforehand to ensure you aren’t depriving your cat of the essential vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy.

What should I feed my kitten?

Unlike adult or senior cats, who need a low-calorie diet to prevent obesity or other health problems such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes, kittens require a diet that is high in protein and fat to support their rapid development. As kittens are also much more active than older cats, they require the additional calories in kitten food for energy.

A feeding chart should be provided on the label of the kitten food and this will let you know how much to feed your kitten based on their age. You kitten will start eating solid foods from around three weeks old, and to begin with, will need 5-6 smaller meals a day. Between the ages of four months and six months old, you will need to increase the meal size and decrease how often you feed your kitten to 2-4 meals per day. Once your kitten reaches six months old, they should only require two meals a day, and can continue eating twice a day throughout their adult life.  

Can cats drink milk?

Contrary to popular belief, many cats are actually lactose intolerant. Like other mammals, kittens will drink milk from their mother while they are young. However, as cats grow older, their small intestines produce less of an enzyme known as lactase, which is used to break down lactose, the sugar found in cow’s milk. As a cat’s digestive system is unable to process cow’s milk properly, drinking milk can lead to vomiting or diarrhea.

Many pet stores or veterinarians sell milk which is specially formulated for cats, and this fine to give to your cat as an occasional treat. However, it’s important to think of cat milk as you would any other dairy product, and it shouldn’t make up a significant proportion of your cat’s diet.

How much should I feed my cat?

Obesity is a growing problem in cats, which is why it’s so important to feed your cat the right amount of food. Your cat’s age, life stage and activity levels can all have an impact on how much your cat needs to eat, and feeding your cat too much or too little can lead to health problems.

Your chosen cat food should include guidelines around how much you should be feeding your cat based on their size and weight. It’s a good idea to measure how much food you give your cat at each mealtime using a measuring cup to ensure you are feeding your cat the same amount each day. This will enable you to easily alter the amount you are feeding your cat if your veterinarian recommends increasing or decreasing the size of your cat’s meals.

It’s always better to feed your cat two smaller meals a day rather than leave food out for them to graze on throughout the day. Not only will this help you to monitor any changes in your cat’s appetite, which could indicate your cat is stressed or has developed an underlying health problem, but it can also help you to manage your cat’s weight more easily.

Is dry or wet food better for cats?

Many owners will only feed their cat wet cat food, while others swear that dry food is best for their pet. There are benefits and drawbacks to both wet and dry cat food, and some veterinarians will recommend feeding your cat a mixture of both. However, sticking to one type of food or the other, or feeding your cat a mixture of both wet and dry cat food is fine as long as your cat is receiving the balance of nutrients they need to stay healthy.

The benefits of dry cat food

Many cats enjoy eating dry food, and the good news for owners is it can be easily stored and measured at mealtimes. It can also be left in your cat’s bowl for longer periods than wet food, and won’t spoil in warmer climates. The texture of some dry cat foods can also help remove plaque from your cat’s teeth.

However, dry foods are high in carbohydrates, which can cause cats to develop diabetes, obesity, urinary or kidney problems, or cause diarrhea or vomiting. Be sure to look out for grain-free varieties or feed your cat specially formulated dry food if you cat is suffering from one of these conditions.

The benefits of wet cat food

Some cats prefer the texture and aroma of wet food, and it’s usually the better option for elderly cats or weaning kittens, as the food is softer and easier to chew. As wet food contains more moisture, it will help keep your pet hydrated, so they won’t need to drink as much water.

Some varieties of wet food are stored in single serving sachets for convenience, however if you choose to feed your cat canned food, you should keep the can in the fridge once opened to ensure it stays fresh.

How can I tell if my cat is overweight?

It can be hard to determine whether your cat is overweight, particularly if your cat is a long-haired breed. However, all cats should have a slender shape and clearly defined waist. You should be able to feel your cat’s ribs if you run your fingers across its body, and you should also be able to feel the bones at the base of the tail. Your veterinarian will be able to confirm for sure if your cat is overweight and will be able to check if the weight gain is the result of any underlying health problems.

Obesity is a huge problem in cats, and can result in your cat developing other health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. It can even cause skin problems, as if your cat has reduced mobility, it will be unable to groom itself properly.

If your cat is obese, your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best course of treatment to help your cat lose weight. They will likely prescribe cat food which is specially formulated for weight loss and will recommend cutting back on the treats throughout the day. They may also recommend you decrease the amount you feed your cat at mealtimes, or ask you to encourage your cat to become more active by playing.

10 Tips for feeding your cat

  1. Ensure your cat always has access to clean, fresh water.
  2. A number of human foods are toxic to cats, so keep them well out of reach and familiarize yourself with the symptoms of poisoning.
  3. Choose shallow food and water bowls, as they enable your cat to still look around while eating. They also prevent your cat’s whiskers from brushing against the side of the bowl.
  4. Metallic bowls can sometimes create shadows or reflections in the water, which can put your cat off drinking, so opt for a ceramic bowl instead.
  5. Avoid using strong detergents to clean your cat’s food and water bowls, as the strong odors can easily put cats off their food.
  6. Cats like their food and water to be separate, and many will prefer drinking from a bowl of collected rainwater in the garden.
  7. If you want to feed treats to your cat, be sure to reduce the amount you’re feeding your cat at mealtimes, as you may end up overfeeding your pet.
  8.  Ensure you’re feeding your cat healthier treats, such as lean meats or fruits and vegetables. Some fruits and vegetables are toxic to cats, so be sure to do your research beforehand.
  9. If your cat uses a litter box, place its food bowls away from this area, as cats prefer to eat away from their toilet site.
  10.  Store wet food in the refrigerator and ensure it’s consumed within two days, and store dry food in an airtight container until the best before date.