Feeding cats

Learn more about your cat's nutritional needs

Your cat's nutritional needs

Your cat is a meat eater who likes to have a quiet place to eat, away from other cats, and away from where they drink and toilet. The best food for your cat (unless they have special dietary needs) is likely to be a complete cat food from a reputable brand. Now let's explore your cat's nutritional needs at every stage of their life.

What to eat?

Your cat needs more protein than many other mammals. They also need amino acids such as taurine in order to survive. This is why it's important to feed your cat food that is made just for them.

Dog food is not suitable for cats.

Home made cat foods may be good for occasional treats, but it's very difficult to give your cat the right balance of proteins, vitamins and minerals your cat needs to thrive - unless this has been recommended by your vet.

Vitamin supplements should not be necessary if you are feeding your cat a good quality cat food - unless recommended by your vet. Vitamin supplements could cause a dietary imbalance which could harm your cat.

Treats

If you give your cat food treats, limit the amount you provide so that they don't gain weight.

Cat food treats are a better option than leftovers or raw meat, although a little bit of well-cooked chicken or fish is okay.

Liver can harm your cat if they eat it too often, due to its high vitamin A content. Don't give your cat liver more than once weekly.

Instead of giving your cat food treats, why not treat them to a little extra attention or play time? Your cat will appreciate the affection and this can strengthen the bond between you and your cat.

Fussy eaters

Cats are clever. And sometimes cats learn that, if they don't like the food they're offered, they can just wait for a while until something they prefer is provided. However, some cats are fussier than others, and some cats stop eating because they are ill or stressed, and should be seen by a vet. If your cat is off their food, ask your vet for advice on how to tempt them to eat.

Encourage your cat to eat by:

  • offering different wet and dry foods at different times (but introduce new foods slowly)
  • giving wet food at room temperature, rather than straight from the fridge
  • offering small, regular amounts of food rather than a large bowl. This can be less overwhelming and means the food is always fresh
  • offering food with a strong odour. Warming the food slightly can increase the aroma - but not too hot; body temperature is ideal
  • adding a drop of yeast extract spread (eg Marmite), fish oil or a small amount of kitten food to your cat's meal. This can make food more appetising, but should be monitored and not done regularly. Ask your vet if this is suitable for your cat
  • sitting down with your cat or hand feeding. This can encourage your cat to start eating, which can induce their appetite Cooked fish or chicken can sometimes be used to stimulate a cat's appetite, but other human foods should be avoided.

Onions and onion powder can be toxic and life threatening to cats. Familiar foods are generally best during times of stress. So you can help your cat stay calm and well fed by providing their usual food if they have to visit the vet or a cattery, for example

How to make cat feeding toys

Feline crafty? Forget expensive feeding toys - you can make your own!

When to call the vet

Watch out for changes in your cat's eating and drinking behaviour, as this could indicate that something is wrong. See your vet if your cat:

• normally eats well but suddenly stops
• has not eaten for 48 hours
• develops a ravenous appetite
• will only eat with one side of their mouth
• makes a grinding noise when they eat
• starts drinking noticeably more than usual
• loses weight for no apparent reason
• is vomiting or has diarrhoea

Regular eating and drinking is essential to your cat's health. If your cat doesn't eat, even for a few days, they can develop a condition of the liver which can be fatal in severe cases.

Special diets

Cats need different foods at different stages of their life. Special foods are available for these stages, such as kitten, senior, indoor, sensitive or low calorie.

Your vet may prescribe a special diet if your cat has health problems such as kidney disease or joint problems. Special foods should be given as directed, only to the cat they are prescribed to. If possible, introduce the new food gradually while your cat still has access to its original food.

Feeding special food to one cat is tricky if you have multiple cats. See our advice on managing obesity.

Pregnant cats and mum feeding kittens

Pregnant cats and cats feeding kittens need additional nutrients and the same high-protein kitten food as weaned kittens.

Give your pregnant cat unlimited access to kitten food and fresh drinking water. During pregnancy, your cat may only eat a little more than usual, but when she is suckling kittens she has to produce plenty of milk, so may eat double or triple the usual amount of food.

For more advice, contact your vet or call the Cats Protection National Information Line on 03000 12 12 12.

Kittens

By giving your cat a balanced diet during her pregnancy and while she is suckling, she should be able to feed her kittens until they are weaned at six to eight weeks old.

Start the weaning process by offering well-mashed kitten food from three to four weeks of age.

If the litter is very large, you may have to supplement the kittens' diet with special kitten milk at an earlier age.

If the mum cannot feed her young or the kittens are orphaned, you will need to take over the feeding completely. Kittens have small stomachs and high energy needs, so they need to be fed little and often. Their food should generally be checked and replaced four times every day.

Contact your vet for advice on feeding kittens, or call the Cats Protection National Information Line on 03000 12 12 12.

Adult cats

Your cat is an 'adult' when they are between one and eight years old. Your adult cat needs to be fed once or twice a day, but some will regulate their food intake, so their daily ration can be left out, particularly if you give them dry food.

Senior cats

Cats over eight are considered 'senior'. As your cat grows older, their nutritional needs change and you can buy special foods that cater for them. These foods may have less protein and a balance of minerals and vitamins designed to keep them in good health.

Related topics

Types of food - Topic

Obesity - Topic

Drinking - Topic