What is the best diet for my cat?
17 July 2020
Cats can be fastidious about what they eat and perhaps with good reason! They are “obligate carnivores” that have a hard time processing plant proteins. They need meat to survive and cannot stay healthy on a diet of vegetables and grain.
Meat contains essential nutrients for cats, such as taurine, arginine, arachidonic acid, niacin and vitamins A and B12. Cats that are deficient in these nutrients are likely to suffer from a range of serious conditions, including blindness and heart problems.
Cats are also notoriously poor drinkers. If a cat does not consume enough water it is highly susceptible to feline cystitis, a very painful urinary condition. Some cat owners swear by the benefits of having a water fountain in the home that circulates the water, keeping it fresh and encouraging cats to drink it. (Keep food and water bowls well away from the litter tray, as this can discourage cats from eating and drinking).
A wet, meat-rich diet is best for cats, in order to keep them healthy. They need constant access to fresh drinking water. Cow's milk is not a substitute, as most cats are lactose intolerant once weaned. Rather than feeding one large meal a day, split the daily ration into several smaller meals at regular intervals.
In the wild, cats eat uncooked, whole rodents, small birds and fish, including the skin, bones and organs of the carcass. The carbohydrate content of a mouse is very little, so wild cats are lean and healthy. The advent of dried cat food in the 1970s led to higher rates of digestive and urinary disease, and obesity. Many dried foods include fillers such as cereals and grains, but cats require very little carbohydrate.
That is not to say that dry foods should be avoided altogether. Many have been carefully formulated to be well-balanced, especially the higher-end foods that are rich in meat protein and “grain free”. Take care when choosing dried food and, if possible, consider a higher quality wet food instead.
Your cat’s diet should be suitable for its age, health and lifestyle. Kittens require a very different nutrient profile than adult and senior cats. Convalescing cats need a different balance of nutrients to a healthy cat. The amount of food also depends on activity level - outdoor cats tend to need more food than a house cat, because they are typically more active. House cats are very prone to weight gain because they spend so much time sleeping. A carbohydrate-rich diet can be especially damaging for them.
Even if your cat seems to be enjoying cheap kibble, you could be storing up cat health problems and large vet bills for the future. If you don't wish to feed a wet diet, try adding a little water to the kibble to help reduce the likelihood of problems further down the line. You may choose to give your cat fresh food such as fish or chicken, but avoid prepared “human” foods as they may contain ingredients that are poisonous to cats. Also, keep those delicious crunchy treats to a minimum.