For those new to cat ownership, or even for cat lovers who want to know more, this article provides a summary of the type of diet that cats need to remain healthy.
The Carnivorous Cat
A cat is a true carnivore, or obligate, which means that to survive and remain healthy, it must have animal protein in its diet. Animal protein contains an amino acid called taurine and because cats cannot produce this amino acid in their bodies, they must obtain it from their diet. Taurine is essential for a healthy heart, reproduction and vision. Cats also struggle biologically to utilise plant-based proteins, such as those from vegetables and cereals.
There are natural foods that are suitable for feeding alongside a balanced diet, such as fresh pieces of human grade raw chicken or raw lamb. Raw meaty bones, such as chicken necks or drumsticks are another treat that can help to maintain urinary tract health and keep gums and teeth healthy. Always supervise cats when giving raw bones and any treats, whether natural or from the dierenspeciaalzaak or pet store and note these should make up less than 5% of the daily food intake of a cat.
Cats require few carbohydrates. They lack the ability to carry out the biological processes that allow them to utilise carbs and they do not have amylase, an enzyme in saliva that starts to break down carbs as soon as they enter the body. Some specialists also suggest that a high-carb diet may increase the risk of Feline Diabetes. Seeking advice from vets or dierenspeciaalzaak can help to select food lower in carbohydrates.
Cats require a good quality balanced food that is appropriate for the age of the cat as well as its activity levels and health status. Cats often prefer to eat a number of smaller meals during the day rather than one big meal; so many owners provide small meals three to four times a day/night. Timed feeding is the name given to a feeding method in which a meal is set down for twenty minutes or so and removed straight after. Not only can this help provide bonding time, but also it regulates feeding and ensures that meals are fresh. Other owners will use ‘ad-lib’ or free choice feeding, in which food is available at all times. Free choice feeding is the main way to feed cats that are nursing and dry food is better for ad-lib feeding, as it does not spoil. The main problem with free feeding is that some cats will over eat, increasing the risk of obesity.
Water And Milk
Fresh water is essential to feline health and cats need to consume water with their food. In the wild, a meal that a cat has caught itself will contain as much as 75% water. Without access to water, a cat can become ill within a few hours. There is also an increased risk of Feline Cystitis, or Feline Urological Syndrome (FUS), which can cause considerable discomfort to the cat. Cats do not need milk, either as a water substitute, or as a treat. Cats struggle to break down the lactose in cow’s milk, as they do not have much lactase, the enzyme that breaks down milk, in their bodies. Milk can often cause cats to vomit or suffer with diarrhoea.
Cats are wonderful pets, but as with any pet, the correct nutrition is important in helping them to remain healthy. Cat owners should make themselves familiar with the nutritional requirements of their pets and spend time selecting the most appropriate food to meet their pet’s needs.