Cats need balanced nutrition, like any other animal, but they have a specific dietary need for meat. Cats are obligate carnivores, and this means that they need meat for protein that provides essential nutrients which they cannot synthesise from other foods. Their need for protein means that their diet must be based on meat.
Water is an essential part of a cat’s diet, and a supply of clean, fresh water should be available at all times. It is worth noting that cats can be particular about where they will drink, and often dislike the double-diner style dishes, and metal dishes. They may prefer a wide water dish, possibly in a different place from their food bowl, and some cats even prefer running water, and water fountains are available for this.
There are many different cat foods available, and the following information will help you to make the right choice in deciding what to feed your cat.
What diet should I choose?
To ensure good all-round nutrition, it is best to choose a good quality ‘complete’ diet for your cat. Complete diets are available in wet and dry form, and your choice may depend on your cat’s preference. Dry food is less smelly and messy though, and may help to keep your cat’s teeth cleaner than wet food.
It is important to check the ingredients in your cat’s food. Meat should be the main ingredient, and filler ingredients such as starch, should be avoided. Cat food should contain little or no sugar, and doesn’t need to contain carbohydrate, although cats can extract energy from carbohydrates.
Your cat’s dietary requirements will vary with its life-stage. Kittens up to one year old need food with plenty of energy plus the right nutrients for growth and development. It is important to establish good nutrition from the start of your kitten’s life, and, after weaning, he or she will benefit from a good quality diet that is specifically formulated for kittens. Feed your kitten four smaller meals daily, rather than one or two larger ones until six months of age. At this stage the frequency of feeding can be reduced.
Young adult cats between one and six years should be fed a good quality complete diet aimed at adult cats. At this life-stage, the nutritional aim is to keep your cat in the best possible condition. Most adult cats should be neutered, and so a food that is formulated for neutered cats is the best choice. Neutering affects your cat’s metabolism, and lowers energy requirements, so it is important to feed your cat accordingly to prevent it becoming overweight. Neutered male cats are particularly prone to problems with their urinary systems, and should be fed a diet that is formulated to maintain the health of their urinary system.
Once cats are over seven years old, their dietary requirements will change to reflect changes in metabolism, exercise levels, digestion and appetite. A good quality diet that is formulated for mature or senior cats is the best choice, and should reflect the need for carefully balanced protein and fat to maintain an ideal bodyweight, and for balanced minerals for urinary system health. Older cats are particularly susceptible to kidney disease, and their intake of sodium and phosphorus should be controlled by their diet to help keep their kidneys functioning properly. Some older cats have a reduced energy requirement, and would benefit from a diet for mature or senior cats that is lower in calories. Other older cats may have a reduced appetite due to underlying problems such as bad teeth or undiagnosed disease. It is important to investigate any change in appetite to ensure that any problems are picked up as soon as possible.