That’s what I say when people ask me why I invest so much time and money into feeding my cats.
First, you must understand that, to me, my cats are not just animals and most certainly not my pets. They are first and foremost my family. As for them being animals, well so are humans.
So now that we understand each other let’s talk about how to feed your feline family members. Pet nutrition is really a new concept here in the United States. Growing up, we just bought a bag of kibble for our cats and let them free feed. If tuna fish was on sale you might buy a bunch of cans and feed that once a day. But it’s 2018 and we’ve learned a lot about feline nutrition. While most of the research in pet nutrition has focused on dogs, research in feline nutrition is quickly catching up which is a good thing because cats and dogs have very different dietary needs. Below are the five keys to understanding feline nutrition.
1. Cats are obligate carnivores. What the hell does that mean? Well from a physiologic perspective it means that cats have a shorter and more acidic digestive tract than dogs and because of this it is much more easy for a cat to digest meat than plant based foods.
2. Cats require taurine. Taurine is an essential amino acid that comes from meat and fish. Without it cats can go blind, suffer heart failure, and die.
3. Cats require 5 times more thiamine than dogs. Although they are obligate carnivores, cats require a large amount of this B vitamin. Without thiamine cats can develop a head tilt, suffer seizures, and even die.
4. Unlike dogs, cats need a food source that supplies linoleic acid and arachidonic acid. These essential fatty acids give cats energy and help their body absorb vitamins.
5. Most importantly, remember that cats should never fast! In the wild, large predators go long periods between hunting where they don’t eat. So, when they do take down a kill they gorge themselves. However, common house cats have evolved past the need to fast and as a result their digestive system is no longer designed to process large amounts of fat all at once. Their livers become overwhelmed and they will go into liver failure. So if your cat stops eating take it to the vet as soon as possible.
Now that we know the basic principles let’s talk food. What to feed and how to feed.
1. Cats are meat eaters. Plain and simple. At a bare minimum 50% of your cat’s diet should be protein and that protein should come from meat. Poultry is best because it is a rich source of linoleic acid and arachidonic acid. This is probably why cats naturally hunt birds.
2. As I mentioned above cats should never fast, but they really shouldn’t be allowed to free feed. True cats have evolved past the need to gorge themselves when food is available but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Cats are very opportunistic and if you keep a bowl of food always available they will overeat which results in vomiting, and they will gain weight which can lead to diabetes, kidney failure, and death. Cats should be fed on a daily schedule with a measured amount of food. I find my three adult cats thrive best on 1/3 cup of food served in the morning. They graze lightly throughout the day and then finish up their bowls at night before bed. In fact, they now identify the sound of my alarm clock as a dinner bell 😂
3. What kind of food is best? Dry, wet, raw? Should I make my own or buy commercially made food? Hopefully by now you understand that cats have very different nutritional needs than dogs, but like dogs the general rule of thumb is raw is best, canned is okay, and kibble is better than starving to death.
First, let’s talk raw. This is really the easiest. You can make your own. There are lots of recipes on the internet. You can buy frozen raw at pet food stores, or my favorite is freeze dried raw. My cats grew up eating kibble because I didn’t know any better. Switching cats from kibble is really hard. Commercial kibble is treated with artificial flavoring that to a cat is delicious. Some call it kitty crack. Think of it like feeding a kid McDonalds every day. They won’t starve to death but it’s really not good for them at all. Now, if you take a five year old child who has been eating happy meals every day of his life and suddenly switch him to a diet of fresh food chances are high that kid is not going to be happy. And this is the case when you switch your cats food. They may stop eating, they may throw up, or worse, they may act out by peeing around the house. My cats made the transition with freeze dried raw because the texture was closer to their kibble.
Canned cat food is the next best option but be careful! This is where pet food companies try to trick you. Never feed your cat any canned food recipe that has gravy or cheese. These are the equivalent of kitty crack. It’s super yummy but the amount of protein in those recipes is actually very low. Your cat will devour a can and come begging for more. This might seem great except what they are eating is a high carb diet that leads to obesity. If you are going to feed canned food always buy the recipes that have the words classic, pate, grain free on the labels. Fancy Feast classic chicken is a decent canned cat food.
Now, let’s talk about kibble. The truth is there really is no cheap dry cat food that is good for cats. Even the bags that say grain free still lack the vital essential nutrients cats need. Cats reactions to the wrong food can vary. Frequent vomiting is common. We cat owners used to think this was just something our cats did. But research is showing that frequent vomiting is the result of an allergic reaction to dry cat food. Common cat skin conditions are now being linked to dry cat food. So what do you do? Well, if the only two options are feeding a bag of kibble or letting your cat starve to death buy the bag of kibble! But, if you can afford to spend a bit more please consider the new freeze dried raw foods. I’m feeding my cats a chicken formula from a company called Instinct. An 11 lb bag cost $35 but it feeds my three cats for a month. I was feeding them freeze dried raw patties from a company called a Vital Essentials but unfortunately this food has become very difficult for me to find. My cats love the freeze dried raw. My oldest cat Daisy was my puker and always had dry itchy skin. Since she started eating freeze dried raw her skin has cleared up and only vomits if she has a hair ball or she’s mad at me (I’ll write about that in another post). But the biggest difference I noticed is in her overall health. Daisy is my 15-year-old senior cat. Prior to switching to raw Daisy was overweight, lethargic, and showing signs of feline diabetes (frequent urination, thirst, and sticky urine). Since going to raw her diabetes symptoms have disappeared!
A few final tips on feeding cats:
1. Cats do not require milk or cream or any dairy for that matter. They just like the taste. However milk provides no nutritional value to your cat. Feeding your cat a dish of cream is like feeding your kid a bowl of Oreo cookies for dinner.
2. Cats, unlike dogs, will not be poisoned by eating chocolate. In fact, cats lack the necessary taste receptors for sweet. But weirdly, they love chocolate. I have no idea what chocolate tastes like to them but there are cats who go berserk for chocolate, and my Willow Jane is one of them. She has stolen many candy bars and Oreo cookies which can be found in her hiding spots licked completely smooth.
3. Cats do eat grass, herbs, and plants but be careful! Some plants are very poisonous to cats. One plant that is safe for cats are spider plants. But good luck trying to grow one. I’ve yet to put one in a spot that my cats can’t get to and eat the poor plant down to a stub.
4. Kittens need at least 2 times as much food as cats. Kittens are kittens until they are a year old and they should be fed anywhere between 2 to 4 times a day depending on how active they are.
Lastly, let’s talk about water. Like all other life forms cats require water. Wet food whether it is raw or canned will provide your cat with most of their daily water requirement so don’t be surprised if your cat drinks less when you switch them. On the other hand cats who eat dry food whether it be freeze dried raw or kibble will drink more. You can try to add some water to dry food especially freeze dried raw. But whatever you are feeding always make sure you have a source of fresh water for your cats to drink.
I hope this helps. Please know I am not being paid by any company or organization to share the brands mentioned in this article. I mention them because I have tried them and believe in them. I hope your fur baby likes them as well. Bon appetit!