Let’s face it, no matter what you feed your cat, they can get bored with a fixed diet. However, a fixed diet is what’s best for cats and is most recommended by nutritionists and veterinarians. When determining your cat’s diet, the most important thing to consider is lifestyle. How old is the cat and does it spend it’s time indoors, outdoors or both? Is it spayed or neutered? Does it have a hereditary history or medical conditions and is it active or relatively sedentary? These are all things that should be discussed with your veterinarian when coming up with a solid nutritional plan.
One question that creates some debate is wet or dry cat food. The common wisdom, and one I agree with, is that wet food is all that is necessary to meet the nutritional needs of cats but very small amounts of dry kibble are not harmful. The reason you want to keep the dry food to an absolute minimum is because it’s high in carbohydrates which cats don’t process in the same way as humans.
With wet food the water content is obviously much higher, the carbohydrate load is significantly lower and the type of protein is not plant-based as is found in dry food. This last point is particularly important because cats are very strict carnivores and lack the specific metabolic pathways that allow them to utilize plant proteins as efficiently as animal proteins. Rest assured that if you decide to go with a wet food only diet your cat will get the nutrition it needs.
Just like when we check for an expiration date at the grocery store, you should do the same when buying cat food. The shelf life for wet cat food varies anywhere between 1 and 5 years and the “Best by…” date on the can tells you when the food runs its nutritional value course.
While mass-market brands are suitable for most cats, if you want to provide your pet with better nutritional value via higher quality ingredients, you should look toward premium brands. You get what you pay for is certainly true when it comes to cat food.
When considering a purchase make sure protein is listed as the top ingredient and look for the phrase “Complete and Balanced” on the can. This indicates that the food meets nutritional requirements as established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials and the FDA.
Just like it is for doctors who treat humans, veterinarians know how important proper nutrition is for good cat health. They stay abreast of the newest formulas on the market and because they know your cat’s current state of health, will be able to make educated recommendations that will serve you best.
Whether you are feeding a kitten three times a day, or an adult cat once or twice a day depending on their activity and overall health, you should get into the habit of cleaning the bowl after every meal. Bacteria and bugs are attracted to moist environments and can be ingested if you don’t take the time to wash your cat’s bowl the same way you would your own dishes.
While wet cat food is 70% to 80% water, that doesn’t mean that fresh, clean water should not be made available. Average cats need about an ounce of water per pound of body weight every day so keep a bowl filled and accessible throughout the day so your cat can drink when it’s thirsty. And like a food bowl, make sure to wash it out once a day to avoid any potential contaminants.
Wet cat food turns quickly and should never be left out for more than 30 minutes. Any uneaten food should be covered and placed in the refrigerator and then warmed a bit before the next feeding because most cats won’t eat cold food.
This is one of those common sense things we all need to remember as pet owners. If you do need to use insecticides, make sure they don’t come anywhere close to food and water bowls and change the feeding location until you’re sure any chemicals have dissipated.
While we learn as adults how to push ourselves away from the table, cats will eat what’s put in front of them. There’s one reason overweight cats are becoming more prevalent, and contracting the medical conditions that come with it, and that’s because cat owners are giving them too much food. Remember, one extra pound on an average cat is similar to 25 pounds on a person. Pay attention to your cat’s weight and activity level and adjust the portions accordingly until you find the right balance.
We all want our pets to be happy and because we know how much we enjoy sneaking a treat once in a while we often do the same thing for our pets. The key here is “once in awhile”, as in only 5% of their typical daily caloric intake. Cat treats, like people treats, are made to taste good but they’re typically lacking in the nutrition your cat needs to stay healthy and are a key contributor to obesity.
We’ve all seen pictures of cats lapping up a bowl of cream but milk and milk-based products are definitely something to avoid. Cats don’t have enough of an enzyme called lactase, which is what effectively breaks down the lactose in milk. The only time cats and milk should mix is when they’re weaning. Water is the only liquid necessary for hydration.
As is the case with any pet, it’s up to the owner to not only establish the diet but to administer it. And because all cats are different it will take some trial and error to develop a plan that works best. Once you do, stick with it but continue to pay attention to signs that it may need to be adjusted.
Some of these signs will become known following regular check-ups. Having an annual blood panel done on your cat will provide your veterinarian with vital information regarding certain medical conditions that can be monitored and then controlled by nutrition.
We all want what’s best for our cats and a healthy life starts with good nutrition. By taking the time to research different premium food choices, speaking to your veterinarian about your cat’s specific nutritional needs and creating a diet that suits those needs, you’ll be well on your way to being able to enjoy your loving friend for many happy years to come.
Don’t forget though, your cat will still think it’s in charge. But that’s one of the reasons we love them, right?
More expert advice about Cat Health and Wellness
Photo Credits: Got Milk? 3/365 by Ashley Coombs via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com