Your cat’s diet needs to include the right balance of the six major nutrient groups in order maintain optimal health: proteins, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and water. Any good quality manufactured cat food should provide your cat with this basic nutritional balance. Many others are designed to meet the specific needs, for example if a cat is pregnant, old or a kitten.
As a general rule, the order of ingredients is just as important as the kind of ingredients. Look for foods that list meat (protein) as the first ingredient and have a minimal number of ingredients, indicating low levels of processing. Unless a cat is on a special diet for medical or other reasons, the protein source should be listed first followed by other ingredients in the order of their percentage of total weight.
This is the most important ingredient in cat food by far. Aim to buy food with a protein content of at least 25 percent. Look for foods that name a specific protein source other than “meat” or “meat by-products” and “meat derivatives”, as there is no standardised definition of these in Australia endorsed by the pet food industry body, PFIAA. Look for chicken, lamb, turkey, salmon and tuna as well as organs like chicken liver and heart, which are both rich sources of taurine.
Taurine is an amino acid that humans can readily produce. However, cats need a dietary source of taurine to maintain good health. Taurine deficiency can lead to blindness and heart disease. Cat food manufacturers have been adding taurine to cat food for several decades now.
Cats need 20 to 24 percent fat in their food. It’s important that both protein and fat be relatively high to ensure a quality diet. Cats will be attracted by food with high concentration in these areas. For example, the nutritional profile of a mouse is 55.8 percent protein and 23.6 percent fat, making them the perfect meal for your feline friend.
Some owners make the mistake of buying low fat food, thinking it will prevent obesity. But cats need more fat content and will tend to overeat without it to try and meet their nutritional requirements. Look for a named fat source, such as chicken fat, in your pet’s store bought food.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need to eat meat to survive and no biological need for carbohydrates like grains. Cats can have difficulties digesting some carbohydrates and many allergies are triggered by the carbohydrate content of foods. However most dry foods depend on carbohydrates as “fillers” and to hold the other ingredients together.
Many cat owners make it practice to avoid buying cat food containing grains as cats simply don’t need them in their diet. As it’s not natural to a cat’s diets, many cats develop food allergies to grains, especially corn, which is used as a cheap filler. They can also develop irritable bowel disorder, leading to painful stomach cramps, vomiting and runny stools. To avoid problems, look for carbohydrates such as potatoes or green peas. Better yet, feed them wet food, with quality dry food as a “treat”.
Treats and Snacks
Avoid the temptation of feeding your cat scraps from the dinner table. Human foods are high in calories and lack many essential nutrients for cats. Some of these foods can be toxic to cats. Manufactured treats are generally the safer and far healthier alternative.
Other things to avoid include:
- Cow milk – Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t good for cats and most lose the ability to digest lactose shortly after weaning.
- Low moisture content – Cats evolved to get a majority of their water from their food. Today cats spend the majority of their life mildly dehydrated, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections and renal failure later in life. Avoid this by feeding your cat moist/wet foods or giving them plenty of water if they have a dry diet.
- Changing diet – Cats have different digestion to ours and can be easily upset when their food is changed in any way. Make the transition to any new foods gradually over seven to ten days.
Remember cats are creatures of habit. It’s best to stick to a feeding schedule and give them food at the same place at the same time every day in a quiet area. Consult your vet if you have any doubts.