Your Cat's Diet
Nutrition for our domestic cats is an area of active research today. Feeding our cats is also controversial, the Internet, and the Media are full of conflicting advice. Our advice for feeding your cat is based on our best evaluation of recent research, as well as our extensive experiences with our own cats and our patients. Here is a summary of our current recommendations:
Cats are obligate carnivores—unlike dogs, now quite different from their wolf ancestors—cats have changed very little from their African desert ancestors. This means that cats require a diet high in protein, of very high quality of animal origin. Plant origin proteins that work well for us omnivores are deficient in amino acids that cats cannot make for themselves. They must get these amino acids directly from meat. Their desert origin also explains cats’ fussiness about water—if it is sitting around, it may be unhealthy. If it smells funny, is too close to the litter box, or to the food dish, or the dog drinks it, the cat may interpret this as “contaminated water.” Water from a faucet, sink, or toilet may be more appealing as it moves and is cooler than standing water.
The best way to provide a diet high in good quality protein is to feed a high quality, canned or raw food that is meat based. Look at the label: on the list of ingredients, the first couple of items, besides water for processing, should be meat. Look for cereals like rice, barley, corn, wheat, soybeans. If there are more than two of these, the total cereal in the canned food may be higher than it should be. Ideally, canned food for healthy adult cats, with no special needs, should list 9% protein on the label.
The additional advantage of canned foods for cats if that cat prefers to get much of their water from their food, as their desert ancestors did. Studies show that cats being fed canned food consume more water than cats on dry rations. Unlike dogs, cats do not drink enough water to make up the difference between very dry kibbles, and very moist canned rations. Kidneys are to cats what hearts are to people—the organ that seems to wear out first. Feeding canned food promotes better hydrations, which decreases the load on the kidneys. Also, canned food helps urinary stones from forming, which may help prevent painful and expensive-to-treat bladder disease.
We recommend caution using foods (especially dry) that have lots of vegetables or fruit in them—urinary imbalances may result.
The role of dry food in keeping cats’ teeth healthy is also controversial. Recent research claims that this is not as important as we used to believe. Also, the best-proven way to maintain dental health in pets is to clean their teeth at home (ask us for handouts and demonstrations). We believe, in most cases, that the advantages to our cats’ kidneys, body condition and general health from canned foods, outweighs the dental advantage of dry foods.
We generally recommend feeding normal adult cats specific meals, usually twice a day, morning and evening. There are exceptions that your veterinarian may want to discuss with you. Indoor only cats that “graze” or free feed are the most likely to be overweight—a growing health risk in our cats.