FAQs About Cat Nutrition
- Why does my cat need to have a nutritionally balanced diet?
Cats require a minimum of 41 nutrients (the same 39 dogs need, plus two extra: taurine and arachidonic acid (dogs need these as well, but can make them from other nutrients) all in the correct proportion to maintain her health. These nutrients include amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals. The nutrients must be in a form that can be used by the cat. The ood containing these nutrient must also be palatable so the cat will eat the food containing these nutrients. Don't forget the most important nutrient, water. Cats should always have access to clean water.
- How important are proteins to my cat's diet? Are some proteins better than others?
Proteins are made up of amino acids and these amino acids are the building blocks the cat uses to make muscle, hair, skin and enzymes. Since each protein has a unique mix of these amino acids, proteins differ widely in their value to the cat. Generally, egg protein is regarded as the best, with animal proteins generally being of higher quality than plant proteins. Many oods blend just the right mix of animal and plant proteins to provide the optimal mix of amino acids. Cats have a unique need for the amino acid taurine, which is only found in animal, poultry, fish and their by-products.
- How important are carbohydrates to my cat's diet? Are some carbohydrates better than others?
The carbohydrates found in pet goods usually come from plant sources like corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, barley and oats. While not absolutely necessary, carbohydrates are usually found in most pet foods because they are an excellent source of energy. Cooked carbohydrates from the grains listed above are readily available to cats. While rice is usually considered the most digestible grain, the others listed above are all readily available to the pet.
Another class of carbohydrates provides bulk to the food and are generally regarded as being beneficial in promoting the proper digestion and movement of food in the animal. These carbohydrates are referred to as fiber and common sources include beet pulp, rice bran, corn bran and cellulose. Since these fiber sources are not well digested, they are commonly found in lite pet foods to decrease the calories in the food.
- How important are fats to my cat's diet? Are some fats better than others?
Fats have three important roles in a pet's diet. They provide energy, and there is more than twice the amount of energy in an ounce of fat than an ounce of protein or carbohydrate. They help in making the food more palatable, as long as the fat is of high quality and is properly protected from spoilage. Fats provide essential fatty acids to the pet, which they need for a healthy skin and shiny coat. Cats require an extra fatty acid, arachidonic acid, that dogs do not which is only found in fats from animals, poultry or fish.
- Do all cat foods include all the vitamins and minerals my cat needs?
Any pet food which is labeled as complete and balanced as regulated by AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) must, by definition, contain all the vitamins and minerals required by the cat for good health. Check the label to make sure the food you are using meets these standards. These nutrients are carefully balanced to provide the right amount of nutrition for your cat.
- How much should I feed my cat?
The first place to start is to look for feeding guidelines on the package, they are an excellent place to start. Remember that these are guidelines only and that your pet's age, activity level and environmental temperatures all have an effect on how much your pet needs. The best method is to weigh your cat regularly and increase the amount of ood if your cat appears to be losing weight and decrease the amount if your pet appears to be gaining weight. Many pet stores and most veterinarian offices have scales you can use to weigh your pet.
Young growing pets should be fed two or three times per day, with newly weaned kittens being fed three times a day and older growing kittens being fed twice a day. Adult cats can be fed free choice, once a day or twice a day depending upon the cat and owner preference. Adult dogs or cats that are overweight and are being fed to lose weight should be fed twice a day to help minimize the risk of begging.
- Is it acceptable to feed cats table scraps?
While an occasional piece of popcorn certainly won't hurt your pet, it is generally not recommended that you feed your pets table scraps for three reasons. First, too many table scraps can add nutrients, which could upset the balance of the commercial diet you are using. Second, feeding table scraps will quickly create a pet that assumes she should always have human food and then won't eat her pet food. Lastly, feeding table scraps encourages a pet to beg for food.
- Is there a correct amount of vitamins and minerals for my cat? What happens if my cat gets too many vitamins or minerals?
Both vitamin and minerals have certain levels that are required for optimal health and either too much or too little generally can lead to health problems. For some nutrients the range where optimal health can be maintained is quite wide and the safety factor is quite high. Examples include Vitamin E, manganese and the B-vitamins. In contrast, other nutrients have a relatively narrow range and careful attention must be paid to these nutrient to ensure the pet gets enough for proper health, but not so much that signs of nutrient excess develop. Examples here include zinc, selenium and copper.
- Is dry food better than canned food?
Cats can thrive on any diet, dry, canned or semi-moist, as long as it is complete and balanced. Dry diets are generally less expensive to feed than canned diets. The crunchy texture of dry diets will also help keep the pet's teeth clean. However, even pets fed dry diets still need periodic cleaning and can benefit from the many treats and toys which help clean teeth.
- My cat really likes canned foods. Will he be harmed if I only feed him canned food?
Your cat will do fine on only canned food as long as it is complete and balanced. If you feed your cat only canned food you should probably make sure you buy extra teeth cleaning treats and toys as well as take your pet to get her teeth brushed regularly.
- My veterinarian recommended feeding my cat a "premium" food. Why is premium food better?
Premium foods typically contain higher quality ingredients than standard foods. Because higher quality ingredients are used (more real meat) the foods are more nutrient-dense which means they contain higher percentages of protein and fat so your pet eats less to obtain the same nutrition. In addition, premium foods tend to contain natural additives (natural preservatives like Vitamin E) and avoid the use of artificial colors and flavors. Many perceive premium foods to be healthier due to the use of natural additives. Premium foods also feature high quality carbohydrate sources like rice, one of the most digestible grains.
Due to the nutrient density and quality of ingredients, the average premium food is more digestible than the average standard food. This results in less litter-box clean up for you. Since the ingredients are of higher quality, the cost of premium foods tends to be higher on a per pound basis. However, the fact that they are of higher nutrient density and digestibility means the amount of food fed is less, so while overall feeding costs are higher, it's not as much as you may think.
- Some people leave food out all day for their cat. Is that good? Will the cat eat too much?
Dry cat food can be left out all day as long as your cat does not overeat and gain excessive weight. Even when given food all day, most cats prefer to eat many (10 or more) small meals throughout the day. This method of feeding seems to be beneficial in helping moderate changes in urine acidity, something important for maintaining urinary tract health. However, if your cat gains too much weight, it's a good idea to feed your pet using discrete meals once or twice a day.
- I am afraid to change my cat's food. Will he get sick?
Once your cat adjusts to a particular ood, the cat's system, including the bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal, establish a careful balance. Because different foods contain different ingredients and nutrients, too quick a change can upset her system. For this reason, a gradual change is recommended. Mix the old food with the new food as shown below and after 10 days your pet will be eating his new diet.
New Food Old Food Days 1-3 25% 75% Days 46 50% 50% Days 7-9 75% 25% Day 10 100%
- My cat won't eat his food anymore. Why?
There are lots of reasons a cat might not eat his food. If your cat does not eat for one day, there is usually no cause for concern. Long term fasting predisposes cats to a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis, so if your cat does not eat for two days in a row it's a good idea to take her to your veterinarian and make sure she is okay. Cats like consistency, so sometimes feeding her in a new place at a different time or in a new bowl may cause her to not eat. Occasionally a food may not be stored properly or might be too old and the fats have started to go rancid, which can lead to feed refusal. Sometimes when the weather is too hot your cat might not want to eat. Lastly, determine whether your pet may have had too many treats or may have gotten into the pantry or garbage and so may already have eaten her daily meal.
- Are there things I shouldn't feed my cat?
Yes. Leading the list is chocolate. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine which is toxic. Never feed chocolate or food containing chocolate to your pet. Also, never feed an onion to your pet, as large amounts can destroy your pet's red blood cells causing anemia. While many people give their pets raw meat, fish or poultry products these meats contain bacteria or possibly parasites, which are killed in the cooking process. For this reason, raw meats are also not recommended. Softer bones, such as those from pork or poultry, should not be fed, as they can splinter and puncture the intestines.
- Is it okay to give my cat treats? He really likes them.
There are a large number of high-quality treats available for your cat. The first thing to remember when using treats is the 10% rule. Never let treats comprise more than 10% of your cat's diet. Most commercial pet foods contain enough nutrients that feeding up to 10% treats won't upset an otherwise balanced diet. Secondly, just like changing diets too fast can upset a pet digestive system, so can a large amount of treats all at once. Lastly, remember that treats contain calories so make sure to cut back on your pet's regular food if you feed treats every day.
- Are some treats better for cats than others?
Generally speaking, treats can be divided into two categories, dry and semi-moist. Semi-moist treats contain 20-30% water, usually contain some real meat or chicken and are highly palatable, making them valuable training treats. Dry treats are usually not as palatable as semi-moist treats, but are less expensive and often can be used to help clean teeth.
- How long will cat food keep? How can I tell if the food is still good?
Most pet food has a relatively long shelf life and most manufacturers are code-dating their products in a manner that is consumer friendly. Usually this results in a statement on the package that says "Use before xxxx", where "xxxx" represents the last date the product should be used. As a rule of thumb, dry food is generally good up to one year from the date of manufacture, while canned foods are good for two years. After that certain components of the diet start to break down resulting in a product that smells bad, is unpalatable to the pet and which is not nutritious. While canned food is good for two years when unopened, once it's opened it should not be allowed to sit out for more than a couple of hours because bacteria will quickly grow on moist pet food. Dry food can be left out all day as long as it stays dry and is protected from crawling insects.