There is quite a lively debate about what you should feed your cat. Should you feed my cat dry or wet food? Should you give my cat tuna, milk, chicken bones, eggs? Should you give my cat homemade food or vegan diet? What about supplements? Relax for most cats there are some basic principles to feeding your cat that can help you resolve all these questions.
When considering what to feed your domestic cat, remember that cats are carnivores not omnivores or herbivores. This means that their diet in the wild consisted mainly of meat, specifically rodents, birds, lizards, snakes, an occasional rabbit, and insects. According to Wikipedia
, cats prey on over 1000 species.
Animal protein is cats natural diet. Whether choosing dry food, moist food, wet food or homemade food, animal protein should be the main ingredient. Cats, like humans, have no need for any carbohydrates. All the carbohydrates/sugars they need, they generate from protein using a process called gluconeogensis.
Bottom line is look for cat foods that are high in animal protein and avoid foods with high amounts of carbohydrates, which can make you cat fat.
Taurine is a non-essential amino acid for humans, which means that we can produce all the taurine we need. However, taurine is an essential amino acid for cats, which means that cats cannot produce taurine like humans.
If cats do not get enough taurine, they can go blind, have tooth decay, heart disease and many other problems according to PET MD.
Raw meat and fish generally have sufficient taurine especially if it contains organ meat. Cooking meats and fish can reduce the amount of available taurine. As a result, most commercial cat foods supplement the amount of taurine. However, it may be a good idea to check if your cat food includes taurine.
Taurine is water soluble, so any water used to cook the meat should be given to your cat rather than being drained off.
Clinical testing has shown no ill effects of supplementing your cat’s food with taurine.
Note that dog food does not contain additional taurine, so you should not feed your cat dog food.
Dry vs Wet Cat Food?
There is a lot of debate about which type of food is best for your precious feline. Many people pick dry food for its convenience and its lower cost. It is easier to pour your cat a bowl of kibble and let them eat when they are hungry. If you cat does not eat its wet food, it starts to smell and is difficult to clean up. Also wet food tends to be more expensive than dry food.
In the wild, cats get most of their water from their prey. Generally, a wild meal will contain 70% water. Dry food provides almost none of this water and cats are not programmed to drink a lot of water. Studies show that cats fed a dry food diet tend to be chronically dehydrated. This can result in urinary tract problems and chronic renal failure.
If you feed your cat dry food it is important to get them to drink more water. Cat water fountains are often helpful in getting your feline to drink more.
Dry cat food also tends to contain more carbohydrates than wet cat food. In the wild cats get around 5% of their diet from carbohydrates and this is the result of eating the stomach of their prey. Some carbohydrates are necessary to help form the kibble, but carbohydrates are also used as cheap filler. Cats are carnivores and do not have a digestive tract that can process the cellulose of carbohydrates. This can result in stomach problems for your feline. In addition, the carbohydrates are likely to raise your cats’ insulin levels making them more likely to get fat and more prone to diabetes.
One suggested benefit of dry food is dental health. However, studies have not been able to confirm any benefit for non-specially formulated dry foods. Dry cat food specifically formulated for dental health have been able to show some benefits. If you really want to improve your cat’s dental health feed them raw chicken bones.
Despite the problems with dry cat food, top quality dry cat food that has high quality protein as its first ingredient is probably fine for your cat. It is much better than low quality wet cat food.
Wet cat food tends to have 78% water which avoids the problem of your cat being dehydrated. Make sure that the wet food you choose has protein as its major ingredient after the water.
One solution to this issue is to do both. This way you can only feed your cat wet food, when you know she is ready to eat and will not leave you a mess. Your cat can supplement their diet when they are hunger by eating the dry cat food.
Should I Give My Cat Milk?
Like humans most cats do not produce the enzyme lactase, which means that they cannot digest the lactose in milk. As a result, the lactose sits in the cat’s stomach and intestines, fermenting. This produces a lot of gas causing your cat to have stomach pain and sometimes diarrhea. Also the lactose pulls water into the intestine lining dehydrating your cat.
Lactose is a sugar, which makes it inappropriate for your cat even if they produce the enzyme lactase. This sugar will increase the chance they will get fat and develop diabetes. Skim milk has the highest levels of lactose at around 51% of the calories, whole milk has around 35% lactose.
If you want to give your cat a treat, you should probably give them heavy whipping cream, in my opinion. This will have almost no lactose and lots of good tasting and for you cat fat. There are also some commercial milk products specifically designed for cats that do not have very much lactose.
Note, as kittens they do produce lactase, but this is ends about the time cats are weaned.
Should I Feed My Cat Tuna?
The expert advice here is that giving your cat canned tuna for humans occasionally is fine, however it should not become their main diet. One concern is that canned tuna (designed for humans) does not contain enough of the amino acid taurine. Cats, unlike most mammals, cannot not synthesize taurine. Canned tuna also is missing other vitamins and minerals that cats need.
Another concern is that tuna is high in mercury that can be dangerous for your cat. Also some cats are allergic to fish.
If you do give your cat canned tuna, choose the water packed tuna. Commonly, the oil packed tuna uses soybean oil. Cats in the wild never had soybean oil and so-called vegetable oils have been shown to cause inflammation in humans and likely have the same effect on cats.
If you are giving you cat fresh tuna, invite me over and I’ll share a plate of sashimi with your cat – lol.
Can I Feed My Cat Eggs?
Eggs are an excellent source of protein, including the amino acid taurine that cats need. Eggs are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. The evidence is that cats do eat eggs in the wild. The caveat seems to be that eggs do not provide all the nutrition your cat needs, so they should not be the only basis of your baby’s diet.
You should not fear that you cat is getting too much cholesterol. The idea that cholesterol causes heart disease is no longer accepted in humans and never made sense for cats. Cats do get heart disease, but not because of their diet. One of the major causes of heart disease in cats is a hereditary condition and the other is the result of too little taurine in their diet. Eggs will help here as they are high in taurine.
The other big controversy about eggs is whether they can be served raw. Every major pet organization recommends against it or says absolutely not. The reason for their position is that the raw eggs could contain bacteria such as e-coli or salmonella. Note that it is possible if you cat gets such an infection they could spread it to you. That said, cats ate raw eggs in nature and many people eat eggs raw. You know the risks, your an adult, make your own decision.
Should I Feed My Cat Chicken Bones?
The experts agree that you should never feed your cat cooked chicken bones, because they can splitter and end up getting stuck in your cats throat or puncturing their stomach or intestines. This can lead to a very large and traumatic vet bill. However, raw chicken bones are not only okay, they are good for your cat.
Raw chicken bones do not splitter and are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, iron, and Vitamin A, D and E.
Letting your cat chew on chicken bones also improves their jaw strength and helps clean their teeth. Your cat’s stomach is designed to deal with any raw bone they ingest, since they are carnivores and ate bones in the wild.
Smaller bones are ideal for your kitty. In the wild they eat small rodents and birds, ingesting all of these animals except the feathers. Cats like humans cannot digest hair, which is why they chock up hair balls. Humans cannot regurgitate hair and if a human eats too much hair they can die of malnutrition. This condition is called trichophagia.
Chicken wings closely resemble the size of bones they eat in the wild, making them a good choice.
Feel free to give your cat raw chicken bones as a treat for them and to keep them healthy.
How Often Should I Feed My Cat?
This subject seems to divide the experts with no clear answer. All seem to agree that kittens need more meals per day than adult cats. Most recommend 3-4 meals a day for kittens.
Most cat owners either feed their cats one or two times a day or allow free grazing. Several experts suggest that you should feed your cat twice a day at fixed times and not allow them to free graze.
The reasoning for twice a day is cats have short stomachs and intestinal tracts that empty out in about 8 hours. Another reason given is that free grazing promotes feline obesity. Note these experts were also adamantly against feeding your cats kibble.
Other experts suggest at least three times a day on a fixed schedule. They suggest this is good for your cat’s digestive system and the routine reduces their stress levels. Many experts suggest that you should never fast your cat, however vets need you to do this if your cat is having some types of surgery.
The evidence is that feral cats tend to eat as many as 16 meals a day at all times of the day. This would seem to argue against the idea that cats should not be allowed to graze.
Here is the bottom line, if you are feeding your cat high quality food with a lot of protein and an adequate amount of animal fats they are unlikely to overfeed or get fat. If your cat is reasonably healthy and are given appropriate food they will regulate their own eating.
Fasting has been found to extend the lifespan and healthspan of all mammals on which it has been tested. One cat owner found that occasional fasting helps their cats process fur balls and was an effective way to deal with any digestive issues their cats had. They administer a 16 hour fast. I would only suggest fasting your cat if they have a digestive problem that does not seem to resolve on its own. Your cat will most likely fast on their own accord if they need it.
How Much Fat Do Cats Need?
Some people might ask if cats need any fat at all. Cats like humans need certain fatty acids in their diet because their body cannot synthesize all the fatty acids they need. These fatty acids are called essential fatty acids.
The essential fatty acids vary from one species of mammal to another. For instance, arachidonic acid (AA) is an essential fatty acid for cats but not dogs. Other essential fatty acids for your feline include, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaneoic acid (DHA).
Inadequate levels of fats in your cat’s diet or a poor ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 fats can result in inflammation, weight gain, asthma, arthritis, and some cancers, not to mention skin rashes and a poor coat. It is recommended that the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio be 10:1 or lower. I have seen quotes as low as 2.5:1.
In the wild it is estimated a cat will get about 46% of their calories from fat and the rest primarily coming from protein. Many manufactures quote the fat content in dry weight, which converts to 23% of the dry weight being fat.
Ideally, your cat would get all its fat from animal sources. Do not worry about saturated fats, your cat needs them and will not develop heart disease from them. In fact, the latest scientific evidence is that humans also do not need to worry about saturated fats. But both you and your cat need to worry about the amount of carbohydrates and sugar.
Unfortunately, many manufactures put “vegetable oils” in their food. This is not part of your cat’s normal diet, is likely to be high in omega 6 fatty acids and will cause inflammation and other problems.
Some experts suggest supplementing your cats’ diet with fish oil or specially prepared oils high in omega 3’s. They suggest a gram of omega 3 oils per day, in two 500mg servings.
Other people suggstsupplementing you cat’s diet with coconut oil. Coconut oil is not an animal fat, but it has a high ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. The suggested dosage is 1/4-1/2teaspoon twice a day.
The bottom line is that you cat needs fat, around 50% of their diet by calories. Ideally, this fat would be from animal and fish sources. It is important to provide adequate omega 3 oils, which can be increased by supplementing their diet with fish oil or coconut oil. Proper fat nutrition for your cat will make their coat shine, their skin well moisturized, protect them from allergies,cancer, and keep them thin.
Vegan Diet for Cats?
Duh!! Enough said.
Homemade Cat Food
If you decide to make your own cat food the first question is raw or cooked. Proponents of raw diets cite that cooking reduces or damages some of the nutrients. The cooked camp responds that raw food can have bacteria and parasites. Most veterinarians seem to be against both, believing that you cannot provide your kitty a well balanced diet and the concern with bacteria. Another concern is the cost and time involved.
One solution to the cooked or raw is some combination of both. Most people who make their own cat food grind up chicken, turkey, and rabbit. Usually they grind up the bones with the meat as well as grinding in organ meat. Dark meat and organ meat is more nutrient dense than white meat. Most bacteria is on the surface of the meat, so before grinding the meat many people just quickly cook the outside of the meat.
Of course if you buy the meat already ground then the risk of bacteria goes up considerably. Cats in the wild do eat their prey over multiple days and even scavenge so their stomachs are better adapted than ours to deal with bacteria. In addition, dry food has been shown to have a fair amount of bacteria, fungus and other nasty stuff.
The belief that commercial food is scientifically designed for your cat’s nutritional needs, I think, are overblown. With a little research, I am sure that most competent people can give their cat a diet that is as well or better balanced than most commercial products.
This does not need to be an all or nothing approach either. A simple way to start is to give your cat raw chicken bones and perhaps other meat scrapes that you are going to throw out. If this works for you and your cat, you can slowly add more homemade food.
Unless your cat has special dietary needs there is probably no reason to strictly adhere to a completely homemade or commercial food diet and a number of advantages to combining the two.
Probably the most important take away point is that cats are carnivores and need lots high quality animal protein and fat. When in doubt use the wild cats’ diet as a guide. For instances, cats eat raw bones and eggs in the wild.