Cat Nutrition - Feeding Cats

As the leaves fall and the winter season arrives, many of us begin to plan our holiday meal shopping lists, and at the same time, to worry about all those big meals and extra calories resulting in weight gain. We as pet parents and cat lovers also should consider the diet and feeding habits of our little friends. It is a good time to reflect upon how to best feed your cat.

They are carnivores and have a very strong predatory drive (Luckily, there is a plethora of mouse toys.). They have strict requirements for certain amino acids and vitamins that need to be in their diet, which is why it is important to make sure your cat is eating a food designed for cats, not dog food or human food. (small bites of turkey or tuna are okay, but not eating 100% human food)

The majority of cats live an indoor life style and have meals planned for them by “their” human. They do not have to hunt for many small meals of mice or bugs like in the outdoors. They have food given to them on a platter, which they are not complaining about, but it puts them at increased risk of obesity from easy access to food and no need to exercise to acquire it. Additionally, we often perceive that our cats are hungry and begging for food when in fact they are bored, which can further contribute to weight gain.

It is important to remember that a cat in good body condition will live a longer, healthier, and happier life, so here are some recommendations to think about over the holidays. And yes, I would and will share a little turkey snack with my personal carnivore.

1) Free feeding (ie leaving a bowl of dry food out all the time) generally is a bad idea. The majority of cats will become obese.

2) In the wild, a cat would eat small frequent meals. In our homes this type of feeding can be hard to replicate, but feeding portions frequently is best to curb weight gain and mimic their natural feeding behavior. A veterinarian can help determine what a appropriate portion is for your cat, which can then by divided and fed in 2- 3 meals per day. In senior and geriatric cats, who as a group tend to have more difficulties with digestion, it is great to do even more small frequent meals if possible.

3) Temperature of food is important to cats. They prefer at body or room temperature. (No cold leftovers from the refrigerator.)

4) They love to hunt. Consider investing in a food puzzle. Cats love to hunt for their food, and they need a puzzle to figure out. Environmental enrichment is important for helping to resolve many feline health issues. Perhaps it is time to buy a robot mouse for under the holiday tree – their hunting instincts will be satisfied!

5) Cats develop very strong food preferences related to smell, taste, size, etc. It is important with kittens to expose them to a variety of flavors and textures in order to train them to have more flexibility in their diets as adults.

6) They do not like eating together. Unlike humans at dinner time, cats prefer to eat alone. It will make them less anxious and make them eat more appropriately if they have separate feeding stations.

7) Water is an important nutrient. Cats prefer separate water stations and make sure they are drinking plenty.

8) Pick a good food. Yes, I know the temptations of the pet food aisle, so many options! We all worry about the quality of our food and I am sure of your pet’s food too. I feel the most important things are to make sure you are purchasing food from a reputable company that follows AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines and to monitor for food recalls with foods and treats. The AVMA has a page that lists all the current recalls.

9) Canned Food versus Dry Kibble. Ideally a cat would have some of each type of food, but this is a conversation to have with your veterinarian. Canned food has more water and can be good for older cats or cats that have urinary or constipation concerns. While some dry foods are better for their teeth. So remember to ask what is best!

Have a wonderful winter season and Bon appétit!


Rachel Stadler, VMD