Feeding Cats

Feeding cats looks straightforward. There are countless choices in supermarkets, vet clinics, and pet stores.

To bring out the best in the cat, it is important to make a careful choice.

Many foods are formulated for the life stage of the cat, whether sterilised, lifestyle and any health issues, such as obesity or kidney care.

Domestic Cat Diet

The nutritional needs of the cat vary according to its age.  Meeting the requirements at every phase of life will enable the cat to enjoy optimum health, and live longer. 

Quality cat foods display a statement indicating if the food is nutritionally balanced and complete for the life stage of the cat.  The food has either completed a feeding trial or the recipe meets cats’ nutritional requirements.  Foods with this distinction indicate that it is not necessary to give extra vitamins or supplements, the food completes all nutritional requirements.

Feeding Cats The Natural Diet

If the food has been formulated for ‘supplemental feeding’, it is not suitable for a balanced complete diet.

The most common mistake made when feeding cats is over-feeding. Obesity leads to cat health issues including diabetes, arthritis, and urinary tract disease.  Modern cats are often sedentary and have come a long way from when they were predatorial farm cats, hunting and highly active. 

Feeding Life Stage

0-4 weeks

The newborn kitten is totally reliant on the mother’s milk

4-8 weeks

Weaning from milk to solids To supplement the mother’s milk, give several small meals daily, of wet sloppy kitten food.
This can be fed from a syringe at first, gradually moving on to a bowl.

2-4 months

Meat-based specialist kitten food, formulated for high protein content, animal-derived fatty acids for brain and eye development, and the right levels of vitamins and minerals. Five small meals a day.

4-6 months

A varied diet of wet and dry kitten food is ideal and prevents boredom or addiction to a particular brand. A growing kitten needs two to three substantial daily meals, double the amount of an adult cat.

6 months +

The young adult cat has can now be fed complete wet or dry food, twice a day.

Senior

Senior cats have a reduced ability to metabolize protein and can lose muscle mass. Specially formulated older cats’ food, has more digestible protein to build lean muscle mass, and omega-3 fatty acids to combat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Since they might have difficulty eating because of dental problems, wet or moist food is better for senior cats.
Combat loss of muscle mass by feeding two or three substantial meals daily.

What do wild cats eat?

Living in the wild, with the necessity to fend for themselves, cats would eat insects, rodents, rats, rabbits, birds and even bird eggs. A wild cat is attracted to its food by movement. A moving creature triggers a hunting instinct that is irresistible to the cat. The instinct for survival makes cats great opportunists, and they will scavenge from dustbins or beg scraps from cat lovers.

The gastric juices of a cat make them anatomically equipped to digest infection-carrying insects and small mammals. A wild cat’s diet may only be around 5% consisting of birds, as they are much harder to catch than mice. A hungry wild cat will eat virtually all of its prey.

Feeding Cats with Mice

After catching a bird, only a few feathers, the beak and legs are left. The wild cat will cover any uneaten food with leaves or earth, and leave it for when it is next hungry.

When a house cat makes scratching motions around food, it is covering it up and leaving it for another day, not rejecting the food as many owners mistakenly assume.

Grass – in the wild, cats will eat grass to help digestion and reduce furballs. Any grass seed or cat grass is ideal to ensure a well-balanced diet; ensure the grass has not been treated with chemicals.

A cat should NEVER be chastised for killing prey, as it is simply exercising its natural instinct and ensuring survival when it could otherwise go hungry.

Hunting

predetor

The hunting technique involves stalk and pounce. Cats are extremely fast over short distances. The common cat colouring – tabby – gives it camouflage in grass and woodland.

The cat creeps towards its victim, keeping its body flat and near to the ground until it is close enough to pounce or make a rapid dash.

Kittens and cats practice these instinctive behaviours in play with each other or on small toys. Cats also fish, using a flip-up movement of the front paw, to flick the fish over the shoulder and onto the grass.

Fussy Eaters

My cat is a very fussy eater. She refuses commercial cat food, and will only eat cooked steak. We are going abroad for a few months, and I am worried that she will go hungry in the cat hotel. Is there any way that we can wean her onto normal food, and make it more attractive?

cat complains

Domestic cats are renowned for holding out for the best deal there is. A hungry cat will eat virtually anything edible, and may even try eating the goldfish. Those who run cat hotels have no difficulty persuading a fussy cat to change its diet. A cat will rarely stop eating for more than one or two days. Cats can survive for weeks without food, as long as they have water to drink. A short fast can also be beneficial for a healthy adult cat. It cleanses the body of toxins, promoting bright eyes, a glossy coat and lots of energy. A pregnant or lactating cat, or an old, ill or very young cat, should not be allowed to fast.

The instinct of a house cat is triggered by smell, and then temperature and taste. If a cat prefers a particular food, it does not necessarily mean that it is more nourishing. It is up to the owner to be discerning when choosing good quality commercial food. Tips on how to change brands here. The best way to change brands is by adding a quarter to the usual food at first, followed by half on the second day, then three-quarters, gradually phasing out the original brand. Do not change brands suddenly as this can cause diarrhoea.

British Shorthair
British Shorthair

Salt – it is not advisable to feed processed meats, as many contain a high salt content. Excessive levels of salt can be toxic. By feeding a balanced commercial cat food, that includes vegetables for cats, the cat will receive the appropriate levels of salt.

Dog food lacks taurine, necessary for healthy vision, and may cause blindness if fed to cats daily.

Put the food into the cat’s bowl, then ignore it and your cat. If the cat refuses to eat, it may not be hungry, the weather may be too hot, the food too cold, or the cat may be feeling off-colour.

Make Cats Meals Appetising

How can I encourage my cat to eat?

Temperature is important. Food served at room temperature is more akin to the blood temperature of freshly caught prey. Cats do not usually enjoy food served direct from the fridge. Colour is totally unimportant.

Cats are equally happy eating dry food as eating the canned variety. ‘Complete’ dry food is not lacking in nutritional value, and the contents of dry foods and semi-moist sachets are similar to canned. Ensure that dry kibble is a ‘complete’ food and check the label of all cat food to ensure the quality.

Frequency of Cat Meals and Amounts to Feed

Is it sufficient to feed my cats once a day?

Cats should be fed twice a day. This avoids urine becoming too acidic. When feeding twice daily, it is important to give half the quota.. and not twice as much as the cat needs. For the average adult cat, two-thirds of a 400g can is about correct. Decrease the quantity if the cat is becoming overweight or defecating more than twice daily.

Phasing out Additives in Cat Food

I try to eat organic food. Is it possible to introduce the same healthy principle to my cats?

organic cat food

Additives used in pet foods are the same as those used in human foods and are claimed to be safe. It is possible to reduce additives by seeking out brands with fewer or virtually no additives.

Cat Life Stages and Special Feeding Needs

Q: “Does the cat’s diet need changing as it goes through life?”

Does the cat’s diet need changing as it goes through life?

cat food water

Older cats often prefer moist food as it is soft and easier to chew. Water or salt-free gravy can be also added to moisten. A pregnant or lactating cat should be given as much food as she wants. She will eat three or four times more than normal.

Kittens eat more than an adult cat as they need extra energy to grow. Kittens should have four or five small meals a day, this can be reduced if they have diarrhoea or their tummies begin to bulge. As kittens have very tiny teeth, they are unable to chew adult dry food. When feeding dry food, this should be especially for kittens, possibly moistened with water.

What liquids should I give my cat?

Milk is not necessary to a cats diet and may cause an allergic reaction due to the lactose. Nursing cats may benefit from powdered milk specifically for weaning kittens, due to the calcium it contains.

Tips on bowls and appropriate feeding vessels….

Cats would usually drink from large water holes in the wild, and should be given a large bowl, tank, or washing up the basin, rather than a small plastic bowl. As cats dislike narrow bowls, the bowl must be wider than the cat’s whiskers. The cat will gauge the distance, and avoid getting its nose wet, by tapping the surface of the water with a paw. All bowls should be a distance from the litter tray. A cat finds it abhorrent to eat or drink near where it toilets and in the wild will always defecate at a distance.

Water is essential for cats. Tap water is not recommended as cats are sensitive to the bleach and other chemicals it contains. Never feed carbonated water. Filtered water or bottled water is ideal.

The Litter Tray

Feeding Cats without a litter tray will make a mess in your home and of course, this can be solved by using a plastic sheet but is it not better to have a litter tray for your cat?

Once the kitten first starts to leave the nest at three or four weeks, it will probably climb straight into the litter tray.   It may take a mouthful of litter at first, but will soon catch on and use the tray for its designated purpose.

kitten litter

To litter train a kitten

  • Prepare a cat tray filled with cat litter
  • Give the kittens their special kitten food 
  • Right after the lead kitten has eaten, place it in the tray 
  • Gently stroke its tummy with one finger 
  • The kitten sits down promptly and urinates 
  • Repeat with the other kittens 
  • Repeat the procedure once more.  A third time will not be necessary. 

Avoid placing the litter tray near the washing machine, which is likely to put the cat off with the noise.  A kitten will urinate and defecate several times daily.  An adult cat will urinate generally twice daily. 

A cat’s urine should be clear and yellow.  Any spots of blood, very frequent urinating or straining to pass urine must be treated IMMEDIATELY by the vet, as they may be symptoms of life-threatening illness.  Similarly, indiscriminate soiling in the home may be a symptom, and must also be investigated by the vet.   

An adult cat’s faeces should be firm but not hard.   

Even if cats have access to the outdoors, they need a litter tray.  They dislike going out in the rain, strong wind or cold.  A hostile neighbour or aggressive cat may equally dissuade them from leaving the safety of their home.

The litter tray should be somewhere private, in a secluded spot or even in an open cupboard.  Avoid using pine disinfectant to clean the litter tray, as cats dislike the smell.

Diluted bleach, rinsed well, is ideal.  Cats dislike dirty trays, and trays should be cleaned as soon as they are dirtied, or at least twice daily. 

Some cats get confused and think the area around the tray is an extension of the tray.  This can be discouraged by placing the tray on a sheet of plastic. The cat will not soil on plastic.

Food and Drink Bowl

If you have ever had the misfortune of stepping in cat litter, you know that it is not an experience that you would like to repeat.

In fact, cats are very particular about where they relieve themselves and will go to great lengths to avoid soiling their food and water bowls. In the wild, cats will always defecate at a distance from their eating and drinking areas, and domestic cats instinctually follow suit.

As a result, it is important to place the litter tray at a safe distance from the food and water bowls. Not only will this help to keep your cat’s dining area clean, but it will also prevent them from tracking litter into other areas of the house.

They Need Your Help!

Owning cats is great and good fun and we would love you to have your own cats too.

Fostering cats is a wonderful alternative until they are ready for their furever home.

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