Feeding your cat should not be very complicated. But for many owners, particularly new ones, it raises many questions. When you visit the supermarket, you are confronted with a vast range of cat food – wet food, dry food, food for older cats, food for kittens, food for particular breeds of cat, special diets. And what about those raw diets you read about recently? And do cats need vitamin supplements? Here we look at some of the frequently asked questions concerning cat feeding.
Cats need a well balanced diet, just as humans do. If they do not get this, it will show in their appearance, with coarse fur and dull eyes. Eventually it could lead to serious illnesses. So cats need plenty of protein, plus some carbohydrate and fat, and essential vitamins and minerals. It does not matter all that much what they eat so long as these requirements are filled.
Pet food manufacturers have devoted an enormous amount of research to producing cat food, and commercial food provides all the nutrition your cat needs. It does not matter if you provide wet or dry food or a mixture of both, but if your cat eats mainly dry food, he will need to drink a lot of water too. Occasional treats of fresh food are fine, but do not feed dog food to a cat, as it does not contain all the nutrients which cats require.
Kittens have tiny stomachs and should be fed several times a day. Adult cats really only need two meals a day. However, some cats prefer to eat little and often, so it is fine to feed more frequently, or even leave dried food out all the time for your cat, so long as he is not prone to overeating and overweight. There are really no hard and fast rules.
You can feed your cat on fresh food, but it is best to use cooked fish or meat, as cooking will destroy any germs or toxins. However, only cook fish lightly so as not to destroy the B vitamins in it. Feed a variety of food, so that the cat gets all the nutrients he needs. But you are probably better to feed commercial foods to ensure that your cat has no nutritional deficiencies.
No, definitely not! Even if you are a vegetarian yourself, do not try to get your cat to be one. Cats are 'obligate carnivores', which means they need to eat meat in order to survive. In particular, they must get the amino acid taurine from meat to prevent blindness and certain heart conditions. Some animals can make taurine from other amino acids, but cats cannot, so they need a regular supply from meat.
If a cat is eating a good balanced diet made mainly from commercial cat food, then he will not need any supplements. However, if you are feeding your cat mainly or exclusively on fresh food, he may need additional vitamins and minerals, so these should be added to his diet.
No, as water is essential for a cat. Milk can be given as an addition, but not as a substitute. However, milk gives many adult cats severe diarrhoea, so it is probably best avoided. It is possible to buy special 'cat milk' in some supermarkets, and you can feed this instead if your cat likes it, though it is by no means essential.
Kittens will get enough nutrition from their mother's milk until they are about four weeks old. After this they can be gently weaned on to solid food. Start off with semi-liquid food which the kitten can lap. Any meat or chicken should be finely ground. Many companies produce specific kitten foods, which are nutritionally designed to suit the needs of growing kittens, and also have small pieces which a young kitten can eat. You can start serving these from the age of about six weeks.
Sick cats will probably not want to eat. However, it is essential that they have enough liquid, so it is best to feed them nourishing liquid food which tastes good. Beef tea is good, or warm water with a little honey or glucose. It is also possible to buy liquid invalid food from your vet or a pet store. You can feed your cat from a spoon or a syringe if necessary. When he is getting better, try to tempt him with his favourite foods, so that he gets used to eating normally again.
Cats can actually survive without food for several weeks, but need to drink water much more often than this, and more than a couple of days without water could lead to severe dehydration. However, never go off and leave your cat without food for longer than a day. They will become very distressed, and if they have access to the outdoors, may go off and find their own food, which risks them having an accident or getting lost. If you need to be away for a day or two, you can simply leave extra dry food and water out for your cat.
You may have a number of other questions which have not been answered here. So to summarise, it is probably best to feed your cat any good commercial cat food, either wet or dry, at intervals to fit in with the household routine. Provide him with constant fresh water, and give the occasional treat if he wants it. If you do this, you will not go far wrong.