Feb 27th, 2022

What should I feed my cat?

A nutritionally complete and balanced diet is essential to support a cat’s early development and future health.

Cat nutrition is an ongoing area of research, and so while the optimal diet will never be conclusively determined as we continually gather new insights, we do know that cat food needs to contain specific essential ingredients within a tightly controlled range. Deficiencies that arise if minimum levels are not met can be damaging. If maximum levels are exceeded, this can also be toxic.

Just like humans every cat is different, so there is no "one-size-fits-all". However, there are some basic rules of thumb you can apply when looking to provide a nutritious diet to your feline friends. Keep a close eye on how your cats respond to the type and amount of food you give them, so you can adjust where necessary. Always consult with a veterinary professional if you're unsure.

You will see varying enticing nutritional statements on cat food packaging which can be confusing. Remember, the packaging of a product is an advertisement in itself, and is designed to tempt you to buy. So, brands may feature a claim on the front of the pack if they know the cat community is talking about a specific ingredient, and therefore owners might be looking out for it. To clear the smoke and mirrors that marketing can throw up, all you need to remember are the five key nutritional components the science tells us are important.

Did you know?

You can register for food recall alerts with the Food Standards Agency and product manufacturers to make sure you’re the first to find out whether any cat foods have been temporarily or permanently taken off the market.

 

Protein

Cats have evolved a greater need for protein in their diet than people or dogs. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and for a cat to survive, several of them must be obtained from a meat diet. Arginine and taurine in particular are not present in plant-material at all, and although cysteine and methionine are, they're not there in sufficient levels. A cat can therefore only get the critical levels of protein and balance of amino acids through eating animal tissues.

Fats

Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat and are important for a number of bodily functions including skin, coat and immune system health, as well as for the growth and development of the eyes and nervous system in utero and kittenhood. Fat also provides an additional energy source to protein.

Carbohydrates

As carnivores, cats aren't as well equipped to digest plant matter, however complex carbohydrates can still offer nutritional value and can be a helpful source of fibre for some cats. Unless your cat begins to show an intolerance to a specific carbohydrate source, such as grains, there is no need to opt for a carb-free diet. Common signs of intolerance can include either intermittent vomiting, soft faeces or just being on the thin side.  If this occurs, it's time for a visit to the vet to discuss the most appropriate diet for your cat, as well as rule out other health problems.

Vitamins & Minerals

Unlike dogs and other omnivores, cats require much higher levels of B vitamins and can't synthesise vitamin A from plants or vitamin D from sunlight. As micronutrients, these are all needed in very tiny, but critical amounts. That means it's a really complex scientific process trying to replicate what cat's get when they'd naturally be consuming an entire animal's tissues. Important minerals must also be finely balanced to prevent health problems from deficiencies and toxicity.

Water

All cats need constant access to a supply of fresh water, which should be changed daily, or sooner if it becomes soiled with food, litter or other debris. It's best to offer a variety of drinking options (e.g. bowls made of different materials, sizes, depths and shapes). Place them in multiple separate locations away from their food and toileting amenities. 

Some cats prefer moving water which experts believe is due to the fact that in a wild setting, a cat would be more likely to avoid standing water that could become easily contaminated. Cat water fountains are readily available and worth trying. 

If you are providing a mixture of wet and dry food, aim for a daily intake of at least 75% wet food to maintain optimal body water levels (hydration). Keep an eye on the amount of food and water your cats are eating and drinking. Increased thirst or reluctance to eat or drink are potential signs of ill-health and the need for veterinary attention.

Did you know?

It's recommended that you provide a varied diet to your cats and kittens from a young age. A mixture of different flavours and textures will help to influence future preferences. It's best not to become reliant on one style or brand of food in case of food recalls or formula changes. It may also be helpful later in your cats’ lives if you need to switch foods to meet additional dietary requirements as their bodies age or illness arises. Introduce new foods slowly by mixing with existing food and increasing the ratio of new food in incremental amounts over 5-7 days.

 

Selecting the best nutrition

  1. Choose a reputable brand/manufacturer - one that employs a specialist veterinary nutritionist and chemically analyses the nutrient content of the finished product to verify that it meets the stringent nutrient criteria they've worked hard to balance. Investment in research and development and a positive history when it comes to recalls are also important.
  2. Ensure the food is labelled as "nutritionally complete and balanced" - this means it has the right types and levels of  essential nutrients. Foods described as "complementary" on their  packaging are treats which should only be given every now and then.
  3. Check that the food is appropriate for each individual cat's needs - lifestage diets have factored in specific calorie and nutrient requirements based on variables like age, growth (e.g. kittens, pregnancy, lactation), activity levels, weight tendency and general health status of your pet (e.g. kidney disease).

Did you know?

It is recommended, where possible, that food is divided into at least four small meals a day for cats and weaned kittens. This is to mimic the portion sizes a cat would naturally consume in the wild. Food should also be served at room temperature (prey temperature 37°C). Uneaten food should be cleared away and disposed of at the end of each meal, and food bowls washed with detergent and rinsed after each meal with added disinfection weekly.