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How to Feed a Cat – Part 1

Satisfied CatWhile cats are one of the easiest pet to take care of (some will say that they take care of themselves), there are things that any cat owner should know. Starting from the basics, knowing how to feed cats is primordial knowledge.

Again, feeding a cat is easy. However there are a few options available and you are better knowing them in order to make decisions which are good for both you and the cat.

This article is primarily aimed at new cat owners, but may be of interest to the long time owners which are not aware of all options and subtleties. It also attempts to break a few myths along the way.

The Basics

Cats are obligate carnivores. A carnivore is described as any animal which eats flesh. Most carnivores, though, can eat vegetables or grain to supplement their diet, or to compensate for the lack of meat in tough times. It is possible to feed a dog with only vegetables and grain, and if balanced carefully it will do just fine. However, cats are obligate carnivores, or true carnivores. While they could use vegetables or grain in small amount as a supplement, they must eat meat.

Unlike many other animals, cats do not synthesize many of the nutrients which they need for their survival. For instance, they do not synthesize taurine, fat or vitamin D. They must get these nutrients from their food, and none of these nutrients can be obtained from sources other than meat. Furthermore, cats cannot easily and completely digest any vegetable or grain, thus they do not get much of the nutrients from these.

All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

A popular trend is to free feed cats. That is, providing them with an unlimited supply which they can eat from at any time they desire. The myth here is that a cat will only eat up to his appetite, which is not entirely true.

In nature, a cat which catches a good prey will eat as much as it can eat out of it, filling entirely its stomach. Then it will lay by the prey for a while, then eat the remains until filled again. And repeat until there is nothing left to eat. Because it knows it may well not catch another such good prey for several days.

This behavior remains in domestic cats even though they know they will have more to eat later. In essence, if they are free fed, cats fill their stomach, and eat every 10-20 minutes to fill their stomach again. They basically never know hunger. Though this works well for some cats, it is a major cause of obesity.

It is better and more natural to feed cats meals. An adult cat would go fine with a single meal a day, preferably in the evening. Kittens however must be given two meals, approximately every 12 hours, as they need more than they can fill their stomach in one sitting. Ideally, very young kittens that have just begun to eat (3-4 months and younger) should be given 3 meals a day or even free fed, as they need to eat a lot and are not yet susceptible to obesity.

Dry Food

Dry cat food is probably the most popular food served to cats. This is because it is easy and convenient. There are number of problems associated with the use of dry food though, but most cats do just fine with it if you take a number of precautions.

Dry Cat Food

One meal for my 3 cats, twice a day

Dry food has the advantage of being balanced, you don’t need to give them anything else. However, do not go for the cheap brands. In particular, you should avoid any brands sold at the supermarket. Many of the cheap brands have rice or corn, or some other vegetable or grain, as their first ingredient. As we saw, cats are obligate carnivores, and therefore the main ingredient in their food should be meat, but rice is less costly than meat and is often used in cheap food. You can check the ingredients on the package, and in most jurisdictions they are required to be listed in descending order of dry weight. That is, the prominent ingredient is listed first. You should pick a brand which lists meat as its first ingredient. Some manufacturers even sell all-meat dry food.

The difference in price might be a deterrent from picking a good food brand, however on the long run it is often better to pay more. Many of the cheap brands use filler, ingredients which serve no purpose other than to make the bag look larger for the price. Better food may fill your cat better, and thus it will need to eat less. Also, a better diet may keep the cat more healthy, and therefore save on vet bills. In the end, the pricy brands may cost the same as the cheaper brands.

One of the main disadvantage of dry food is that it is, well, dry. A cat needs to ingest a large quantity of water to compensate. Fresh water must be available at all time, as cats don’t like old stagnant water. Even better, a cat water fountain get most cats to drink more water, because the water is constantly being oxygenated and tastes better. In nature, cats get most of their water from their prey, and therefore it isn’t natural for a cat to drink a lot of water. Anything you can do to encourage your cat do drink more water is good. A lack of water may cause all kind of problems, from lower urinary tract disease to crystals or stones. Despite the best attempts, it is estimated that a cat eating dry food will only get about half the water it should.

Canned Food

The advantage of canned food is that it already contain all the water a cat needs, up to 78% of the content of the can is water. In addition, canned food is more likely to contain more meat than anything else. However, the cheaper brands may have a large

Healthy Canned Cat Food [ehow.com]

Healthy Canned Cat Food [ehow.com]

amount of by-products, the parts of the meat which cannot be sold to humans. This is still better than grain, but it might not contain all the necessary nutrients. Some other ingredients may compensate for that, though.

Most brands of canned cat food offer either paté (ground meat) or shreds. Unfortunately, that kind of food is bad because it doesn’t make the cat teeth work. When the teeth are unused, they fall, as the body concentrate its energy on more useful functions (this stands true for other animals and even for humans). Therefore, it is better to pick a brand which offers big chunks of meat.

Just like for dry food, canned food comes in different quality, but unfortunately in many areas only the cheap brands are available. Also, when you are lucky and locate a store which sells the better quality brands, these are often very expensive.

Avoid brands which lists ingredients which you don’t know. Many brands use preservatives and ingredients which are not healthy, and in some cases even toxic. Also avoid any brand listing meat as an ingredient without specifying which animal it is, as it might well be euthanized pets (I’m not making this one up).

Next Week

There is a third choice, one mostly unknown because it is not sold as cat food in any store. Which we will see next week.

Fast forward to next week

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8 comments on “How to Feed a Cat – Part 1

  1. Lidia
    February 22, 2013

    One meal a day really doesn’t work here! Hiro will whine all day long! It’s driving us crazy — we tried it out a long time ago.
    The free feeding one didn’t work with us either. So now we feed them in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. A total of 50gr each.

    • Tom Duhamel
      February 22, 2013

      I give them 2 meals a day, approximately 12 hours apart. If I was serving meals when they ask for it (especially Juliette) they would eat every few hours. I learned to resist to their begging. Three meal a day is fine, you just adjust the quantity accordingly. And it doesn’t have to be regular.

      I don’t actually measure the quantity. I just give them a bit more than what I know they will eat, then remove the bowl after about 20 minutes. Their appetite changes with star alignment, just like us, it is normal, and I let nature do its part.

      Thanks for your comment, always appreciated. And lets me add details I forgot to put into the main text. And of course lets us share different opinions.

      • Lidia
        February 22, 2013

        I still have trouble resisting their beggings. It’s so hard! Especially early in the morning. They KNOW I’m on an automatic pilot, Hiro only has to wake me up and I’ll get up to give him food. Only to realize when I’m about to get in the kitchen it’s not even breakfast time for them yet. Hahaha!

        • Tom Duhamel
          February 22, 2013

          Thank you, you just inspired me a subject for a future post 🙂

  2. heretherebespiders
    February 26, 2013

    I do free feed, and it looks like the same brand you do! Spot got kidney stones when he wasn’t even a year old, so he’s been on Science Diet c/d ever since. My vet was worried it would make Lokii get fat, but so far he just has a bit of belly-flapping going on. We never gave them anything else but raw meat scraps when making our own dinner until about a year ago, when Lokii’s constipation from eating fabric was so bad I tried olive oil straight (nope) then oil on food (he ate around it and Spot ate the oiled bits) to just one small half-tin of wet food, in one bowl, and let them fight it out. I wish I could afford to make them raw fresh meat dinners, they deserve better than tinned crap. Sigh.

    • Tom Duhamel
      February 26, 2013

      Hi Spiders, where have you been the past week? Was iDJ’s birthday party that bad?

      I think you should be made aware that Hill’s Science Diet products are currently being transitioned into a new recipe. While their website isn’t clear about the exact change (beside the marketing trash), they themselves suggest that you make a proper transition. This means you might need to keep some food left from the old recipe for when the new one hits the shelves in your city.

      I was informed of the upcoming change several months ago through a commercial contact with Hill’s (I was obviously not allowed to make the information public). However my vet notified their customers that they began receiving the new recipe and, checking on their website a few days ago, I noticed the information is now public. You should tell any friend you know which use Hill’s products so they can make the required transition. I’ll make sure to let Dianda know so she can inform her readers.

      As for my cats, they eat Vet Diet, a brand which is exclusive to some large chain of pet food stores in Québec. Although i was not able to confirm (their representative did not answer my question) I noticed the resemblance to Science Diet some time ago and I am on the lookout for any possible change in their recipe.

      I did use olive oil as one of my tests when I tried to convert my cats to raw meat some time ago, and they didn’t seem to care. It is often reported that cats love olive oil, but I’ve yet to get a confirmation from anyone I know.

      You might like part 2 of this article, this Thursday. Though it will only be an introduction to the subject. Dianda also ran a long series on that topic some time ago.

      • heretherebespiders
        February 26, 2013

        Hey there. I’m struggling to stay sane at the moment, and I wish that was an exaggeration.

        Um. Now I’m not sure what kind of food we get! How sad, had to google it. C/d is the prescription diet, only available via the vet. Supposedly. We buy it from Northern Ireland as it costs a lot less that way. Things are a bit more relaxed here with prescriptions, and not just for animals. I’ll let hubby know about the potential change – we buy a massive bag that lasts about 3 months so running low might be an issue if the boys don’t like the new formulae. They aren’t that picky, I hope, so may not be an issue. I’m more concerned with why they are making the change!

        I do like reading about the raw meat diet, even if I can’t do it (need an industrial-grade grinder, but the part where you get the necessary parts from a butcher would be easy here!

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This entry was posted on February 21, 2013 by in Cats, Pets and tagged , , .
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