I think, therefore I harm
While 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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
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).
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.