What should I feed my cat?

 Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

So, it’s happened—a cat has chosen you. Congratulations!

Whether your new feline friend is a gangly kitten or an elegant mature cat, you’re now responsible for making sure they have everything they need … including regular meals.

And that means it’s time to do some research, because cats have unique and specific dietary needs. Read on to learn all about them.

The scoop on cat calories

Cats, like people, have different caloric needs based on factors like their age and activity level. And although chubby kitties are indisputably adorable, keeping your cat at a healthy weight will help them live long and happy lives.

In general, adult cats need about 25-35 calories for each pound of their body weight every day. For an 8-pound cat, that’s 200-280 calories per day. Growing kittens, very active cats, and pregnant or nursing cats may need more calories per pound.

If you really want to keep your cat in tip-top shape, it’s a good idea to talk about weight and nutrition with your vet—they’ll be able to offer you personalized recommendations for your cat’s unique metabolism and needs.

Carnivorous cats

Cats are carnivores. More specifically, they’re obligate carnivores or  hypercarnivores. That means they evolved to eat primarily meat and not much else.

As a result, the dietary needs of cats are very different than dogs or humans. Here are a few specific nutritional needs to keep in mind for your cat:

Cats require at least 11 specific amino acids in their diet. In comparison, humans only need 9. That’s because cats cannot make Arginine or Taurine on their own, unlike many other animals.

On the flip side, cats don’t need vitamin C in their diets because they can make their own.

Protein should make up about 35-40% of the calories in your cat’s diet.

Your cat’s body needs protein to grow and maintain healthy hair and muscles. It’s also essential for a strong immune system, since antibodies are made of protein. All that goes to say that you want to make sure your cat is getting enough, so check the label on your cat’s food and make sure they’re getting enough.

Fatty acids for your feline

Fat is delicious.

But if that alone hasn’t convinced you of the importance of fat in your cat’s diet, here are a couple more facts to consider.

Fatty acids are important for controlling information and supporting healthy levels of hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.

Fats are an essential source of energy. Since your cat is consuming 35-40% protein, they need a good source of energy for the remaining 60-65% calories in their diet. Fat is a great option. (Carbs are also a good source of energy, but cats shouldn’t overdo it with them.)

Many meats and fish are high in fat, so the fat in your cat’s food can come from these naturally-included fats or added fats like oil.

Carbohydrates and your cat

In the wild, cats eat a very low-carbohydrate diet with less than 10% or so of their calories coming from carbs. In your home, cats arguably don’t need carbohydrates, but a small amount can be a good source of energy.

So, when you’re considering a new food for your cat, check the carbohydrate percentage and the label and consult your vet if you’d like expert advice on whether it’s a good fit for your pet.

Essential vitamins and minerals

So, we’ve covered the main building blocks of your cat’s diet: protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

Now, let’s talk about vitamins and minerals. Cats need a wide range of these nutrients, generally in very small quantities. A deficiency in vitamins or minerals can cause serious health problems … and unfortunately, overdoses can also be dangerous.

Finally, not all vitamins and minerals are the same—they come in different forms, some of which are easier for your cat to absorb than others.

The good news is that a high-quality cat food should contain the proper amount of these nutrients, in a form that your cat can easily absorb. If you pick a brand that’s been certified as nutritionally complete or vetted properly by your … well … vet, you can feel confident that your cat is getting everything it needs.

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Let’s cut to the chase—what should I feed my cat?

Now that you’ve got a solid understanding of your cat’s nutritional needs, it’s time to figure out exactly what to feed them each and every day.

Commercially-available cat foods

You can easily find three types of food at pet stores: dry, semi-moist, and canned.

Dry foods are, well, dry (typically 6-10% moisture). Its crunchy texture can help keep your cat’s teeth clean. Dry food also is easy to feed and store, and it’s often less expensive than other types of food. However, some dry foods don’t do a great job of meeting your cat’s nutritional needs, so check the label closely.

Semi-moist food is about 15-30% moisture. Many cats find this type of food to be tastier than dry food, but it comes with many of the same advantages—it’s easy to feed and store, and it can be less expensive than canned food. However, semi-moist foods can be too high in salt or sugar, so check the ingredients and the label before giving it to your cat.

Canned food is about 75% moisture, which makes it a good choice for cats that don’t drink enough water. It also tends to be higher in protein and lower in carbs than dry or semi-moist food. The primary disadvantages to canned food are the cost and the smell.

Homemade cat food

Since cats have critical nutritional needs that are very different from humans, feeding your cat a homemade diet isn’t something to approach lightly. However, you can definitely make a nutritionally complete diet for your cat at home if you are willing to do the research and get the right ingredients.

A homemade diet can offer many benefits:

  • It can help cats with sensitive stomachs or allergies.
  • You can make a homemade diet that can improve your cat’s digestion and help with weight control.
  • It can also help your cat avoid highly-processed commercial diets.

If you’re thinking about preparing a homemade diet for your cat, talk to your vet and carefully research your cat’s nutritional needs. You can also ask your vet about pre-made supplements that are designed to complement a homemade diet.

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To sum it all up

Cats are amazing, highly-evolved creatures with unique nutritional needs. It’s worth spending the time to research different diets and talk to your vet before settling on a food that’ll keep your kitty looking and feeling their best.