When you look at the shelves of cat food options, working out what you should feed your cat can be quite confusing. Wet or dry, fresh or processed, name brand or generic? There are so many choices.
Before you make a decision on food for your cat, there are a couple of things you need to know.
Cats are true carnivores. That means that they must have a meat-based diet in order to have good health. Nutritional needs also vary from cat to cat, so choosing food based on age, weight, breed and activity level is important.
The basics of cat food
There are three things to look for in packaged food – wet or dry – to ensure you are choosing a quality product for your cat.
- Find the ingredient list on the packet or can. The first three ingredients should be an animal-based protein – beef, chicken, fish, etc.
- Check the nutrition information panel. This will list the proportions of protein, fats, and other elements. Protein should be listed first, with the highest percentage.
- Look for additional ingredients, such as omega fatty acids, fibre and prebiotics, which contribute towards healthy skin, coat and intestinal function.
A high quality food will be easy for your cat to digest, and will be nutritionally dense, so that they receive maximum nutrition from an appropriate amount of food. It shouldn’t be full of extras to pad it out that your cat doesn’t require.
You can also offer treats – freeze dried liver or other proteins, as well as gels and pastes. These tend to be quite high in calories, and should make up less than 10% of their daily intake.
A note about taurine
Taurine is an amino acid which is an essential component of a cat’s diet. It is required to maintain normal vision, digestion and heart function. It helps maintain immune function, and a healthy pregnancy and foetal development.
It isn't manufactured in the body, so it has to come from food. Commercial cat foods have taurine added. Even if some of the food you give your cat is fresh – for example chopped beef from a butcher – giving them additional commercial wet food or kibble will ensure that they receive sufficient taurine.
Wet food, dry food, or both?
Both wet and dry food have different benefits. Wet food can help ensure enough water intake and offer a greater range of flavour and texture options. Crunching through dry food is good for a cat’s teeth and gum health. Dry food alone can lead to obesity.
Ideally, a mix of both is best for most cats, and make sure they have a continuous supply of fresh water to drink.
How much should you feed your cat?
The amount you feed your cat will depend on several factors, including their size and age. Cat foods formulated specifically for breeds, activity levels and life stages will have feeding instructions on the packaging, or you can ask your vet to weigh your cat and make a recommendation.
According to the RSPCA, cats prefer to eat several small meals throughout the day, rather than one large one. It’s important to not overfeed your cat as, like humans, there are health issues that can develop if they start carrying too much weight. On the flip side, a growing kitten may have you feeling like you’re being eaten out of house and home! If you watch your kitten, you’ll observe a much higher activity level than an older cat, so they need those extra calories.
As a general rule, buy the best cat food you can afford for your cat or kitten, and feed according to the portion recommendations on the packaging. You should then be rewarded with a happy, healthy cat.