To grow and thrive, your cat needs the right amounts of protein, fat, minerals, vitamins, and water. Commercial cat foods are formulated to provide these nutrients in the correct balance.
You'll find cat food at the supermarket or pet-food store in three forms -- dry, semi-moist, and wet (canned). Each offering has certain advantages and disadvantages. Any one of these -- or some combination of them -- might be the best mealtime choice for your cat. Even if you stick to one type of cat food, you might choose to offer your cat two or three different flavors to add some variety to her diet. Discuss the options with your veterinarian. He or she can also tell you how much and how often to feed your cat, depending on weight.
Canned and dry foods are also available in formulations to fit the special nutritional needs of cats at different life stages. There are foods geared to kittens, older cats, and overweight or less-active cats. Pregnant and nursing cats also have special needs. Consult your veterinarian to find out which formula is best for your cat at each stage.
Note: Don't attempt to substitute dog food for cat food. Dogs and cats have very different nutritional needs, and dog food fails to provide certain nutrients that are essential to a cat's health.
Dry foods are six to nine percent water. Their other ingredients include cereals, grain by-products, bone meal, fish meal, milk products, and vitamin and mineral supplements. The bite-size pieces are covered with flavor enhancers, such as animal fat, to make them more appealing to a cat's palate.
Semi-moist foods are about 35 percent water. These foods are made of mostly meat and meat by-products, and even look somewhat like ground meat or tiny chunks of meat. They also contain soybean meal, cereals, grain by-products, and preservatives to prevent spoilage. Discard what's left in an opened package of semi-moist food as soon as it begins to look and feel dried out.
Canned foods are at least 75 percent water. They are offered in a wide variety of flavors, and their primary ingredient may be chicken, fish, or organ meats such as kidney and liver. They come in sizes ranging from three-to-six-ounce "gourmet" tins to 12-to-22-ounce "ration" cans that can feed more than one cat or provide multiple servings for a single pet. For safety's sake, discard uneaten canned food after it has sat in your pet's dish for two to four hours.
At every stage of life, adequate water intake is crucial for keeping your cat healthy. When your cat drinks enough water, it not only keeps her entire system functioning smoothly, can help prevent potentially serious urinary-tract problems. No matter what kind of food you serve, make sure your cat always has a big dish of fresh, clean water to drink.
A cat's surroundings can affect its eating habits for better or for worse. Help your pet enjoy mealtime by creating a relaxed and comfortable eating atmosphere. Your cat's food and water should be in a place that is:
Treats -- whether leftover scraps of cooked meat or packaged cat treats -- are fine in small amounts, as an occasional change of pace. However, they're not meant to be part of your cat's daily diet. A nutritionally complete cat food will give your cat everything she needs; treats and supplements are not necessary, and can upset the balance of your pet's diet if given in too-large amounts. Make sure that the total amount of treats you offer makes up no more than 10 percent of her food intake.
Cats are notoriously finicky eaters, but for all their selectiveness, they generally manage to eat the right amount. Sometimes, however, a cat will eat either too little or too much for her own good. Here's what to do in those situations.
Any number of reasons could be to blame. Your cat's appetite might have been affected by hot weather or traveling, or she simply might not be ready for her next meal. If the food has spoiled or gone stale from being left out too long, that's reason enough for your cat to reject it. Or someone else in the household might have fed the cat recently, unbeknownst to you!
If none of these explanations applies, however, and your cat has refused food for more than 24 hours, consult your veterinarian. He or she will investigate whether illness or discomfort -- including possible dental problems -- could be causing the change in your cat's eating habits.
A cat who overeats, or isn't active enough to burn off the calories she consumes, might become a real "fat cat." Obesity in cats is more than just unattractive; it increases their risk of developing such ailments as arthritis, constipation, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and respiratory problems.
Your veterinarian can recommend ways to help your overweight cat shed a few pounds. These might include switching to a food specially made for less active cats, which contains fewer calories per gram than normal cat food.